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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass
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What are some literary elements in Frederick Douglass's memoir Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass?

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Literary elements are distinguished from literary techniques in that literary elements include anything that is essential in any storytelling. Essential elements of storytelling include such things as characterization, conflict, plot, point of view, resolution, setting, tone, and theme (Dictionary.com's 21st Century Lexicon). In contrast, literary techniques include...

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Literary elements are distinguished from literary techniques in that literary elements include anything that is essential in any storytelling. Essential elements of storytelling include such things as characterization, conflict, plot, point of view, resolution, setting, tone, and theme (Dictionary.com's 21st Century Lexicon). In contrast, literary techniques include anything that is not essential for storytelling but that the author adds to convey the overall message. Examples of literary techniques include such things as imagery, figurative language, symbolism, and rhetorical devices. As a narrative, Frederick Douglass's memoir titled Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass naturally contains all essential elements of storytelling. Two of the most fascinating elements include characterization and theme.

Douglass strives a great deal to portray his masters as real, genuine people. To do so, he captures them as complex characters with human traits. Though Douglass suffered a great deal of cruelty, since not all human beings are cruel, he is careful to honestly portray those who were and weren't. Master Andrew and Master Thomas Auld are described as being the cruelest masters he's known, whereas Mrs. Sophia Auld is described as one of his kindest masters. Sophia began teaching him to read but was stopped by her husband, Mr. Hugh Auld, who informed her, "If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell," meaning that the more you teach a slave to know anything beyond obeying his master, the more threat the slave poses to the master and society at large. Unfortunately, after being forbidden by her husband to teach Douglass to read, her attitude toward him changed; he describes her as suddenly becoming angry and harsh (Ch. VI).

Douglass's descriptions of his masters' treatment serve to help develop some of his themes, including the effects of racism, the abuse endured by slaves, and the white man's ability to keep men enslaved simply by keeping them uneducated and unequal.

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