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Date of Award


Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English Composition



First Reader/Committee Chair

Glascott, Brenda


This essay examines Frederick Douglass’s My Bondage and My Freedom in a liminal space between disciplinary lines of inquiry. In imagining his work within this space, I utilize Kenneth Burke’s notion of identification and cooperation as a means of understanding how Douglass enacts rhetoric and for what end. The rhetorical situation Douglass faces is highly fraught: other people’s lives are at stake, and the institution of slavery forces him to make legible the atrocities being done to African American bodies. My conceptualization of Douglass’s text as rhetorical theory in practice proffers a new way of understanding what shape and form rhetoric and narrative can take, especially for Douglass. Rhetorical theory in practice builds upon Barbara Christian’s understanding of what theory and theorization looks like within African American communities of practice. She argues that African American theory “is often in narrative forms, in the stories [they] create, in riddles and proverbs, in the play with language” (68). In My Bondage and My Freedom, I examine the ways in which Douglass locates rhetorical theory in the lived experiences of enslaved people. While doing this, he pays homage to four narrative forms: the captivity narrative, the criminal confession, the travel narrative, and the picaresque novel. He borrows from these forms to display his literary dexterity but also to enact a sort of rhetorical theory. His descriptions, sequence of events, and the way in which he orchestrates his text enact a rhetorical framework for advocating for the humanity of enslaved African Americans. Subsequently, he develops a rhetorical theory in practice that emerges out of his lived experiences.