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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

by Frederick Douglass

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How are metaphors used in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave?

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Frederick Douglass uses metaphors in his writing to craft a compelling message against the inherent evils of slavery. His use of literary devices shows that he has a good command of the English language, even though he was legally banned from learning how to read or write. Douglass uses a deceptively simple writing style throughout Narrative, making the instances of literary devices more significant.

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Frederick Douglass's skillful use of metaphors both shows his talents in mastering the skills of literacy and language and provides greater depth to his message outlining the evils of slavery.

Douglass recalls the first time he witnessed a slave's beating; this slave happened to be his aunt. He thought of this first beating as his waking up to what it really meant to be a slave.

It was the bloodstained gate, the entrance to the hell of slavery, through which I was about to pass.

This metaphorical image of a "bloodstained gate" that leads directly into hell itself is an unflinching examination of all Douglass will face before he reaches freedom.

When Douglass is sent to live with Mrs. Auld, her initial demeanor is described using metaphors as well:

Her face was made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil music.

Her voice is made of tranquil music. This kind and compassionate demeanor, which Douglass has never experienced before from a white woman, stands in sharp contrast to the demeanor she exhibits after some "proper training" from Mr. Auld. Mr. Auld teaches her that she cannot show kindness to their slaves and forbids her from continue her literacy instruction.

The initial metaphor transforms as Douglass notes that slavery turned Mrs. Auld's "tender heart [to] stone." This metaphorical heart that is cold and impossible to sway with emotion is a far cry from her initial "voice of tranquil music."

Douglass later convinces little white boys to continue his literacy instruction. Douglass always brings extra bread with him when he leaves the Auld residence, and he trades this for the "bread of knowledge" which the white boys can offer: literacy. This metaphor shows the importance of reading, because literacy gives Douglass the sustenance he needs to exist another day.

Douglass comments in his autobiography that learning how to read opened up his mind to thoughts he had never been able to consider before. His ability to consider the evil impacts of slavery in terms of metaphors demonstrates a complex thought process that uses language to masterfully craft a compelling message.

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