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The Impact of Literacy on Frederick Douglass: Benefits & Drawbacks

Feb 19, 2023 | 0 comments

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Feb 19, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


Frederick Douglass gives us a clear elaboration of how his ability to write and read impacted his life in general and changed how he viewed slavery giving him a turnover in his life. When Mrs. Auld receives chastity from her husband about starting to educate Frederick how he could read, he gets to understand that it is very advantageous to be literate and that is why he goes beyond every way to get to know how to write and read. He is determined to get to know how to read and goes to the extent of serving poor white children food so that they could teach him how to read. His main motivation to learn how to read and write came from him knowing that his master was against education of slaves. He was aware that, an educated slave was not manageable and that is why his master was against slave education (Fredrick& Whittingham, p.47). He is then motivated and starts reading various books and articles that are very helpful to his understanding of slavery and on the merits of human rights. In this assignment, I am going to discuss the various effects positive and negative that Frederick’s learning to write and read had on him. It was very helpful and advantageous to him and his motivation paid off; not only to him but also to other slaves.

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First and foremost, it made Douglass unhappy and disconnected from the people and his surroundings. He elaborates that learning how to write and read was more of a curse to him than a blessing as he had expected it to be. He says that it was an eye opener to him and made him able to see and notice pits that were horrible and there was no way out after seeing what he had seen no matter what. Knowing his situation was a very unhappy occurrence, learning that he was a slave was not the best knowledge he wanted. At some point, he was jealous of his stupid fellows as they did not know what they were. When one reads, they become knowledgeable and when they understand whatever they have read, the knowledge usually sticks with them. To those who enjoy reading, they easily disconnect from their surroundings as they are always carried away with whatever they are reading. This I have experienced; actually when I am reading and my concentration is fully on a book or article, it is not easy for me to notice how much time have passed by as I am usually consumed by the book.

Secondly, he became very educated from what he read. After he had known how to read, he did a little exploration with his reading to know and understand more. Therefore when he read the powerful speeches on emancipation of Catholics from Sheridan and the Colombian Orator, he became aware of the rights of people and these articles had great impacts on how he viewed slavery. These articles created awareness in him of the condition he was in; a slave which made him despise his master. He also states that his education was a curse to him sometimes as it made him see his terrible life situation as a slave. His reading ability is very helpful and educative as it gives him the chance to get a clear understanding of his situation and unlike other slaves; he is motivated by his awareness to fight for his freedom. There is no point in reading if it is not helpful to you or if it does not bring changes in your life. Frederick learnt a lot from his reading and the little he acquired enabled him to understand his situation which encouraged him to fight hard for his freedom (Douglass, p 77).

Thirdly, Frederick’s writing abilities enables him to have proper communication with other people and it even helps him forge documents which come in handy to him. After he is enlightened and is clear with the situation he is in by his reading, Frederick is extremely motivated to fight for his freedom and leave behind the life of slavery and that is why he runs away to seek exactly that. He is equipped with enough knowledge required for the deliverance of moving and very powerful speeches to help free other slaves. Reading and writing helped him in noticing the injustice that comes with slavery, the injustice he had been experiencing. The skills he learnt helped him in escaping slavery and later was very helpful to him as a spokesperson against slavery. Knowledge is power and it can be seen with Frederick that the knowledge he had was a powerful weapon against slavery (Hayek, p31). It saved him as an individual and he used it to fight for the liberation of other slaves.

Lastly, learning how to write and read helped Frederick acquire a leadership place among other slaves. After he had known how to read and write and the benefits that come with it, he was motivated to help his fellow slaves to also acquire the knowledge he had gained. He started educating them and he was very successful in creating the learning urge in them. He also got the leadership place from his fellow slaves when after he had run away; he started fighting for the rights of slaves and against the slavery act. He did not only concern himself with his freedom but was also concerned about that of other people taken in as slaves. He gave the other slaves the thought and idea of freedom and did not do it by himself. He wanted all the slaves to be free just like he was. This is the kind of leadership that is needed from leaders. He used the little knowledge he had to get his freedom and to fight for the freedom of others. Most people would be contented with their freedom and not look back for their fellows.


Learning should be continuous and we should use it not only to our benefit but also to the benefit of others. Frederick learnt how to read and write as a slave it helped him get his freedom and he also used what he had learnt to save other people. From whatever we read we should learn something come out with something new. There is no point in reading if it is not helpful to you or if it does not bring changes in your life. Frederick learnt a lot from his reading and the little he acquired enabled him to understand his situation which encouraged him to fight hard for his freedom. By reading, he was able to know the rights he had as a person and that were a motivation enough.

Works cited

Douglass, Frederick, and Rayford Whittingham Logan. *The life and times of Frederick Douglass*. Courier Corporation, 2003.
Douglass, Frederick. *My bondage and my freedom*. Modern Library, 2007.
Hayek, Friedrich August. *The constitution of liberty*. Routledge, 2014.

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