Learning to Read and Write
Alana Roberts Essay I February 26th, 2013 “Learning to Read and Write” by Fredrick Douglas is a story about a slave breaking the bondage of ignorance by learning to read and write. During the course of 7 years Douglas discreetly teaches himself to read and write by means of stealing newspapers, trading food with poor white boys for knowledge and books, as well as copying his master’s handwriting. Douglas learning to read gave him extreme awareness of his condition as he says “…I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing.
It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy” (Page 168-169). With his new consciousness he suffered with depression envying his fellow slaves for their “stupidity. ” But, like a true underdog, Douglas perseveres and through hope he escapes to the freedom of the North. There’s a quote by Harriet Tubman “I freed a thousand slaves, and could have freed a thousand more if they had known they were slaves. ” Throughout the essay Douglas evaluates his slave master’s ignorance, his fellow slaves ignorance, and most importantly his own.
The definition of a slave is “a person legally owned by another and having no freedom of action or right to property”. Another definition says slave means “a person under the domination of another person or some habit or influence. ” Douglas finds proof of the flawed ideology that is slavery through the book “The Colombian Orator. ” The book validates Douglas’s belief of human rights and gave him ammo to use against slaveholders who thought otherwise. The dilemma in him learning this illuminating information is his inability to figure a way out of slavery.
Douglas writes “It was this everlasting thinking of my condition that tormented me…I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it” (Page 169). White slave owners made it unlawful for slaves to read and write, this ignorance kept them in a state of limbo which stopped their evolution. Without the capacity to examine their situation, they did not change their situation and stayed in this wheel of oppression and exploitation. Ignorance also befalls on the oppressors.
Douglas sheds light on how slave owners prayed to Christ, went to church every Sunday and yet mistreated people to the upmost degree and punished them for reading. Southerners often justified slavery by saying they were bringing Christianity to slaves. Christianity is a religion based on love and compassion for your fellow man. Since the Europeans did not believe the Africans were worthy to be in the same human category as them they dehumanized them relating them to animals. Although the bible says “we must never treat any part of God’s creation with contempt.
When we do, we are indirectly treating our Creator with contempt. ” If they did not believe slaves were worthy to be treated as God’s creation then why did they push their religion on them? The answer is to keep them controlled and confused. Europeans stripped Africans of their traditions starting with their name, this in some degree made Africans like blank canvases ready to be painted anew. Christianity gave slaves hope that one day their situation will change if they prayed hard enough and abide by Christ words. It also gave them a brand new vision of what God should look like. White is good, Black is bad.
In the Christian bible they saw Jesus as a white man so in turn they could have related the goodness of Christ to the “goodness” of their masters. Some slaves even argued about whose master was more kind. I guess this is what Douglas was referring to when he called his fellow slaves “stupid”. I relate the South hypocritical belief system to that of the Catholic Church during Medieval Times. The church dominated everyone’s lives using fear as a means of getting whatever they wanted from its believers. From a very early age, the people were taught that the only way they could get to Heaven was if the Roman Catholic Church approved them.
Just like slaves of America many people could not read or write which kept the priests in power. Peasants worked for free on the church land to pay their tithe or to not have the burden of total damnation. The hypocrisy of Christians of the South exemplifies his mistress who he described before as “Having bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach” (Page 167). Under the influence of slavery the angelical woman he knew turned into that of a demon in her conquest to prove her superiority over him.
With praying to white Jesus not working, Douglas expresses a vulnerable side when talking about contemplating suicide. “I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself…” (Page 169). To counter this feeling of hopelessness he birthed a new objective, find the meaning of the word abolition and how it related to himself. Douglas speaks on his ignorance as he writes “ It was always used in such connections as to make it an interesting word to me…I found it was “the act of abolishing”; but then I did not know what was to be abolished.
Here I was perplexed. ” I find it humorously ironic that he is a prime example of what a abolitionist is and going to become but there was a point in time were he didn’t recognize what the word meant. Using context clues Douglas unmask the true meaning of abolition when reading an article on abolishment of slavery in the District of Columbia. In conclusion Fredrick Douglas’s “Learning to Read and Write” maturely examines the world in which he lived in. Though Douglas was a slave physically he was never a slave mentally.
He analyzes and challenges the norm in his quest for freedom; and because of Douglas’s thirst for knowledge he escapes the bondage of ignorance. Douglas also points out that learning doesn’t make the man free but it is how you use this knowledge to obtain freedom. In our day and age we take for granted things like owning a book, going to school, even the simple principle of being who we want to be. Douglas is a hero to Black Americans as well as people who believe knowledge is power. Work Cited Learning to Read and Write by Fredrick Douglas
The Brief McGraw-Hill Reader http://www. sparknotes. com/lit/narrative/themes. html Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass http://www. historylearningsite. co. uk/medieval_church. htm The Medieval Church http://www. goodreads. com/author/quotes/18943. Frederick_Douglass Fredrick Douglas Quotes http://www. billygraham. org/articlepage. asp? articleid=6217 Christian view on treatment of animals http://www. cliffsnotes. com/study_guide/literature/life-of-frederick-douglass/critical-essays/douglass-canonical-status-heroic-tale. html