Rhetorical Analysis of Frederick Douglass’s Speeches: the Power of Education

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Updated: Sep 06, 2023
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The readings and works of Up from Slavery and Narrative of the LIFE of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, were both such powerful pieces. It goes into giving those who may not have lived during the slavery era the ability to gain perspective of all the obstacles blacks faced just to receive the things that we take for granted today. While reading the publishing, I noticed that each character in both books made things even more heartfelt for me as the reader to understand the many hardships that were eventually overcome.

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Booker T. Washington: Journey to Knowledge

The significant characters in Up from Slavery provided insight into helping me, as a reader, understand that not everyone was against blacks. Up from Slavery focused on the life of Booker T. Washington and the hardships he faced as far as trying to gain knowledge and receive an education. From the perspective of the reading, it seems as if Booker T. Washington wanted to provide a realistic view of how things were during this particular era. It highlighted his achievements and his idea of how racial uplift and racial injustice could be readjusted. However, he not only focused on his life during Slavery but his path to freedom. Booker T. Washington’s primary focus was black advancement, and he provided the details of such in his narrative. He also gave brutal viewpoints that showed the pleasant sides as well as the unpleasant ones.

Significant Influences and Encounters in Washington’s Life

I believe it is important that he goes over all the battles he faced on his path to success. For instance, when he arrived at the Hampton Institute with a less-than-pleasurable appearance and was immediately judged and not admitted. Washington was inspired by General Samuel C. Armstrong to attend the institute. He was the founder, and Washington saw him as a uniquely driven and selfless individual. Also, when Washington went to visit the institute, he met Miss Mary F. Mackie, who was the head teacher at the Hampton Institute. She was the one who actually gave him a chance after he completed what she called a ‘sweeping examination.’ Washington practiced what he preached because he believed that former slaves should embrace whatever challenges came their way, so he conducted himself with the same standard.

Working Towards Progress with the Help of Allies

Booker T. Washington also had help from others that wanted him to succeed, including Mrs. Ruffner, his first employer and the wife of an owner of a salt furnace and coal mine in Virginia. Ruffner was known as a strict boss, and as Washington was her servant, he sort of had a huge dose of it. She helped him understand the social ideals needed to make it in life during such a critical time. Not only this, but she made Washington into a better person by making him a hard, dedicated worker and a better citizen. Mrs. Ruffner was the leading example for the other women Booker T. Washington mentioned in his texts. She provided the representation of social order allowing races to interact in a productive manner.

Achieving Great Heights: Tuskegee Institute and Supporters

Following the things that shaped Washington into who he was, he eventually became all he aspired to be. He began his career as a teacher at the Tuskegee Institute, where he met his second wife, Olivia Davidson, who was the head teacher there. She joined the school in the first year and helped it become what it was while assisting Washington to be his best self.
During the process of Washington trying to get his own institute going, he received assistance from General J.F.B. Marshall, whom he mentions in his narrative. Washington needed money to get away from Hampton’s endowment, and Marshall helped by providing money from his own income. Andrew Carnegie was also a continuous donor and supporter. He was the primary reason for Tuskegee’s new building and books for their library.

Recognition and Legacy of Booker T. Washington

After these many accomplishments and assistance from those Washington would have never thought of assisting him, he began to receive public recognition nationwide, beginning with President Grover Cleveland. After Washington presented his Atlanta Exposition speech, he was praised by President Cleveland. This encouraged Washington to continue his pursuit of paving the way for black success for future generations to come.

Frederick Douglass: A Narration of Survival and Wisdom

Similarly, in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the primary focus was to acknowledge how such an intelligent man could never have been a slave. He focuses on his experiences and complications that he has faced under Slavery through his escape to the North. He went from a victim of brutal circumstances through the practices of Slavery to a profoundly educated black man.

Douglass’s Resilience and Growth Through Adversities

While Douglass was the narrator, he was also a prominent character in his book. He proclaimed himself as a reasonable yet rational character. However, he did not sugarcoat or try and make it seem as if he should be glorified, at least from my perspective. Douglass also spoke on both sides of Slavery and how it was operated, as well as the benefits of such for slave owners. That’s not to be understood as him siding with anyone. Douglass did not fail to help us, as readers, feel the emotion of the many things he had faced. For instance, Chapter 1 focused primarily on the events of other characters in the novel and how these situations affected him emotionally. This was significant as it gave the reader an opportunity to put themselves into perspective of how things really were. Through it all, however, Douglass remained optimistic about better days. In the beginning, he emerged as an overcomer of the negative effects of Slavery and cruelty, yet moving forward, he had a more positive path with his focus on education.

Douglass had a ton of turn of events. One was that his first master, Captain Anthony was probably his father. Captain Anthony was the clerk for Colonel Lloyd. His job was to manage Lloyd’s plantations and their overseers. Anthony was described as a cruel man who took pride in whipping his slaves, primarily Douglass’s Aunt Hester. They called him Captain because he was well known for his ships to the Chesapeake Bay. Colonel Edward Lloyd, who was Fredrick’s owner and Captain Anthony’s head man, was an extremely wealthy man who owned all of the slaves and land in which Douglass grew up. Lloyd was known for having high expectations for his slaves and punishing them when they did not meet them.

Once Captain Anthony passed, his daughter Lucretia Auld took over half the property, including Douglass. This was far from beneficial to Douglass as she was just as cruel of an owner. Lucretia’s husband, Captain Thomas Alud, was different from her in many ways. One of these ways was that he did not grow up owning any slaves. When he met her, he gained them through his marriage to her. After he attended a church meeting in Maryland, he became a Christian and used it to be more brutal toward his own slaves. Eventually, Lucretia died, and Thomas remarried William Hamilton’s oldest daughter. Hugh Alud, Thomas’s brother, was known as Douglass’s ‘sometimes master.’ Hugh lived in Baltimore with his wife Sophia, so he was hardly ever near the plantation. Thomas and Lucretia would occasionally let Thomas borrow Douglas whenever his son needed a servant. However, Hugh actually enlighted Douglass on how whites maintained power over not allowing blacks to gain an education. As you can see, Hugh was not as cruel to Douglass, that is, until his drinking habit increased over the years. Hugh’s perspective on Slavery was that it was inhumane to blacks. Yet, he still exercised his power over Douglass at times. Hugh’s wife Sophia, who had never owned a slave, transformed from the sweet woman she once was to the same monster as most of her fellow colleagues once given the opportunity to have slaves of her own. Douglass actually used her as an example in his narrative of how Slavery affects and changes the way slaveowners conduct themselves. This was an important component of Douglass’s argument in regard to Slavery. Over the years, Douglass encountered many owners. One was Edward Covey, who was known as a notorious slave ‘breaker’ and the great punisher. He often worked with the unruly slaves. He punished them and returned them trained. He was known as a deceptive and evil man who instilled fear and surveillance over the slaves. Douglass still had an opportunity to meet his original family through all the torment. He was raised by his grandmother, Betsey Bailey, on Captain Anthony’s land after his mother was taken away by another owner. Betsy had many children and grandchildren that contributed to the Anthonys as slaves. After ‘seeing’ the Captain’s children up until they died, they sent her to a cabin instead of allowing her to be free. Another member of Douglass’s family also suffered from the Anthonys. Aunt Hester suffered countless whippings due to Captain Anthony’s spiked interest in her. Douglass’s mom, Harriet Bailey, was separated from Douglass immediately after his birth but still tried to keep in touch by walking twelve miles to see him at night. She ended up passing when Douglass was a young boy. Through these many hardships, Douglass had hardly any of his own family near him. When he met Sandy Jenkins, he had begun to have some form of hope. Sandy was very kind to Douglass, even after he ran away. However, she was a wolf in sheep’s clothing because she may have provided William Freeland with Douglass’s plan of escape. William was Douglass’s keeper for two years after he was under the supervision of Covey. Freeland was the fairest of all Douglass’s masters, but he was also hypocritical. Douglass appreciated this until he became quite contradicting towards Douglass. For instance, when he arrested Douglass for plotting to escape. While Douglass was a slave, he still learned labor and trade skills from other men in authority, such as William Gardner. Hugh Alud had sent Douglass to Gardner to learn how to caulk. However, Gardner’s yard was full of violent racial tension between free black and white carpenters. Douglass later married before his escape to freedom. After he successfully escaped, he and Anna married in New York and then moved to Massachusetts. When Douglass became free, he was low on everything and needed a quick start with life, similar to Booker T. Washington in Up from Slavery. This was when he met Nathan Johnson, who assisted him by loaning him money, helping him find work, and even suggesting a new name for Douglass’s newfound identity. As a freeman, Douglass began to explain and establish his own history by sharing all his hardships and obstacles with Northerners in Nantucket. He then met William Lloyd Garrison, who was impressed with his story. Due to this empowering bravery, Douglass was hired for an abolitionist cause through Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society. Through this organization, Frederick Douglass met many people, one being his newfound close friend Wendell Phillips who was very overprotective of him due to fears for his safety, mostly because Douglass was highly outspoken in regard to Slavery.

Conclusion: Impact and Reflections on Both Narratives

While conducting my character analysis for both books it helps me acknowledge all the hardships that were faced in order to get all minorities equal opportunities as far as education goes. Similarly, both Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass were slaves who were forbidden from gaining an education. While Frederick Douglass had a long way to go before receiving that opportunity, Booker T. Washington had support all around him. While they were both often discouraged, they never gave up. It also gave them an opportunity to share their journey with like-minded individuals and future generations to come.

I appreciate both novels because Booker T. Washington focused on his journey to gaining educational opportunities as a black man, and Frederick Douglass provided background from his childhood up until adulthood towards the same path. While they may have gone about it in different ways, the primary solution was education. Today, thanks to these two men and many others, I am able to have a fair chance at receiving an education equal to any other race. It helps me appreciate all the obstacles I personally face to get to where I need to be as far as gaining knowledge. I believe these two men helped other races see just how powerful we, as a human race, can be when we all come together, and for that, I thank them.


  1. Washington, Booker T. (1901). Up from Slavery. Doubleday & Company.
  2. Douglass, Frederick. (1845). Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Anti-Slavery Office.
  3. Humez, Nick. (2008). Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories. University of Wisconsin Press.
  4. Blassingame, John W. (1979). The Frederick Douglass Papers. Yale University Press.
  5. Norris, Washington. (1994). A Warrior of the People: The Life of Booker T. Washington. Beacon Press.
  6. McCaskill, Barbara. (2003). Love, Liberation, and Escaping Slavery: William and Ellen Craft in Cultural Memory. The University of Georgia Press.
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Rhetorical Analysis of Frederick Douglass's Speeches: The Power of Education. (2023, Jun 21). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/rhetorical-analysis-of-frederick-douglasss-speeches-the-power-of-education/