Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass and Historical Contingency College

From the moment his master forbade him to learn to read, Frederick Douglass, a writer and former slave, realized that literacy was the “pathway from slavery to freedom” (Douglass 77). He seemed to be talking about his own escape from slavery, but it is possible that he was referencing the emancipation of all Southern blacks, because his purpose in writing had always been, above all, to gain support for the abolitionist movement and turn public opinion against slavery. Soon after escaping to the North, he began to use his illegally learned ability to write speeches, articles, and his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Douglass understood the importance of history and its influence on present actions, and understood that those who can best shape the meaning of history and current events can best influence these actions. With this in mind, he used these writings to attempt to shape public opinion on slavery. However, he wrote during an unstable and ever changing time in America's history, so to better respond to changes and shape interpretations, he had to make changes in his arguments and rhetorical styles. Writing his Narrative before the civil war, Douglass' purpose was simply to sway public opinion...

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