Express how the use of diction and structure help achieve the purpose of Chapter 4 in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. How do these show the brutality of slavery when juxtaposed...

Express how the use of diction and structure help achieve the purpose of Chapter 4 in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. How do these show the brutality of slavery when juxtaposed against Chapter 3?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The rhetorical devices and structure of Chapter 4 emphasize the brutality of slavery. The main rhetorical device used is that of verbal irony, in that Frederick Douglass praises the cruel overseer, Mr. Gore, and calls him "a first-rate overseer." Douglass writes that "Mr. Gore is just the man for such a place, and it was just the place for such a man." Douglass's statements are ironic because by being a first-rate overseer, Mr. Gore is a barbaric and horrible man. For example, the reasons he is a top-notch overseer are that he is "proud enough to demand the most debasing homage of the slave" and nasty and ambitious enough to be extremely cruel to the slaves under his control. In other words, he is good at his job because he is so mean and inhumane. Douglass's diction, or choice of words, also emphasizes Gore's cruelty and the irony of Gore's reputation as a fine overseer. Douglass chooses words that show this irony, such as describing Gore as "proud, ambitious, and persevering." These are presumably good qualities, but Gore uses them to achieve evil aims. 

The structure of the chapter also achieves Douglass's aim of exposing the cruelty of slavery because after he ironically praises Mr. Gore's fineness as an overseer, Douglass shows the brutal effects of Gore's treatment of the slaves. For example, Gore whips a slave named Denby, who tries to soothe his wounds by running into a creek. When Denby refuses to come out of the creek after three calls, Gore raises his musket, "and poor Denby was no more." Douglass writes that when Gore kills Denby, "a thrill of horror flashed through every soul upon the plantation," and this example provides ample evidence of Gore's cruelty, which Douglass discusses at the beginning of the chapter.

The example of Denby can be juxtaposed with Douglass's claim in Chapter 3 that a slave never admits how much he or she hates slavery because "a still tongue makes a wise head." Any slave who complains will suffer mercilessly as a result. However, just because slaves do not complain does not mean that they do not suffer horribly, which Douglass shows in Chapter 4. 

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