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Chris Curtis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

How does learning to read and write change Douglas?

In chapter 6, Frederick went to Baltimore where his mistress, Mrs. Auld, began to teach him to read. Master Hugh Auld, when he learned of the matter put a stop to it. He said, ““if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy” (16).

These words proved to be prophetically true. Even though Mrs. Auld complied with her husband’s wishes, Frederick learned to read and write. He eventually acquired a copy of “The Columbian Orator” and Sheridan’s speeches on Catholic emancipation. As he read further and learned more, Mr. Auld’s (Master Hugh’s) predictions came true. Frederick became supremely unhappy.

“As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity” (19).

Mr. Auld’s prediction, that it would make him “discontented and unhappy” is clear. The further prediction that it would “unfit him to be a slave” proved to be the most prophetic. After reading those first thinkers writing on the behalf of abolition, Frederick saw slavery as entirely unbearable so he did not rest until he became free.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 7, Frederick Douglass elaborates on how the ability to read and write affected his life and perception of slavery. After Mrs. Auld's husband chastises her for beginning to teach Frederick how to read, he understands that being literate is advantageous and goes to great lengths to learn how to read and write. Frederick learns to read by giving poor white children bread in exchange for reading lessons. He then begins reading The Columbian Orator and Sheridan’s powerful speeches on and in behalf of Catholic emancipation. These documents have a significant effect on Frederick's perception of slavery and teach him the importance of human rights. Frederick becomes aware of his unfortunate condition as a slave and resents his master. He also mentions that his education at times seemed like a curse because it opened his eyes to his horrific circumstances as a slave. Frederick's ability to read allows him to understand his terrible condition, which motivates him to seek freedom. His ability to write gives him the ability to forge documents and communicate with others. Overall, Frederick's education enlightens him to his horrific condition as a slave and motivates him to run away. Once Frederick escapes slavery, he is armed with the knowledge needed to deliver powerful, moving speeches in favor of emancipating the slaves.

kkekegreen | Student

How would you describe the point of view of Frederick Douglass’s “Learning to Read and Write”?


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