In the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave Frederick Douglass recounts his life of slavery and his eventual flight to freedom. When he was a youngster he was placed in a household in which the naive mistress started to teach him to read. Her efforts were halted by her husband and young Douglass recalled his lecture on the reasons slaves should not be educated. However the brief lessons placed within Douglass the desire to continue to learn, by whatever means possible, to read and to write.
He had discovered that education and literacy was to be his “pathway from slavery to freedom. ” Douglass illustrates that literacy is the most important asset a man can ac-quire if he is to achieve life-changing goals. Douglass’ new ambition to become literate had both positive and negative effects. His new desire filled him “high hope and a fixed purpose” and his life was fundamentally changed from that early time in life. His quest for literacy was fueled with confidence that his future life would be radically different and better once he had mastered reading and writing.
However it was not without negative effects as well. The more he learned of slavery the more he hated his own condition and the slave-owners that created it. As his masters became aware of his ability he was constantly watched as they tried to prevent him from reaching his goal. For a slave the path to literacy was very difficult. However the path to literacy led Douglass to consequences he could not have im-agined. An entirely new world was opened for him, and with literacy came knowledge of a life that slaves had been denied.
With literacy eventually came knowledge of religion and the great Abolition movement. The greatest consequence of literacy was freedom of the mind and freedom of thought, and literacy became for Douglass the tool with which he would become his own “master”. Literacy was for Douglass and other slaves a power which they had been denied. Ignorance and illiteracy were tools more powerful than the whip and chains, and were used effectively by the slave-owners to keep slaves in submission.
The slave owners un-derstood this and feared literate and educated slaves who would now know there is no truth in the slave-owner’s belief that they “should know nothing but to obey his master. ” Slave owners knew the desire for literacy would spread among the slaves and would be the essential method for their eventual freedom. It was a power the slave owners were not willing to give to their slaves. Douglass defines literacy not only by describing the obvious ability to read and write, but shows true literacy as the ability to understand and communicate thoughts, de-sires, and emotions.
Douglass shows literacy as being the true bond between free men and the method to unite against slavery and oppression. Literacy unites man while ignorance and illiteracy keeps man isolated from the rest of the world. Although Narrative was written over one hundred and sixty years ago it still serves as a valid reminder of the power of literacy, which remains the most important as-set a man can acquire. With literacy all things are possible, and without it the illiterate become slaves to ignorance.
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