Aristotle conceived of three appeals for existence: ethos, pathos and logos, all of which are prevalent in all forms of writing, entertainment, speech, and generally life itself. Fredrick Douglass used all three appeals in writing his narrative as part of his rhetorical strategy to enlighten the public of both his life and his cause more than one hundred years ago. He specifically uses ethos, or persona, in three ways: to identify himself to the reader, to provide to the credibility of his statement and to evoke a need for change through his writing style.
Fredrick Douglass grows from a slave boy to a freed man throughout Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, an American Slave and he uses this transition and identity to provide an outlet to which the reader can identify. Douglass first produces this with the absence of dates.
Slaves were kept ignorant as to the facts of the real world, sometimes not even knowing the year of their birth, preventing the knowledge of a captives true age. A birthday is something with which people can identify, as they are a celebrated part of our culture, especially to youth. Douglass here identifies himself as a human being almost lacking what we may consider a normal childhood simply through the use of dates. These are very important to our culture, counting down the days until your birthday, until Christmas. We identify ourselves by the dates which surround the events of our lives. Part of our identity is formed from dates and this was a privilege he was denied.
He is, however, eventually provided a window of opportunity in many to not only learn dates, but gain a general feel for knowledge as well. When the open door of learning that his mistress provided was permanently closed, he says, “it was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty-to wit, the white mans power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement and I prized it highly. From that moment I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom” (Douglass 78).
Douglass was learning and he didnt want to give it up.
The reader is able to see how much he valued knowledge and his ironclad will to keep that door open. In doing this, Douglass identifies himself as a growing child, forced down by circumstances beyond his control. He is growing, he is learning, he is maturing, and like a small child who asks question after question, he will not rest until his thirst for knowledge is quelled. As he gains more and more knowledge, his hunger and curiosity grow, and as he is satisfied in this aspect, his hunger for freedom matures. This becomes prevalent in his actions; as one of his Masters, Captain Auld put it, city life had almost ruined me for every good purpose and fitted me for everything which was bad (Douglass 99). His experience caused him to grow as a person and individual.
An old clich states that knowledge is power; Douglass had learned this first hand and was growing into a person with the courage to fight back and eventually claim his freedom. Throughout the book, Douglass presents himself as a person, forced to overcome incredible barriers to achieve that which many of us take for granted through the stories he tells. He first ensures that the reader can identify with him before going into the innate details of a particular tale, thus ensuring whatever emotion he is trying to evoke. It was also imperative that Douglass demonstrate his growth as a human being so that we would see him as just that, a person, not some animal to be easily dismissed.
Because Douglass was so well spoken, and his autobiography so well written, the doubt surfaced in the mind of some audience members as to whether or not he had written the narrative or more to the extreme, whether or not he had actually been a slave. Thus, his credibility was called into question.
Douglass effectively .