What kind of imagery is present in Douglass's speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most striking set of images that Douglass presents is to compare the historical condition of America to the present day condition of slaves.  Douglass understands the magnitude of the day.  The speech is filled with historical metaphors that detail the darkness of bondage and the light of freedom.  The images bring forth the idea that freedom for the individual is something sacred, brought forth by men and leaders who possessed the moral courage to make what can be from what is.  Douglass' speech employs imagery of "the rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence," which drove America to declare freedom when it felt that its own being in the world was being trampled under foot.  

Through such imagery, Douglass is able to draw the parallel between the Colonial struggle for freedom and the modern condition of the slave in America.  Douglass's imagery is powerful enough so that if one accepts its premise, then it becomes an almost absolute that one argues for the freedom of the slave.  The use of historical imagery constructs a setting where it becomes understood that the next step in American historical progression is the abolition of slavery.  It is to this end in which Douglass' use of imagery helps to enhance the theme and purpose of the speech.

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