Explain how Douglass uses literary devices such as imagery, personification, figures of speech, and sounds to make his experiences vivid for his readers.

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jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like any good author, Frederick Douglass uses a variety of literary devices to make his experiences vivid to his readers.

Here are some examples of Douglass's use of these devices, all from the first two chapters of hisNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and American Slave:

*SIMILE (comparison that uses the words "like" or "as":

slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs...

*METAPHOR (comparison without using the words "like" or "as"):

Mr. Plummer was a miserable drunkard, a profane swearer, and a savage monster [He was not literally a monster, but behaved like a monster].

No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. [His heart was not actually made of iron; it was unfeeling, just as iron cannot feel emotion.]


*PERSONIFICATION (human characteristics are given to inaminate objects):

soon the warm, red blood (amid heart-rending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him) came dripping to the floor. [A shriek is merely a set of sound waves, and thus cannot rend--tear--a heart; the author is describing the shiek as if it were a surgeon with a knife who is cutting open a heart.]

 the jaws of slavery [slavery is compared to the biting jaws of a cruel person or vicious animal]

ALLITERATION (the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginnings of words):

they were tones LOUD, LONG, and deep

they BREATHED prayer and complaint of souls BOILING over with the BITTERIST anguish.



jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Douglass uses literary devices, including imagery, to convey the cruelty of slavery to the reader. For example, he writes of his aunt's whipping, emphasizing the sounds of her pain, "The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest." Using imagery, he conveys the sounds she makes, including her screams, as she is brutally whipped by the overseer. He also includes the sight of her blood, another example of imagery: "soon the warm, red blood (amid heart-rending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him) came dripping to the floor." These examples of imagery emphasize her pain and the harshness of her treatment and make these images more vivid to the reader. 

Douglass personifies spirituals, the songs slaves sing, in the following passage: "They told a tale of woe which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension." He imbues the songs with the ability to convey the cruelty of slavery. Using figurative language, he writes of the spirituals, "The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears." In this simile, he compares the relief of singing to the relief of crying. He also uses simile to describe the cruelty of his overseer, Mr. Gore. Douglass writes, "He was, in a word, a man of the most inflexible firmness and stone-like coolness." In this simile, Douglass compares Gore's cruelty to the hardness of a stone. This type of figurative language emphasizes the cruelty of slavery and the people who enforce it. 

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