Frederick Douglass’s 1845 autobiography delineates his caustic transformation from man to senseless brute. As one examines the excerpt in the 2004 AP English Exam, one notices the superb writing style that builds as the excerpt develops in character. The third paragraph of this excerpt is pivotal to expressing this young slaves’ chained anguish. To emphasize this importance, Douglass distinguishes this paragraph by employing and manipulating figurative language, cinematic imagery and varied syntax.
“O, that I were on one of your gallant decks, and under your protecting wing!” emphasizes Douglass’s anguish at being a bound, defenseless slave. As a slave, he was refused rights of even mere animals and was desperate for salvation. Such metaphors are commonplace in the third paragraph, while in the rest of the excerpt, plainer language is utilized. The contrast between the simple language of “we worked in all weathers,” and the elevation of “you are loosed from your moorings, and are free; I am fast in my chains, and am a slave” is blindingly apparent and strengthens Douglass’s rhetorical purpose.
Throughout the excerpt it is commonplace to read such sentences as: “Thus I used to think, and thus I used to speak to myself; goaded almost to madness at one moment and at the next reconciling myself to my wretched lot.” In the third paragraph, these long, flowery sentences become short, urgent, monologue: “Could but I swim! Could but I fly!” This shift in syntax notifies the reader of important insights into Douglass’s convoluted mind; insights that signify that Douglass is regarding himself more as a slave, and animal, incapable of proper, formal, human thought.