What conflicts are evident in Mrs. Auld's changing behavior toward Douglass in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In my mind, the number one element that is brought out through Sophia Auld's character is the reality the society of the slaveowner is constructed to be diametrically opposed to the slave's.  When Sophia teaches Douglass how to read and write, it forces a contradiction between the social orders.  A slaveowner, or white society, is not meant to do anything to benefit or empower the slaves, black society.  In this construction, conflict presents itself when Sophia teaches Douglass how to read and write because such a trait empowers slaves to break free from their slaveowners, causing challenge to white society who benefits from the imbalance of social and political power.  Sophia's action earns rebuke from her husband, and her kindness turns into cruelty, demonstrating that the social and political division is intensely ingrained.  This helps to bring out that it will take a great deal of commitment from individuals to change such a social and political order, something to which Douglass devoted his life after achieving his freedom.

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