Frederic Douglass was born in slavery. This misfortune did not prevent him from struggling for his life and striving for knowledge. In the fragment of his autobiography “Learning to Read and Write” he tells how he succeeds in the literacy. A lot of tricks help him to do that. In that time and environment slaves were not allowed to learn to read and write. That could help them to understand the nature of their slavery and begin to struggle for freedom, as Douglass did.
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The author tells us about a great opposition to his literacy, although his mistress was “a kind and tender-hearted woman” (Douglass). At first she taught him reading with her own son and showed him the ABC, but became opposite, like her husband. His master was a shrewd person, and he realized that Frederic would be able to read news and question why he is a slave if he became literate. It could destroy the comfortable world of his masters. Knowing news could bring the boy to understanding what is happening in the North, and make him hope that liberation would come soon. “I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead…” (Douglass). Other boys did not want to play with him, Frederic was upset and scared. In these words we perceive despair and bitterness lying deep at heart of the boy. Frederic overcomes all obstacles to become literate: he looked at letters at a ship yard, used chalk, walls, and ground. Once, he found a Webster’s spelling book, but used it secretly from his master. And we may conclude that only hard work and longing for knowledge helped the boy in his dream. He did all his best and was reworded for his efforts with ability to read and to write. He never spent money in vain, he bought books. Surely, the boy was quick on the uptake, because he learned alphabet after one day.
The author advises us what everybody should do. First of all, to be kind to people and help them, like Frederic was helped. People gave advice how to get free, gave him tools. And he accepted all these gifts and used them. And the message is not only to give such tools to other people, but also use them, when you are given. For contemporary pupils it is not that easy to understand how difficult it is to learn to read, when you have nothing. Modern schools have textbooks and teachers. But little Frederic lacked such things, and only due to his zest he became literate. This experience of unenlightened victim makes him strive for freedom, and educating himself Douglass became an empowered and determined man. He reads about abolitionist movements and progresses to awareness in the evils of slavery. But it will happen later, now he is just a little boy wanting to learn to read and write. More sophisticated his ideas of constructivism, sociolinguistics and psychology literacy sound in this essay. The author considers his self-teaching methods, cultural situation, deciphering of meanings of unfamiliar words, investigates context clues, thus, Douglass combines the story about a little boy with adult scientific research.
His ideas transformed into the view that slavery should be abolished in the adult life of the boy. And it is not for nothing, that in the consciousness of a little slave word abolitionist carried so much significance and curiosity. The author highlights not only importance of literacy, but also importance of using right methods and knowledge to get free.
Douglass Frederic. “Learning to Read and Write”. 75 Readings: An anthology. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Langua, 2003.