Frederick Douglass's work stands as a first-person testament to the horrors of slavery, and his purpose was to help others see that as well. Ultimately, he wanted to open the eyes of Americans who were ambivalent or outright ignorant of the actual experiences slaves endured. To accomplish a powerfully persuasive narrative, he relies on many literary devices throughout his book.
One of the sharpest and most painful images is when Douglass recounts witnessing the beating of his own aunt as a young boy:
I have often been awakened at dawn of day by the most heart-rending shrieks of an own aunt of mine, whom [Captain Anthony] used to tie up to a joist, and whip upon her naked back till she was literally covered with blood. No words, no tears, no prayers, from his gory victim, seemed to move his iron heart from its bloody purpose. The louder she screamed, the harder he whipped; and where the blood ran fastest, there he whipped longest. He would whip to make her scream, and whip to make her hush; and not until over come by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin.
The imagery here is enough to make any reader wince. And that is exactly the effect Douglass wants to create—to make the image he witnesses as a young child so vivid that the reader cannot help but see the same horrors. Also worth noting in this section is the metaphor of an iron heart. His master is steeled in his purpose to inflict incredible pain upon this woman. Douglass also uses a nice triplet of subject: No words, no tears, no prayers. This intensifies the desperation of his aunt as she pleads for mercy. The juxtaposition of whipping to make her scream and whipping to make her hush shows the lunacy in the master's actions; they were merciless and completely unpredictable.
Douglass utilizes personification in the following text:
These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into an existence an entirely new train of thought.
In this section of chapter 6, Mr. Auld discovers that his wife has been teaching Douglass to read. He forbids her to give any further instruction, telling him that slaves "should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do." He continues his explanation: "If you teach [Douglass] to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master." It is these words that stir things within Douglass that he realizes have lain "slumbering." He finally is able to voice something he has felt all along: By keeping slaves from an education, white men are able to better keep them in slavery. No longer "slumbering," Douglass realizes his new mission: learning to read.
After a battle with Mr. Covey, Douglass uses this metaphor:
It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom . . .
This image of giving life to a dying fire is powerful in showing how Douglass is regaining his sense of self and purpose in chapter 10. Later in that same paragraph, he notes,
It was a glorious resurrection, from the tomb of slavery, to the heaven of freedom.
This allusion to the Biblical ascension of Christ straight from the tomb into heaven is also a metaphor for Douglass's own feelings of power. He sees that he can overcome his situation even though he has felt dead in his tombs of slavery for years.
The description of Mr. Severe in chapter 2 has alliteration:
His presence made it both the field of blood and of blasphemy.
This repetition reinforces both the physical and the mental sufferings the slaves on this plantation endure under Mr. Severe.
Douglass's writing is rich in literary elements, and they all combine to create an effectively compelling narrative.