Learning To Read And Write By Frederick Douglass Analysis

In the essay “Learning to Read and Write,” Frederick Douglass illustrates how he successfully overcome the tremendous difficulties to become literate. He also explains the injustice between slavers and slaveholders. Douglass believes that education is the key to freedom for slavers. Similarly, many of us regard education as the path to achieve a career from a job. Education and freedom are inseparable. Douglass, a young slave, is fortunate to learn the alphabet from his sympathetic Mistress Hugh. However, his Master Hugh perceives that his wife educates Douglass; then, he forbids his wife from teaching him to preserve their slaveholders’ power. Mrs. Hugh loses her kindness to become a cruel slave owner; she deprives Douglass’s opportunities …show more content…

Without being educated, slavers endure dehumanization and the control of their slaveholders. As a result, Douglass is motivated to get literate with ingenious strategies. He constantly bribes the “little white boys” and the “poor white children” who live closely with him to teach him reading with extra bread (Douglass 62). His writing lessons are from the boys who can compete with him in writing letters, Master Thomas’s book, and ship-yard. Along with his reading’s improvement, he comprehends the injustice between slaves and slaveholders from the books. A book “The Columbian Orator”, which provokes him the critical thinking about slavery and freedom. Through reading the Sheridan’s speeches that are from the same book, he claims, “[w]hat I got from Sheridan was a bold denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights” (Douglass 62). Sometimes he listens the discussion of abolition even though he does not really understands it. Until he gets a city paper that allows him to pray for “the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia” (Douglass 63), he understands the meaning of abolition. Being literate helps him understand the extensive knowledge, which is ready for …show more content…

The first and second year after moving from China to the United States, I was afraid to talk to strangers because my English was not very well. I had to depend on my husband for dealing with my personal business, such as making a doctor’s appointment, calling to the bank, or questioning to DMV officers. Douglass says, “being a slave for life began to bear heavily upon my heart” (62). For myself, being a dependent and helpless adult is a shame. Moreover, I lacked of extra money to go to school to improve my English. Thus, I stayed home all the time to avoid embarrassment of talking to strangers. After a while, I realized that improving English speaking skills are the essential to gain my self-confidence. So, I spent time to read various articles on the internet and watched English dialogues’ videos on YouTube. As a non-English speaking immigrant living in the U.S., I inevitably encountered a series of difficulties to integrate myself into a new

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how douglass is motivated to get literate with ingenious strategies. he bribes the "little white boys" and "poor white children" who live closely with him to teach him reading with extra bread.
  • Describes how douglass experienced the obstacles to get education when he was a slave; non-english speaking immigrants struggled with learning english in the united states.
  • Explains that education helped them gain confidence, and they decided to go to college to get an accounting degree.
  • Analyzes how frederick douglass explains the injustice between slavers and slaveholders in his essay "learning to read and write."

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Frederick Douglass Heroism Essay

In order for Douglass to reach his goal of becoming a free man he thought the only way out was education. He needed to learn how to read, write, and think for himself about what slavery was. Since literacy and education were so powerful to Frederick he persevered to get himself the education he wanted. …. Douglass knew it wouldn’t be easy, but that didn’t stop him. Douglass realized the “ conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with a high hope, and

The Ingenuity of Frederick Douglass: Learning to Write

In his self-titled chronicle, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave", the author presents his audience with a memorable description of his resourcefulness in how he learned to write. His determination to shake off the bonds of illiteracy imposed by his slaveholders created in him the ability to conquer obstacles that held many slaves back. His mastery of the basic steps of the written language would one day play a central role in his success as a free man. The way these skills were acquired teaches us not only of his willpower, but also of his ingenuity as well. The outcome of his efforts culminated in an inimitable slave-narrative, as well as a career as one of the most famous abolitionists that this country would ever know.

Essay on Literacy in African-American Literature

As a relatively young man, Frederick Douglass discovers, in his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, that learning to read and write can be his path to freedom. Upon discovering that...

Overcoming Barriers: My Journey to College

Although Douglass’s primary obstacle to educating himself was not money, he still was challenged by the standards of slavery. The text begins with how the standards of slavery transformed his Mistress from a tender-hearted woman who once treated him like a normal being into a corrupted person who displayed no sign of remorse for her immoral actions. According to Douglass, his Mistress had once educated him. After her transformation, he then recognized that she did every attempt to impede him from education himself. It is evident in the text when he stated:” Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper” (Douglass 73). However, despite the challenges that Douglass faced, he managed to find every other alternative to educate himself. Although he lacked the freedom to learn, Douglass lived in a house replete with food and essentials needed to sustain him a comfortable life. In exchange for knowledge, Douglass would offer bread to the white poor children in his neighborhood. Another way that Douglass educated himself was by writing on the Crates in the shipyard. He would observe the men that would write on the timber, labeling them. Lastly, while both Master Hugh and Douglass’s Mistress were gone, he would read books written by Hugh and eventually learned how to write the very same way as his

Frederick Douglass's Rebellion

In the year 1826 Fredrick Douglass realized that he would eventually escape slavery. He would recount this thought four times in his life when he has to become most rebellious in order to survive slaveholders attempting to establish control and dominance in different ways. Each time one comes along Douglass responds using a different form of retaliation or rebellion to show his masters that they don’t own as much control over him as they think they do. All of these attempts to resist his masters control, slavery, and what slavery stood for were detrimental to Fredrick’s escape but the most influential one, the resistive act that started, and kept, the ball rolling was Fredrick’s determination to become literate. Knowledge is power and without his ability to read and write Douglass would have never escaped slavery or written a Narrative of his life.

Learning To Read And Write Frederick Douglass Rhetorical Analysis

Frederick Douglass, a slave who evolved to become an editor, public speaker and a leader in the abolitionist movement, expressed his academic struggles with learning as a slave in the early 1800s in his composition, “Learning to Read and Write”. When Douglass was a slave, the slave owners did not allow him to attend school, instead, he learned to read and write with the help of those around him. He eventually succeeded in achieving his ambitions; however, he still desired to become a free man. As he acquired more knowledge, Douglass was forced to change his learning methods in order to elude punishment from his owners, even enticing the white children to teach him in his free time. Douglass uses complex vocabulary, strong diction and unique metaphors provide his audience with a clear and undisputed perspective of his opinion on slavery. His unyielding determination, evident in his writings, encouraged the

Essay On Learning To Read And Write By Frederick Douglass

During the days of slavery many slaves did not know the alphabet, let alone reading and writing. Douglass feels distant from his close ones and is often stressed about his situation. Sometimes, he would be so tensed that he feels that there is no other option than to take his own life in order to be free and escape the misery of slavery. Frederick Douglass was stressed and he would find himself “regretting [his] own existence, and now wishing [himself] dead;” he had no doubt that “[he] should have killed [himself]” (146). Douglass is clearly suffering from the knowledge he gains because it leads him to be estranged and makes him often want to end his own life. This is not a good practice for anyone in life for the reason that life is precious and it should never be taken for granted. Before Douglass learns how to read, he was content with his condition as a slave, but this proved a cruel incident that occurred in his life by making him

Frederick Douglass Narrative

In the beginning of Douglass’ life, his only knowledge is the slave world and their duties. He knows the land, the families, and the brutal ways of life as a slave. When Douglass is sent to Baltimore to babysit, Mrs. Auld, his mistress, teaches him the alphabets. Mr. Auld tells her that she cannot teach a “nigger” no more because he thinks that ones they learn, they will be uncontrollable. This changes Douglass’s whole perception of slavery. He realizes that the only thing that stands between a slave and freedom is education. After Mrs. Auld stops teaching him, Douglass starts to read newspapers and books to teach himself how to read and write. The more Douglass learned, the more he starts to realize the ugliest side of slavery. This helps Douglass to be determined to put an end to slavery and eventually helps him escape. For Frederick Douglass, it was knowledge that freed him and changed his life so completely, and that he later uses to help other slaves. Knowledge was what gave Douglass a new life and determination to accomplish something instead of struggling his whole

The Power of Slave Narratives

A source of inspiration for this paper is Douglass’ retelling of learning his ABCs. Douglass recalls the moment when Mr. Auld scolds his wife, Mrs. Auld, for teaching Douglass. The reason why Douglass should not be educated is harrowing, “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master--to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world” (Douglass 45). Consequently, this assertion of spoiling is caused by reading and literacy. Education gives Douglass the tools to question his existence resulting in a realization of oppression. Thus with the ability to read and write, he could escape by both literally and figuratively writing his own pass to freedom. From here Douglass realizes that the “...pathway from slavery to freedom...” was via education and that “...the argument which [Mr. Auld] so warmly waged, against my learning to read, only seemed to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn..” (Douglass 46). Passion and perseverance force Douglass to exchange ...

Frederick Douglass

Slaves were forbidden to read and slave owners were forbidden to teach slaves to read and write. The existence of such a restriction on educating slaves is proof that the slaveholders felt a need to suppress the capabilities of slaves. As a slave, Douglass was given the opportunity to learn and elevate his status only to have all that, including the invitation to join "high" society snatched away. Such a tease and broken promise of a better day proved to be more than Douglass could bear. He devoted each of his idle moments to mastering the language arts. In addition, as if mastering it were not enough, Douglass meticulously educated other slaves in the English language of reading and writing. Douglass' action was indicative of the significance found in literacy. If he had not put literacy at such high esteem, he would not have taken the time to continue his education and persuade others to pursue theirs. Douglass knew first hand that education was a effective tool of empowerment especially to slaves—those who had spent their lives without any power. This separation of man from education was a control issue and reclaiming control meant education one's self and his or her peers. Through educating his peers, Douglass demonstrated his knowledge of the underlying power in literacy.

Frederick Douglass Injustice Essay

He had long fought to learn to read and was so excited and eager to do so, he never expected the circumstances of this to be as dehumanizing as they were. He regretted learning to read because it brought him nothing but desperation, he learned his awful truth and that of his fellow slaves. "It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy." (Douglass, 24) The truth was that the more he learned the more he became aggravated, he knew there was not much he could do. It brought his moral down along with many other feelings, even a slave like Frederick had learned the awful feeling of

The Use of Rhetorical Devices in The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass written by Frederick Douglass

One day, Douglass eavesdrops on him and Mrs. Auld’s conversation. Mr. Auld persuades her that reading “could do him (Douglass) no good, but a great deal of harm.” (page 39) This antithesis along with the rest of his statement makes Douglass come to the realization that literacy is equated with not only individual consciousness but also freedom. From that day on, Douglass makes it his goal to learn as much as he can, eventually learning how to write,

Frederick Douglass: Escaping Slavery through Literacy

Douglass was motivated to learn how to read by hearing his master condemn the education of slaves. Mr. Auld declared that an education would “spoil” him and “forever unfit him to be a slave” (2054). He believed that the ability to read makes a slave “unmanageable” and “discontented” (2054). Douglass discovered that the “white man’s power to enslave the black man” (2054) was in his literacy and education. As long as the slaves are ignorant, they would be resigned to their fate. However, if the slaves are educated, they would understand that they are as fully human as the white men and realize the unfairness of their treatment. Education is like a forbidden fruit to the slave; therefore, the slave owners guard against this knowledge of good and evil. Nevertheless, D...

Frederick Douglass: The Dehumanization Of African American Slaves

While writing about the dehumanizing nature of slavery, Douglass eloquently and efficiently re-humanize African Americans. This is most evident throughout the work as a whole, yet specific parts can be used as examples of his artistic control of the English language. From the beginning of the novel, Douglass’ vocabulary is noteworthy with his use of words such as “intimation […] odiousness […] ordained.” This more advanced vocabulary is scattered throughout the narrative, and is a testament to Douglass’ education level. In conjunction with his vocabulary, Douglass often employed a complex syntax which shows his ability to manipulate the English language. This can be seen in Douglass’ self-description of preferring to be “true to [himself], even at the hazard of incurring ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur [his] own abhorrence.” This is significant because it proves that Douglass can not only simply read and write, but he has actually obtained a mastery of reading and writing. This is a highly humanizing trait because it equates him in education level to that of the stereotypical white man, and how could one deny that the white man is human because of his greater education? It is primarily the difference in education that separates the free from the slaves, and Douglass is able to bridge this gap as a pioneer of the

Frederick Douglass Narrative Essay

In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written by Frederick Douglass himself, is a story of Douglass’ courageous journey through the dark and wretched period of slavery, acting as almost as the slavery’s version of The Diary of Anne Frank. Douglass, a former slave, had an utmost strong desire to acquire the knowledge of literacy—the ability to read and write. In Chapter 6, Douglass overheard a discussion between different white men speaking about how that literacy would allow the slaves to understand their condition and make controlling them a seemingly impossible job for the slave-masters to deal with. With this knowledge in mind, Douglass decided to “set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost

More about Learning To Read And Write By Frederick Douglass Analysis


Frederick Douglass Thesis

Frederick douglass essay.

The effects of slavery continue to be seen in the world to this day, but its time of full force was during the time of Frederick Douglass, an American slave who eventually learned to read and write. He escaped from slavery and began to tell his story, which became very famous for its raw description of the conditions of slavery. Although many think that slaves were the people most affected, Frederick Douglass reveals that the slaveholders were also greatly changed by the institution. In The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass highlights the dehumanizing nature of slavery, both physically and mentally in both the slave and the slaveholder by providing insight into his relationships and experiences with

Frederick Douglass Analysis

In the Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: an American Slave, written by himself, the author argues that slaves are treated no better than, sometimes worse, than livestock. Douglass supports his claim by demonstrating how the slaves were forced to eat out of a trough like pigs and second, shows how hard they were working, like animals. The author’s purpose is to show the lifestyle of an American slave in order to appeal to people’s emotions to show people, from a slave’s perspective, what slavery is really like. Based on the harsh descriptions of his life, Douglass is writing to abolitionist and other people that would sympathize and abolish slavery.

Narrative Of The Life Of Fredrick Douglass, An American Slave

In Fredrick Douglass’s a narrative, Narrative of The Life of Fredrick Douglass, an American Slave, he narrates an account of his experiences in the dehumanizing institution of slavery. This American institution was strategically formatted to quench any resemblance of human dignity. Throughout, the narration of his life Fredrick Douglas, meticulously illustrates the methodical process that contributed to the perpetual state of slavery. In his narration Douglass, denounces the idea that slaves are inferior to their masters but rather, it’s the dehumanizing process that constructs this erroneous theory. Ultimately, the desires of his consciousness for knowledge ferociously leads him to mental and physical pursuit of his emancipation.

The narrative piece written by Frederick Douglass is very descriptive and, through the use of rhetorical language, effective in describing his view of a slave’s life once freed. The opening line creates a clear introduction for what is to come, as he state, “ the wretchedness of slavery and the blessedness of freedom were perpetually before me.”

Essay On Frederick Douglass

Who do you consider a revolutionist? Did they help change the world in a helpful way?Growing up a slave, Frederick Douglass was sent to a Baltimore home where he learned to read and write from his slave owner and neighborhood children. As he got older Frederick later taught other slaves on the plantation to read and write Working Thesis: Frederick Douglass has helped changed todays racial society do to his persuasive words he used to bring attention to the worlds society of the time

  • 1 Works Cited

In Frederick Douglass' autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, he writes about the inhumanity and brutality of slavery, with the intention of informing white, American colonists. Douglass is thought to be one of the greatest leaders of the abolition, which radically and dramatically changed the American way of life, thus revolutionizing America. Douglass changed America, and accomplished this through writing simply and to the point about the "reality" of slavery, told through the point of view of a slave. In a preface of Douglass' autobiography, William Lloyd Garrison writes, "I am confident that it is essentially true in all its statements; that nothing has been set down in malice, nothing

Frederick Douglass Research Paper

Frederick Douglass was the most important African American leader in the 19th century. Frederick Douglass was born on a plantation on the Eastern Shore of Maryland around 1818. Douglass changed what people thought about slavery, race, and American Democracy. Since the early 1800s Douglass' life has been a source of inspiration and hope for millions. He has also been an ever present challenge, demanding that American citizens live up to their highest ideals and make the United States a land of liberty and equality for all.

Frederick Douglass has finally managed to run away from one of his masters to become a free slave, but yet he feels fear and paranoia. As he runs away, he contemplates all the possibilities of him getting caught by slaveholders or even turned in by his own kind. And it upsets him having to pass all the houses and food, but he has no shelter and starves with no food. This in fact heightens the intensity of his fear and paranoia because he is more likely to be caught with no where to hide and having no energy to run because he is starving. In The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass, he utilizes things such as parallel syntactic structure, paradoxes, figurative language, and caesuras to help portray his feeling of

Analysis Of Learning To Read And Write By Frederick Douglass

In the narrative excerpt “Learning to Read and Write” (1845), which originally came from the autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass recapitulates his journey into the coming of literacy that shifts his point to how slavery really is. Douglass develops and supports his main idea by providing a flashback of his own experience as a slave learning to read and write and through dialogue with rhetorical appeals, such as ethos, pathos, and logos. Douglass’ apparent purpose is to retell his story of the obstacles he faced to finally become a free man to guide and prompt other fellow slaves to finally take action for their freedom; he also wants to establish a foundation in which people of higher power, such as abolitionists, are more aware of the slavery situation. The intended audience for this excerpt is the general public of the time consisting of fellow slaves, slave owners, and abolitionists; the relationship Douglass establishes with the audience is equivalent to a news reporter and the people receiving the message—he exposes the truth to them.

When the topic of which African American writes are my favorite, the first name that comes to mind is Frederick Douglass. After escaping from slavery, he later became a leader of the abolitionist movement while gaining notes for his impressive rhetoric and perceptive antislavery writing, my favorite being A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. After its release It was so desirable that it and was reprinted numerous times, later to be translated in French and Dutch, then widely distributed throughout Europe. Douglass’ speeches may have also contributed to his success because his British friends admired enough that they purchased his freedom from his owner in 1847, thus allowing him to return to the United States

Frederick Douglass, My Bondage And My Freedom

Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey on Maryland's Eastern Shore in 1818, he was the son of a slave woman and, her white master. Upon his escape from slavery at age 20, he adopted the name of the hero of Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake. Douglass immortalized his years as a slave in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845). This and two other autobiographies, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881), mark his greatest contributions to American culture. Written as antislavery propaganda and personal revelation, they are regarded as the finest examples of the slave narrative tradition and as classics of American autobiography.

Born into a life of slavery, Frederick Douglass overcame a boatload of obstacles in his very accomplished life. While a slave he was able to learn how to read and write, which was the most significant accomplishment in his life. This was significant, not only because it was forbidden for a slave to read due to the slaveholders wanting to keep them ignorant to preserve slavery, but because it was the starting point for Frederick to think more freely and more profound. Frederick Douglass then taught other slaves how to read and write because he believed and taught “Once you learn to read you will be forever free” (Frederick Douglass). This man was an astonishing individual who

Frederick Douglass Essays

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is an account of Frederick Douglass’ life written in a very detached and objective tone. You might find this tone normal for a historical account of the events of someone’s life if not for the fact that the narrative was written by Frederick Douglass himself. In light of the fact that Douglass wrote his autobiography as a treatise in support of the abolishment of slavery, the removed tone was an effective tone. It gave force to his argument that slavery should be done away with.

Frederick Douglass 's Learning Of Read And Write

Fredrick Douglass’s “Learning to Read and Write”, gives readers insight into the struggles of being a slave with intelligence, but more importantly into his experience. In his essay, Douglass shows how he fought to obtain knowledge; however, a reading of his story will reveal that what he learned changed him for the better. Michael Scott, a former EOF student read the story and believed that Douglass’s intelligence was a destructive and to a certain degree pointless. Contrary to Scott’s statement, Douglass’s knowledge wasn’t more of a curse than a blessing. Being a slave was everyone’s curse. Douglass went into depression because he hadn’t had the same experience as other slaves and finally felt what it was really like to be a slave when he was punished for his knowledge. However just because his knowledge is what got him into trouble doesn’t necessarily make him, being an intelligent slave; a curse nor does it mean that he had absolutely no alternatives to his condition. In fact, he above most other slaves had the upper hand when it came to creating his own alternative. Douglass’s intelligence helped him become autodidactic, manipulate situations to benefit him, and develop an ambition to become free.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: The Formation of Identity

  • 2 Works Cited

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave details the progression of a slave to a man, and thus, the formation of his identity. The narrative functions as a persuasive essay, written in the hopes that it would successfully lead to “hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of [his] brethren in bonds” (Douglass 331). As an institution, slavery endeavored to reduce the men, women, and children “in bonds” to a state less than human. The slave identity, according to the institution of slavery, was not to be that of a rational, self forming, equal human being, but rather, a human animal whose purpose is to work and obey the whims of their “master.” For these reasons, Douglass articulates a distinction

Learning to Read and Write by Frederick Douglass: Analysis

Frederic Douglass was born in slavery. This misfortune did not prevent him from struggling for his life and striving for knowledge. In the fragment of his autobiography “Learning to Read and Write” he tells how he succeeds in the literacy. A lot of tricks help him to do that. In that time and environment slaves were not allowed to learn to read and write. That could help them to understand the nature of their slavery and begin to struggle for freedom, as Douglass did.

The author tells us about a great opposition to his literacy, although his mistress was “a kind and tender-hearted woman” (Douglass). At first she taught him reading with her own son and showed him the ABC, but became opposite, like her husband. His master was a shrewd person, and he realized that Frederic would be able to read news and question why he is a slave if he became literate. It could destroy the comfortable world of his masters. Knowing news could bring the boy to understanding what is happening in the North, and make him hope that liberation would come soon. “I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead…” (Douglass). Other boys did not want to play with him, Frederic was upset and scared. In these words we perceive despair and bitterness lying deep at heart of the boy. Frederic overcomes all obstacles to become literate: he looked at letters at a ship yard, used chalk, walls, and ground. Once, he found a Webster’s spelling book, but used it secretly from his master. And we may conclude that only hard work and longing for knowledge helped the boy in his dream. He did all his best and was reworded for his efforts with ability to read and to write. He never spent money in vain, he bought books. Surely, the boy was quick on the uptake, because he learned alphabet after one day.

The author advises us what everybody should do. First of all, to be kind to people and help them, like Frederic was helped. People gave advice how to get free, gave him tools. And he accepted all these gifts and used them. And the message is not only to give such tools to other people, but also use them, when you are given. For contemporary pupils it is not that easy to understand how difficult it is to learn to read, when you have nothing. Modern schools have textbooks and teachers. But little Frederic lacked such things, and only due to his zest he became literate. This experience of unenlightened victim makes him strive for freedom, and educating himself Douglass became an empowered and determined man. He reads about abolitionist movements and progresses to awareness in the evils of slavery. But it will happen later, now he is just a little boy wanting to learn to read and write. More sophisticated his ideas of constructivism, sociolinguistics and psychology literacy sound in this essay. The author considers his self-teaching methods, cultural situation, deciphering of meanings of unfamiliar words, investigates context clues, thus, Douglass combines the story about a little boy with adult scientific research.

His ideas transformed into the view that slavery should be abolished in the adult life of the boy. And it is not for nothing, that in the consciousness of a little slave word abolitionist carried so much significance and curiosity. The author highlights not only importance of literacy, but also importance of using right methods and knowledge to get free.

Works Cited

Douglass Frederic. “Learning to Read and Write”. 75 Readings: An anthology. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Langua, 2003.

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Write a :Thesis Statement for the Argument Essay and A formal...

Write a :Thesis Statement for the Argument Essay and A formal outline for your Argument Essay! 

Required Reading for this essay:

  • Narrative of Frederick Douglass
  • William McFeely, "The Writing of the Narrative

Answer & Explanation

Thesis Statement for the Argument.

Thesis Statement: Through his powerful and eye-opening Narrative, Frederick Douglass proves that education is the key to unlocking freedom from the psychological and physical chains of slavery.

Formal Outline:  I. Introduction A. Hook  B. Background information C. Thesis Statement II. Body A. Benefits of Education for Douglass 1. Psychological Freedom 2. Physical Freedom B. Writing the Narrative 1. Influence of William McFeely 2. Power of Writing III. Conclusion  A. Summary of Argument  B. Impact of Education on Douglass's Freedom  C. Call to Action 

Argument's thesis statement.

This immensely moving and enlightening book, The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, describes the horrors of slavery and the role that education plays in achieving liberation. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 and endured horrendous treatment, but thanks to his education, he was able to flee and eventually win his freedom. Douglass described his experiences as a slave and how he used knowledge to win his freedom in his Narrative. Douglass was able to compose his Narrative, which is today regarded as one of the most significant pieces of writing in American history, with the aid of William McFeely. This essay will make the case that education was the key to releasing Douglass from the mental and physical chains of slavery by examining the advantages of education for Douglass as well as William McFeely's influence on the composition of the Narrative.

Douglass makes obvious the advantages of education throughout his narrative. Douglass had both psychological and physical freedom thanks to his education. Douglass was able to acquire the knowledge and awareness of his own rights through education, which empowered him to speak up and fight for his independence. He was able to comprehend the flaws in the enslavement system as well as the potential of knowledge to free him.

Douglass felt a new feeling of hope and strength when he first started learning to read. "I now grasped what had seemed to me a highly baffling difficulty—to wit, the power of the white man to enslave the black man," he wrote in his essay. It was a significant accomplishment that I deeply valued (Douglass, p. 18). Douglass was able to comprehend the inequities of slavery and come to terms with the reality of the power dynamics between white and black people through education. Douglass was able to comprehend the power of writing and how it could be used to achieve freedom because to his education. "From that moment, I realized the path from servitude to liberation," the author wrote (Douglass, p. 21). Douglass had the understanding and knowledge to use writing to win his release because to his education.

Education gave Douglass physical freedom in addition to psychological freedom. Douglass was able to educate himself the knowledge and abilities required to achieve his freedom through schooling. He claimed, "I could accomplish labor more expertly and more quickly than many of those who claimed to be freemen" (Douglass, p. 23). Douglass was able to acquire the physical freedom he required to flee slavery by teaching himself the skills required to carry out labor more effectively.

For Douglass, the creation of the Narrative had a profound impact. Douglass was able to compose his Narrative and tell his narrative to the world with William McFeely's assistance. McFeely was a well-known abolitionist, and Douglass relied heavily on his advice and assistance when writing his Narrative. "Mr. McFeely's guidance, counsel, and encouragement were of considerable assistance to me in my work," Douglass wrote (Douglass, p. 39). Douglass would not have been able to write his Narrative and tell his narrative to the world without McFeely's assistance.

Writing had a powerful impact on Douglass' struggle for freedom. Douglass was able to communicate his experience through writing and raise awareness of the atrocities of slavery. "I have frequently been asked how I felt while writing my narrative," he wrote. I am at a loss for a better response to this than the one I provided in response to a friend's question of a similar nature. I remarked, "I felt like one might feel after escaping a pack of roaring lions (Douglass, p. 42). Douglass was able to write his way out of the lion's den that was slavery, and his education made this possible.

Inconclusion, Frederick Douglass demonstrates via his compelling and enlightening narrative that education is the way to breaking free from the mental and physical bonds of slavery. Because of his education, Douglass was able to learn about his own rights and appreciate the power of writing to tell his tale. Douglass was able to compose his Narrative and tell his narrative to the world with William McFeely's assistance. Douglass was able to free himself from slavery and the den of lions by using the power of writing. Douglass's education was the key to his independence, and this incident should serve as a reminder that education is the most effective means of achieving anyone's freedom.

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Interpretive Analysis of Learning to Read and Write by Frederick Douglass

Updated 28 April 2021

Subject Experience ,  Hero ,  Slavery

Downloads 50

Category History ,  Life

Topic Frederick Douglass ,  Knowledge ,  Power


Frederick Douglass's novel, Learning to Read and Write, highlights the value of education and the effects of being learned in life. It is apparent that learning to read and write is a mechanism by which a person gains social and economic influence. However, the speaker contends that intelligence is like a two-edged sword, cutting both ways; therefore, it is both a sign of strength and a curse. Regardless of these educational complexities, Frederick sends a message that a person should aim to acquire information and use it to enhance his or her life. Education is presented as the basis within which a person can define himself or herself and not the circumstances within which people are born into.

Interpretative analysis

The narrative puts across the author's sense of pride at his accomplishments especially being able to read and write. He feels proud for having accomplished various things in spite of his social limitations that he succeeds to overcome through embracing and fervently seeking to learn how to read and write. Since being an African American slave made it difficult if not impossible to learn how to read and write, the author presents the various ingenious ways that he succeeded to convince various people to teach him how to read and write especially when they did not recognize that they were teaching him anything. He observes that "the idea as to how I might learn to write was suggested to me by ... frequently seeing the ship carpenters" (Douglass 51)

The author argues that his ability to make people to teach him to write and read without their knowledge gave them ignorant bliss. Since, the dominant white race was opposed to the African Americans learning to read and write it was prudent to make sure that they knew as little as possible with respect to the author's intentions to learn how to read and write. His argument is that by manipulating people to teach him to read and write, there would be not repercussion to his various teachers and to himself for doing something that was considered a taboo in the contemporary social dynamic.

The concept of ignorance is bliss is not only applicable to the narrator's learning process, but it is a central theme across the narrative. The author intimates that by learning to read and write, he become aware of social evils and problems that he would have remained oblivious had he remained ignorant. The other people that did not know how read were evidently happier since they knew very little that could upset them or cause them to realize the challenges of their immediate social and economic environment. Though learning how to read and write, the author becomes aware of issues that he was previously oblivious and the fact that he does not have the power to change things for the better makes knowledge a source of pain and discomfort.

The author was brought up in a social setting where he was a slave and did not have the right to access education in any form. Therefore, his interest and desire to gain knowledge drives him to learn how to read and write in the most unconventional of ways. He observes that his mistress had kindled an interest to learn how to read, "Mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch, and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell" (Douglass 48). His uncanny ability to indirectly persuade individuals to teach him without their knowledge alludes to the harsh circumstances that he would find himself should his actions be discovered. Therefore, his journey to becoming literate can be characterized as an adventure that inspires those in pursuit of knowledge. The narrative demonstrates that a desire for knowledge cannot be inhibited by social constraints; therefore, if a person wants to learn how to read and write, he or she can always find methods of doing so in spite of the prevalent social and economic challenges.

The essay presents a number of issues that include social oppression and repression of the African Americans especially being prevented to learn how to read and write or gain social mobility in any way. The narrative illustrates a devoted and dedicated person being able to overcome all odds in order to achieve his goals. Frederick is presented as an ingenious and courageous individual who did not waver especially in view of the potential repercussions had he been discovered.

The author examines his life and carefully presents the challenges he faced in his pursuit of knowledge in the absence of tutors or mentors to guide him through education. In the course of his learning, the author discovered that there are major differences in thinking between individuals that were learned and those that were illiterate. He observes that while education was the greatest of his achievements in life as a young slave, it open his eyes to a new kind of thinking and opened his eyes to a new world that he was previously oblivious. As such, he examines the benefits and drawbacks of learning to read and write especially in a social dynamic where his people were only recognized as slaves and were denied the most basic human rights including education.

Learning to read and write paves way for the author's transition from a mere slave boy to a man who becomes increasingly aware of his immediate surroundings, the social issues that affect his community and what he can do to alleviate their position is society. Being educated makes it possible for Frederick Douglass to being his journey from being a mere slave to a champion of African American's civil rights. He becomes aware that slavery is a social evil that must be done away with and becomes a vocal supporter and activist in the quest for the abolition of slavery in the United States of America. He observes that "I could hear something about abolitionists. It was sometime before I found what the word meant" (Douglass 50).

It is clear that the author is speaking to his fellow African Americans as the direct audience of the narrative especially those that were liberated from slavery and those that supported the abolition of slavery. This view is premised on the author's careful description of the challenges that he faced in the process of learning how to read and write. Hence, only a slave, a liberated slave or a supporter of the abolition could appreciate his sacrifices and the unique methods that he used in order to gain knowledge.

Learning How To Read And Write is a narrative that presents the journey of young slave in becoming aware of the issues that surround his community and his actions towards rectifying them. The author learns how to read by making observations and inquiries to individuals such as carpenters and local boys. The learning process is painstaking, yet rewarding since he becomes more knowledgeable and informed especially on issues regarding slavery. It is evident that the Frederick is a resilient and dedicated individual considering he did not give up learning how to read and write in spite of his social status as a slave. However, he soon recognizes that knowledge can bestow power and cause great pain at the same time.

Works cited

Douglass, Frederick. "Learning to read and write." Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.

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Frederick Douglas: Learning to Read and Write Essay


When Frederick Douglas finally learned how to read and write, it was as if a whole new world was opened to him but instead of the joy of learning, he discovered a profound sadness upon realizing that he ought to be free and yet he was not. Learning to read and write was Douglas’ ticket out of slavery but this is not the main point of the story, it was the process of learning that opened his eyes to slavery in America and its negative impact to both slave and free. In other words the discussion about the process of learning to read and write was the framework that he used to illustrate what slavery is all about.

For many Americans in the early 19 th century, reading and writing are indispensable tools that will help a person become the best that he could be. Learning this skill is a privilege that should have been open to everyone. The unwritten rule that slaves must remain ignorant for the rest of their lives created a hunger in Douglas to know more than merely to read and write. Yet, he would not have known about the true evil of slavery if his former master and mistress did not oppose vehemently to his education. Their insistence that young Frederick Douglas should only exist as a mere resource to be exploited awakened in him the passion to understand why he is a slave and why there are people above him who continue to harass him and his kind. It was as if all of a sudden he was placed in a different vantage point. He saw something that both black and white failed to see.

Douglas did not simply describe slavery as evil. He created a backdrop for this ideas so that the people in America will come to fully understand slavery, that it is not an institution established for the good of all but a system created to benefit a few. One of his most effective strategy was to not only to describe the pitiful state of the African-American slaves but he also pointed out that the slave masters deserve the same pity because they too were affected by the evil forces at work within this system.

Using metaphors, Douglas described the transformation of a nice lady into someone more terrible than a taskmaster. Douglas wrote about his former mistress with affection but he could not hide the fact that she was no longer the same person and Douglas, talking about the evil operating within slavery, made the following remark, “Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness” (p. 1077). Without a doubt this statement was intended to attract the interest of the abolitionist as well as to provoke the white people to reconsider slavery.

It was a masterstroke of brilliance on the part of Douglas. If he simply decided to write about the suffering of the slaves in the South he could only expect the empathy of African-Americans. But when he revealed the negative impact of slavery, by referring to his former mistress and then uttering the famous statement, “Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me” Douglas succeeded in rousing the sympathy of his readers both black and white. But more importantly he forced slave holders in the South to reconsider slavery or at least how they treat their slaves.

It is also interesting how he developed the platform from which he would launch his attack against slavery. It started innocently enough, as if he was merely talking about reading and writing and the obvious reasons why slave masters will not allow their slaves to know more than the skill to do manual labor. But it is the denial of this basic right to learn and to think that started the discussion. Douglas was very much aware about the necessary knowledge required before Northerners will begin to pour out overwhelming support towards abolition. Douglas had to make them understand why it is imperative that slavery must end. It was as if he turned tables against the slaveholders and made them realize that it is not the slaves who were ignorant, it was also their masters. They were ignorant of the fact that slavery is not a good thing for them.

Douglas was also very much aware that he could not afford to describe slavery in abstract terms and use words like suffering and cruelty haphazardly. This means that he cannot simply make general statements because his audience, the influential people in the North will simply consider him as nothing more than a runaway slave eager to make a mountain out of a molehill. Douglas had to use something that they could understand and because he was targeting the educated members of society he appealed to them through the story that slaves never had the chance to read and write.

At first glance the story seems to be straightforward. A slave learned the art of reading and writing and then used this skill to escape. But a closer examination of the narrative will reveal that Douglas was a master communicator who understood the power of a good story. He had the right ingredients to create one spellbinding tale because he was a former slave who had something to say about the most controversial issue at that period in American history. Douglas was not simply saying that it was his ability to read and write that rescued him and allowed him to escape. It was the process of learning how to read and write that made Douglas fully understand the negative impact of slavery both to slave owners and their slaves.

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IvyPanda . "Frederick Douglas: Learning to Read and Write." December 4, 2021.

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