In the autobiography, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, there is an underlying theme of knowledge as the path to freedom. During Douglass’ time, slave owners deprived slaves of an education and as a result, the slaves were thus deprived of freedom. Knowledge among slaves is what the white men feared the most, as knowledge not only “spoiled” slaves, it also provided them with the insight that ultimately paved their road to freedom.
Knowledge corrupts, or “spoils” slaves, as it happened with Frederick Douglass. Because uneducated slaves could not think for themselves, they were thus forced to obey their masters, or “thinkers” who made their decisions for them. After Douglass learned to read The Columbian Orator, a book that boldly denounced the immorality of slavery and the whites, he began to harbor such bitter resentment toward his masters that he “wishes [him]self dead.” Knowledge emboldened Douglass, and gave him the courage to rebel against his masters. As a result, Douglass vowed to “run away” from the “band of successful robbers … that reduced him to slavery.” Indeed, wisdom had “spoiled” Douglass; he has now gained a keen insight that allowed him to fully articulate the inhumanities of his masters.
Knowledge gave Douglass the ability to recognize the enormities of the corrupt white slave owners. Douglass, for instance, points out that it was the white man who “shut [Douglass’] mouth, and then ask why [he doesn’t] speak,” thus proving that slave owners neither allow slaves to think for themselves, nor do they allow the slaves a voice in that decision. Furthermore, slave owners had previously instilled in their slaves the idea that any man who is independent is doomed to fall; consequently, slaves were misled to believe that freedom is slavery. However, Douglass, an educated slave, was able to realize that he too was created equal, that he too had rights, and also that he was not a slave, but a free man. In this way, Douglass managed to set into motion the gears of his emancipation.
For Frederick Douglass, education was his “pathway from slavery to freedom.” With his wisdom, he not only dispersed his experiences to other slaves but also stirred up sentiments within the white abolitionists as well. Unlike their ignorant fellows, educated slaves can band together and finally reach for freedom.
1. Douglass, Frederick. “The Church and Prejudice.” Plymouth County Anti-Slavery Society. Massachusetts, Plymouth County. 14 Nov. 1841.
2. Douglass, Frederick, Houston A. Baker, and William Lloyd Garrison. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass : An American Slave. New York: Penguin Books, Limited, 1982.