Learning to Read and Write

High school
Pages 3 (753 words)
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Learning to Read and Write" is chapter 7 of Douglass's autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave(1845). It was published after Douglass had become known as an orator and abolitionist. Indeed, it was written, against the advice of well-meaning friends who feared for his safety, to dispel the notion that an accomplished speaker like Douglass could not have known extreme degradation or lack of opportunity.


When the boy made rapid progress, she proudly reported the fact to her husband, who berated her for her pains. She was not only breaking the law, she was doing something 'unsafe'-for learning would make the boy unfit to be a slave, and unmanageable too. Mrs Auld followed her husband's orders-and soon became a new woman. Whereas she had earlier been good and kind, she turned cruel and harsh. The sight of the slave with a book or a newspaper in his hand was hateful to her. She kept the closest vigil to monitor his questionable movements. "Irresponsible power" had corrupted and changed her, through and through.
Douglass records how he resorted to various "stratagems" to steal an education, with help from street-urchins and ship carpenters, and by surreptitious use of his young master's copybook, a Webster's Spelling Book, and a powerful book of speeches and dialogues that he was lucky to lay hands on. The story of his determined conquest of his own illiteracy is amazing. No wonder he had to write it out for people to believe that he had really risen from the ashes of oppression, rather than from the rungs of opportunity.
Alice Walker's "Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self" tells the story of her finally coming to terms with what seemed to her a ...
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