Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave Questions and Answers
by Frederick Douglass

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Why does Frederick Douglass describe literacy as being so important in his Narrative?

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In chapter VI of his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Douglass describes the experience of being taken into the home, at the age of seven or eight, of Mr. and Mrs. Auld. Mrs. Sophia Auld, the young Frederick discovers, is initially very kind, having never owned slaves before and is unaccustomed to treating other human beings harshly solely because of the color of their skin. When Frederick is first taken into the Auld home, then, he is treated far more kindly than by previous owners and by whites in general. Mrs. Auld’s humanity manifested itself, among other ways, in believing that the young slave in her charge should be as capable of reading as other children. Very early in the learning process, however, Mr. Auld discovered that his wife was teaching a slave how to read and put an immediate end to Frederick’s education. Mr. Auld’s rationale for prohibiting slaves from learning to read was explained by Douglass in this chapter of his narrative:

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