How does learning to read and write change Douglas?

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Chris Curtis | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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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.


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