Black and white illustration of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass
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In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, how does his audience shape his rhetorical strategies? What kinds of "common ground" does he use to make his appeal for the abolition of slavery effective?

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Douglass, who published his account of slavery in 1845, knows that he can appeal to his white Christian audience through their religious beliefs. Therefore, he uses Christianity as common ground to sway his readers against slavery. Since slaveowners used the Bible, especially the exhortation that slaves should obey their masters, to justify slavery and its cruel oppressions, Douglass highlights the difference between religious hypocrisy and true Christianity which practices an ethic of love and mercy. 

The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the [hypocritical] religious shouts of his pious master.

Douglass insists that no true Christian can support a system as cruel as slavery. 

Douglass uses appeals to the common humanity he shares with his white readers. He knows that he is writing to decent people who wish to know more about the slave experience. In a famous passage, he asserts he...

(The entire section contains 621 words.)

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