What style of writing did Frederick Douglass use in his autobiography?
Douglass used a simple, straightforward narrative style with a focus on the details of his life as a slave. Since this was a personal story meant to raise sympathy and support for blacks among a white audience (the vast majority of black slaves were illiterate, would not have had access to books, and already understood their own plight), Douglass wrote with a white audience in mind. He wanted to be factual but at the same time used emotional appeals to tug at the heartstrings of his readers. He wanted to humanize the slave as a person with the same feelings and desire for dignity that a white person might have. He speaks, for example, of sleeping beside his mother as a young child but how he never saw her by the light of day because of the long hours she worked. Douglass describes in detail the cruel whipping of a female slave and the shock the blood running down her back had on him as a young boy.
While not sparing his audience the horrors of slavery, his simple style of writing did not exaggerate them either. However, Douglass's white editors were worried about white people's reaction to his story and asked him to scale back his condemnations of Christianity in the south for tolerating slavery, which he did. While trying to be factual and honest, Douglass did have to be careful not to alienate his readers.
Douglass is confronted with a challenging task in writing his narrative. On one hand, he is driven by the need to represent his experiences in a manner that will prove compelling to a larger audience who have little idea as to what he endured. At the same time, he is driven by the social need to advocate abolitionism in a setting where there is not widespread acceptance of it. In this, Douglass recognizes that both ends could be met through the style in which his narrative is written. Douglass' style is one that is honest enough to bring forth the pain and moral repugnance towards slavery. Douglass uses the personalized account of his own life and experiences to make very clear why slavery is abhorrent and the need for its abolition from American society. This involves placing the reader in the middle of brutality, such as his aunt's whipping or the abuse that he suffered himself. In utilizing the first person narrative style, Douglass is able to convince the reader in fairly direct terms that slavery is wrong. In this process, Douglass is able to display to the reader that White slaveowners viewed slaves as animals or something not human, and employs animalistic imagery to bring this point to the reader, suggesting again the need to abolish slavery.