Slavery is one of the greatest tragedies in the history of human society. This ugly practice deprives individuals of their inborn rights and makes them feel inferior to others. Unfortunately, for a long time, this institution had been impacting relations within society. Thus, Frederick Douglass’ essay “Learning to Read and Write” is devoted to the given topic. However, speaking about slavery, the author discusses it from an unusual perspective. Douglass shows how ignorance prevents people from realizing their positions, while literacy is a key to development and struggling for inborn rights. Using his own example, Douglass proves that access to knowledge was critical for the growth of slaves’ consciousness and abolishment movements.
The essay starts with the author’s thoughts about his Mistress, who taught him to read. The author describes her as a kind and tender-hearted woman who “had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach” (Douglass 1081). However, slavery radically changed her, and under its influence, her “tender heart became stone” (Douglass 1081). Introducing these memories, Douglas shows that this practice caused numerous adverse effects not only on slaves. Owners also altered because of the corrupted and unnatural power to treat others and view them as a commodity. As a result, individuals altered, acquired new features, and suffered from them.
The change in the Mistress’s personality was followed by the alteration in her attitude to the author’s ability to read. The author shows that it was viewed as an undesired practice or a waste of time. However, Douglas introduces one of the central ideas of the whole essay. The author is sure that the ability to read became a potent stimulus for the emergence of the thirst for knowledge and, as a result, reconsideration of his life. The critical role of knowledge in the life of a person and slaveowners’ fear of it is evidenced by Douglas saying that “it is almost an unpardonable offence to teach slaves to read in this Christian country.” (Douglass 1082). The line shows that control over a large number of people was performed by depriving them of access to knowledge.
The essay shows how literacy can change lives and provide individuals with new views. For instance, Douglas says that books became a valuable source of knowledge necessary for transforming his views on slavery and his life. From the book “The Columbian Orator,” he acquired an understanding of the arguments that can be used when interacting with slaveowners (Douglass 1083). Moreover, the definitions of the word “abolition” had critical importance for the author and other slaves (Douglass 1084). In such a way, Douglas links this decision to escape and become the leader of the abolitionist movement to the ability to read and limitless access to information this source guarantees (“Frederick Douglass”). It can be viewed as the central idea of the whole essay.
Altogether, Frederick Douglas’ life can be viewed as an example of the extreme power of knowledge. Being taught to read by his Mistress, he acquired a thirst for knowledge and discovering new information. It became a potent stimulus for the radical transformation of the whole life. Douglas shows that slavery has a pernicious impact on all individuals and should be abolished. At the same time, literacy, information, and thirst for knowledge are fundamental for changing people’s lives and transforming their mentalities. It ensures a better understanding of the current goals and how to achieve them.
Douglass, Frederick. “Learning to Read and Write.” Bedford. Web.
“Frederick Douglass.” History, 2022. Web.