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

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Why were literacy and reading so important to Douglass in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave?

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Literacy was of great importance to Frederick Douglass at every stage of his escape from slavery. First, it fostered and shaped his ambition to be free, a result predicted by Auld, his slave-master, when he discovered that his wife was teaching Douglass to read and forbade her to continue, saying that being educated could only make a slave "discontented and unhappy." Douglass quickly understood that anyone who had to live as a slave ought to be discontented and unhappy with his lot and that masters were able to wield power over slaves by keeping them in ignorance.

When Douglass had learned to read, he came across a book called The Columbian Orator , which contained a dialogue between a master and his slave. The slave refuted his master's arguments in favor of slavery so impressively that the master eventually set him free. Reading furnished Douglass with an increased desire for freedom and a range of theoretical arguments against slavery. It proved to be a practical tool in making plans for...

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