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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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What are examples of ethos, logos, and pathos in chapter 11 of The Life of Frederick Douglass?

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Frederick Douglass relied heavily on convincing readers of his noble goals in abolishing slavery. His narrative is rich in logos, ethos, and pathos.

Pathos is seen in the section of text as Douglass prepares to escape:

The thought of leaving my friends was decidedly the most painful thought with which I had to contend. The love of them was my tender point, and shook my decision more than all things else. Besides the pain of separation, the dread and apprehension of a failure exceeded what I had experienced at my first attempt. . . . I felt assured that, if I failed in this attempt, my case would be a hopeless one—it would seal my fate as a slave forever. I could not hope to get off with any thing less than the severest punishment, and being placed beyond the means of escape.

In these lines, Douglass conveys several poignant emotions that elicit sympathy in the reader. He says that in spite of his desperate quest for freedom, his friendships will be missed greatly. He talks about how he loves them almost as much as his own life and asserts that their separation causes him almost unbearable pain. Still, his freedom is of utmost importance, and he knows that he must continue. He also expresses his very real fear of capture, knowing that if his plans fail, he will be placed in circumstances which will make another attempt impossible. This is his only chance, and the reader can feel the apprehension inherent in such a dangerous quest, therefore also understanding how important his freedom is.

Logos is used as Douglass talks about how he is able to marry his wife, Anna. This union is conveyed without much emotion, but Douglass does provide an "exact copy" of their marriage certificate:

This may certify, that I joined together in holy matrimony Frederick Johnson and Anna Murray, as man and wife, in the presence of Mr. David Ruggles and Mrs. Michaels. (James W. C. Pennington, New York, September 15, 1838)

Using legal documents to convey this part of his narrative supports the narrative as a whole. He can be trusted because he can produce tangible evidence that the details are exact, and this document is one of those.

Ethos is seen in Douglass's narrative of what happens when he finds the freedom he has so longed for:

I found employment, the third day after my arrival, in stowing a sloop with a load of oil. It was new, dirty, and hard work for me; but I went at it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master. It was a happy moment, the rapture of which can be understood only by those who have been slaves. It was the first work, the reward of which was to be entirely my own.

Douglass sets out to be a productive member of society immediately. He enjoys the ability to work hard and sees this opportunity as a profound gift. His credibility is strengthened by his work ethic and the understanding he has of the freedoms he has been granted, even in the form of hard manual labor.

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Frederick Douglass uses all three modes of appeal in the first several paragraphs of Chapter XI of his Narrative.  He first appeals to logos--or logic--in the first paragraph when giving his reasons for not offering details about his escape:

My reasons for pursuing this course may be understood from the following: First, were I to give a minute statement of all the facts, it is not only possible, but quite probable, that others would thereby be involved in the most embarrassing difficulties.  Secondly, such a statement would most undoubtedly induce greater vigilance on the part of the slaveholders than has existed heretofore among them....

By quantifying his points by number ("First," "Secondly") Douglass makes his point in abstract, logical fashion.  Furthermore, he implies that, logically, were he to relate those details, he would embarrass some who helped him and hinder other slaves' escapes by increasing slaveholder "vigilance."

In the next paragraph, he relies on ethos--or his own authority as a speaker--to justify this decision:

I, however, can see very little good resulting from such a course, either to themselves or the slaves escaping; while, upon the other hand, I see and feel assured that those open declarations are a positive evil to the slaves remaining, who are seeking to escape.

Through repetition of the first person pronoun "I," Douglass makes clear that the only source of authority for both of these claims is himself alone.  Thus the reader has to believe that Douglass is speaking from a position on authority on these matters, as there is no other reason to believe his claims based on his rhetorical constructions.

Finally, Douglass' vision of a slaveholder in search of an escaped slave appeals to pathos--or emotion:

I would leave him to imagine himself surrounded by myriads of invisible tormentors, ever ready to snatch from his infernal grasp his trembling prey.  Let him be left to feel his way in the dark; let darkness commensurate with his crime hover over him....

The emphasis on feeling and imagination in the above passage indicates an emphasis on irrational faculties beyond reason and Douglass' authority.  Furthermore, using descriptive words like "infernal," "trembling," and "tormentors," works to elicit an emotional response (most likely of fear) on the part of the reader.  In the opening stages of Chapter XI, Douglass employs all three modes of appeal.

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