According to Brown in its preface, he wrote Clotel as a polemic narrative against slavery, written for a British audience:
If the incidents set forth in the following pages should add anything new to the information already given to the Public through similar publications, and should thereby aid in bringing British influence to bear upon American slavery, the main object for which this work was written will have been accomplished.——Preface, Page 47
It is also considered a propagandistic narrative, in that Brown leveraged "sentimentality, melodrama, contrived plots, [and] newspaper articles" as devices "to damage the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery."
Chapters predominantly open "with an epigraph underscoring the romance’s urgent message: 'chattel slavery in America undermines the entire social condition of man.'"
Clotel is told through the use of a "third-person limited omniscient narrator." The narrator is "morally didactic and consistently ironic." The narrative is fragmented, in that it "combines fact, fiction, and external literary sources." It presents the reader with a structure that is episodic and is informed by "legends, myths, music, and concrete eye-witness accounts of the fugitive slaves themselves." It also "draws on antislavery lectures and techniques," such as "abolitionist verse and fiction, newspaper stories and ads, legislative reports, public addresses, private letters, and personal anecdotes."