Addressing the Addresser

Published at the young age of twenty-seven, Frederick Douglass’s autobiography was written with an agenda. As such, the introductory letters seem only to legitimize and authenticate the value of the narrative. Furthermore, as discussed in Smith and Watson’s Reading Autobiography, we come to the the very important role of audience and addressee (236). We encounter the link between the narrator as ex-slave addressing the sympathetic audience who would be the only one seeking to read his story. As such I believe the Douglass was writing for a mostly Northern demographic and we encounter him addressing this same demographic with almost disdain at the end of chapter two when he confides: “I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy.” This revelatory statement chastises the audience, enlightens, and instructs. Here we are handed the irony of claims made by the pro-slavery fanatics, and the sorrows which accompany its implications. Through a call for emotion Douglass is referencing the solitude of slavery and its inhumanity. It is crucial for Douglass to refer to the north in his narrative because he is writing for the northern audience. As such he is unmasking the evils constantly surrounding the people who he is addressing. He makes this inhumanity poignant by expanding on the subject and pressing the issue by comparing the singing of a man cast away on an island to that of a slave singing. Douglass’s rhetoric is aimed at disarming slavery and furthering the abolitionist movement. Through shaming,¬†enlightening, confiding, and addressing his audience, Douglass’s narrative succeeds in communicating the torment of slavery.


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