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Literary Devices in What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?

Literary Devices Examples in What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July? :

Text of Douglass's Speech

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"God speed the year of jubilee  ..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Garrison’s triumphant poem served as an appropriate epilogue to Douglass’s two-hour-long speech. The poem epitomized many of Douglass’s ideas about the need to break the chains of slavery and tear down tyranny. With the repetition of the phrase “God speed,” Garrison sends good wishes to his audience in their fight to end slavery. According to John W. Blassingame, a scholar on American slavery, these words invigorated the audience, specifically the abolitionists and the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Association. After Douglass finished reciting the poem and began collecting his papers, the audience broke the silence with “a universal burst of applause.”

"a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation's bosom;..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

This metaphor likens slavery to a “horrible reptile” and the United States to a woman. The woman, who is described as pure and “tender,” nurtures this snake-like creature. Douglass imagines eradicating slavery by striking down the creature from the woman’s bosom.

"It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home...."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

The subject of the sentence is the “existence of slavery.” Douglass only mentions this subject once, before he replaces it with the pronoun “it.” In doing so, Douglass no longer mentions slavery explicitly, only implicitly. With the use of anaphora and the repetition of “it” at the beginning of the remaining sentences, Douglass vilifies slavery as something so heinous as to be unnameable.

""first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." But a religion which favors the rich against the poor..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

This quotation originates from the biblical Book of James 3:17, which states that heaven is “pure,” “peaceable,” and “full of mercy.” If that is so, Douglass claims, then how could these self-professed Christians act like “oppressors” and “tyrants”? Following the quotation, Douglass issues a diatribe on the hypocrisies of religion. He accomplishes this by relying heavily on anaphora, specifically the repetition of the word “which.” Using this literary technique, Douglass emphatically lists the multitudinous hypocrisies of Christianity, including how they favor the rich above the poor and the oppressors above the oppressed.

"tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America,..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

This series of hyphenated words highlights the hypocrisy of a so-called “Christian America.” Douglas poses the question: if the United States is as it claims—“tyrant-killing” and “people-loving”—then why would it simultaneously allow for judges to take bribes and torture innocent men under the Fugitive Slave Act? The audience clearly understands this hypocrisy. Nevertheless, Douglass uses this rhetorical device to highlight his point.

"to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery! ..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

With this metaphor, Douglass anthropomorphizes slavery as a beast with “remorseless jaws.” This technique conjures an image of slavery as a vile beast with large teeth who terrorizes and eats black men.

"He is a bird for the sportsman's gun. ..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Throughout this section of the speech, Douglass employs hunting imagery and compares, metaphorically, the prey with the slave and the hunter with the slave trader.

"My soul sickens at the sight...."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

This pithy remark employs sibilance, a literary device where certain consonants pass through the lips and tongues of the speaker and in turn, produce hissing sounds. The three repeated “s” sounds form this hissing sound and demonstrate audibly the sort of disgust Douglass must have felt as he gave this speech.

"swine..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Through the use of simile, Douglass likens the treatment of slaves involved in the internal slave trade with that of swine, or pigs. This literary device highlights the inhumane conditions of the internal slave trade. In the next line, he asks his audience if they know of “swine-droving,” a practice of moving pigs to market. This too, he says, is similar to the practice of moving human livestock from market to market.

"blacker..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Douglass uses visual imagery to demonstrate the dichotomy between the colors white and black. In Western cultures, the color white traditionally illustrates life and prosperity, while black describes its opposite—darkness, death, and mourning. This wordplay suggests that by ostracizing black people, the country is made even darker.

"They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. ..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Douglass employs anaphora, a literary device that dates as far back as psalmic writing. With anaphora, the writer or speaker repeats the first word or fragment of a sentence in order to add emphasis. The first four sentences of this paragraph begin with the repetition of “they,” which places the emphasis on the subject of the paragraph: the founding fathers. Through this repetitive tool and the repetition of similar sentence structures, Douglass explains that their greatness also came from their ability to be at once peaceful and revolutionary, patient and persistent. Their ability to discern when and how to act made them revolutionary leaders.

"abyss-sweeping wind..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Douglass finishes the extended metaphor of nations as rivers by employing auditory, visual, and tactile imagery with the words “howl,” “abyss,” and “wind.” Such language helped the audience hear, see, and feel this metaphor and sense his pessimism as he likens the decline of nations to the drying up of rivers.

"To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity;..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

In this critical section of the speech, Douglass explores the tension at the heart of the occasion and answers the question, “What, to the American slave, is the 4th of July?” His reply arrives in a stormy list of descriptors: a “sham,” a “vanity,” a “hollow mockery,” and “mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy.” His use of anaphora, with the repetition of the pronoun “your,” offers forth a rhythmic condemnation of his audience. Douglass makes clear that the higher the feelings of positive patriotism shared among white Americans, the deeper the feelings of hurt, exclusion, and cynicism among African Americans. Academics Robert L. Heath and Damion Waymer have coined this situation the “paradox of the positive”: when one interest group celebrates, certain others are likely to experience an opposite, negative reaction.

"They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change!..."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Douglass engages in wordplay in this passage by invoking another meaning of the noun “change.” By casting change in terms of money, as in “pocket change,” he notes the unwillingness of many to support social and political change—unless it provides financial incentive for them.

"Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages...."   (Text of Douglass's Speech)

Douglass employs an extended metaphor at the end of this paragraph to compare the future of the American nation to a “great stream.” He notes that great streams cannot change course easily, their paths having been worn deep over time. While they may “rise in wrath and fury,” eventually they will “dry up, and leave nothing behind.” For Douglass, the “great streams” represents the fates of older nations. Thus this metaphor serves as a statement of optimism regarding the future of the United States, a nation whose stream is young and shallow enough to alter its course.

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