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American Cultural Mythologies - Essay Example

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Rhetorical Analysis: Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth Frederick Douglass’ speech titled ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July’ is a passionate oration on the plight of black slaves in pre Civil War America. Delivered in 1852 the speech is elaborate and rationale but also emotionally touching…
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American Cultural Mythologies
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Download file to see previous pages For instance, Truth peruses the New Testament and the story of the birth of Jesus Christ through Virgin Mary as a strong proof of the capacity and superiority of women when compared to men. Though she did not claim this superiority in such exact words, her general point is that women were treated highly even in the scriptures, whereas their status in real society is much diminished. This essay will argue that what is common between the two speeches is their passionate tone, sincerity and compelling necessity; and while Douglass’ speech is marked by its detailed analysis and sobriety, Truth’s is full of wit, humor and insight. Douglass begins his speech by highlighting the virtues of the Founding Fathers and their thrust for independence from the British Crown. He notes that the idea of attempting to establish sovereignty by breaking away from the British command was indeed very brave and revolutionary. Having identified and praised what is meritorious about the short history of the American nation, Douglass then declares how these achievements are offset by a perennial negative feature of American society – namely black slavery. Douglass’ tone is one of deliberate and measured rationality and inquiry. He punctuates his speech with numerous historical references that justify his plea of equality for blacks. Truth’s originality lies in invoking a very well known Biblical event and interpreting it in a novel way. It accounts for its immediate appeal and affect on the audience – which comprised of both men and women. The following passage shows how Truth had adopted Christian Evangelical rhetorical style in her own delivery “Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when I could get it — and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?” (Truth, 1851) The contexts in which the two speeches were made help evaluate their merits. Frederick Douglass delivered his speech a decade before the onset of the Civil War – a time when blacks did not even have the nominal status of freedom. An overwhelming majority of the community is slaves and led a harsh and laborious life. For this reason, Douglass declares, the Fourth of July is a day of celebration for ‘you’ (White Americans) and not ‘us’ (Black Americans). The condition of the black community in America has not seen any improvement in the eight decades of independence that has preceded the date of his speech. Douglass is quite right in feeling about his community this way. There is no reason for rejoicing for his community till they win civil rights on par with that of white Americans. Though Douglass was addressing a predominantly white audience, there were no major disruptions during the delivery of his speech. This is in part attributable to the rhetorical technique he employed. He first wins over the trust and confidence of his audience by talking about their merits and achievements. This way, the audience is accepting and attentive to what he is saying. Then he takes the oration to a different path, namely that of the plight of black Americans in relation to the freedoms enjoyed by white Americans: “ ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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