Sherman Alexie V. Frederick Douglass
Compare and Contrast Essay Frederick Douglass V. Sherman Alexie As a young child, we are given certain opportunities and guidance to expand our knowledge right off the bat when it comes to reading and writing. Going to school to get an education is what every parent aspires their child to do.
Parents want the best for their children, to be accepted and to learn to their fullest extent just like every other child their age. However, there are many children and families who are not as privileged when it comes to receiving these certain opportunities.
I ask myself a simple question: is education really taken for granted as if it is just a given and not a privilege? It seems that these days, going to school and learning is just expected. Nobody takes the time to realize how privileged they are to have an education, where they can learn to express themselves creatively and form opinions when thinking for themselves without others affecting you. Looking at two essays, “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and me” by Sherman Alexie, and “Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass, comparisons between the two are greatly visible.
Both of these stories take an in depth look at these two young men’s lives, as we focus on what these stories are trying to tell, and what message(s) are trying to get across. Not only do these two authors share similarities in upbringing, but they also share the same determination when it comes to educating themselves on their own and proving to others that ignorance truly is bliss. Born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, Sherman Alexie was truly a remarkable boy.
Coming from what he considered to be a poor family “by most standards”, Alexie claims that him and his family lived “on a combination of irregular paychecks, hope, fear and government surplus food” (Alexie pg. 16). At the young age of three, Alexie taught himself how to read with a Superman comic book. Where Alexie was from, “A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non-Indians alike. ” (pg. 17). Expectations were at a low standard for Indian children like him. Teachers and students expected him to fail, especially in a learning environment of non-Indian students.
Despite these ignorant accusations, Alexie refused to not only be a statistic within his community, but a failure as well. This is shown as he wrote, “I refused to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant. I was lucky. I read books late into the night, until I could barely keep my eyes open” (pg. 17). He jumped at the chance to read anything in his tracks, giving him the opportunity to expand his mind and knowledge base. He fought with his classmates on a daily basis because they expected him to stay silent if questions were asked in class.
Alexie refused to do so; he bypassed his classmates intellectually and would not let anyone make him feel inferior. As he grew up to become a writer, we see pain in the story he tells. “I loved those books, but I also knew that love had only one purpose. I was trying to save my life” (pg. 18). Alexie wanted to be someone greater than what others expected him to be. People would put him down constantly, but he fought back just as much. He tried to save himself from the stereotypes of being just another dumb Indian.
He had more determination to prove others wrong when it came too exceeding in reading to further excel in his daily life. When talking about determination and power to succeed, many similarities are portrayed by Sherman Alexie and Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1818 in Maryland. For most of his life he lived in what he said, “Master Hugh’s family” (Douglass pg. 129). Douglass’s mistress, someone he claimed to be a “kind and tender-hearted woman” (pg. 129), had begun to instruct him on how to read and write starting with teaching him the alphabet.
Slavery is mainly what caused the change in Douglass’s life. As his master found out about his wife’s actions in teaching him how to read and write, she was instructed to stop. She quickly turned from warm and tender hearted to cold and fierce. This eventually left Douglass to take his education into his own account and further teach himself. He stated that, “The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers.
With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read” (pg. 130). Douglass took matters into his own hands and did whatever he could to learn. Along with learning how to read himself, he also learned how to write by looking at letters on timber in old ship-yards. Copying down the letters he saw and making four letter names by associating them with certain objects. Much later in Douglass’s life, he went on and became a leader in the abolitionist movement.
Coming from a dark past while living in slavery to becoming a great speaker and someone others can look up to as a role model. The similarities between these two men are uncanny. For one, the both share a similar upbringing as young boys dealing with racism. For Sherman Alexie, he was a young Indian boy living on a reservation facing stereotypes how Indian children are expected to be unintelligent. As for Frederick Douglass, he was a young boy who grew up a slave and faced cold treatment from those who were once there for him.
What these two shares is a common similarity when it comes to dealing with racism and all its ignorance. Both of these young men were forced to learn on their own due to others constantly doubting their intelligence and stereotyping. However, the main similarity between these two comes down to one word, determination. Determination and the desire to achieve are Alexie and Douglass’s greatest qualities. Alexie was always told that Indian children were expected to be dumb and Frederick was automatically expected to be uneducated due to the fact that he was a slave, and that slaves were to not have an education.
Both of them took the negative aspects of their life and made them positive. Doing this eventually led the both of them into having successful lives. By taking the time to educate themselves and better their knowledge, Alexie became a well-known writer, and Douglass an abolitionist leader and speaker. Alexie and Douglass proved that ignorance is bliss, and showed that judging someone without knowing who they are or what they are capable of will do nothing but prove you wrong. Nobody has the right to ignorantly make assumptions about a person or their lives.
This just goes to show how knocking someone down will make them come back ten times as strong. For Alexie and Douglass, education was their main obstacle in life. They lived through how an education can either make or break you depending on the situation. What it comes down to is whether or not you are willing to achieve further and harder than to listen to what others think they have to say about your success. Although both achieved success in a different outcome than another, they are both great examples of how each had a similar upbringing down to their determination for success.