Learning to Read and Write by Frederick Douglass

Posted: April 04, 2016






Slavery remains a component of the American history stretching back to hundreds of years ago when the first African slaves first set foot on American soil. Additionally, slavery is characterized by absolute deprivation of education since most slaves are illiterate thus, cannot read and write. Consequently, the slaves bear the brunt of the misery and horror propagated by their respective masters. The following illustrations points out to some of the challenges faced by the slaves in their quest for literacy as depicted by Frederick Douglass:

Learning How to Read

The narrator espouses that learning the first alphabets is inadvertent because the master prohibits such efforts. Any attempt towards learning even the most basic principles of reading was is not allowed by the master. The master’s spouse also vehemently oppose any effort the narrator make towards mastering the ability to read. She forbids any form of education and enlightenment. Therefore, the slave remains subjected to vigilant surveillance. At one instance, the mistress full of fury, snatches a newspaper from the narrator, revealing her full apprehension regarding such attempts made towards learning how to read. Ultimately, the slave seeks new avenues to learn how to read which include reading a copy of the “Columbian Orator” and befriending little boys to teach him during his free time.

Learning How to Write

Learning how to write result from sheer determination and perseverance from observation by the narrator. The narrator observes what the carpenters write on timber destined for various parts of the ship and memorize them. Eventually, he learns what every word means and exercised the knowledge with fellow boys who agree to exchange ideas with him on how to write. Over time, the slave practices writing by copying the Italics in Webster’s spelling book and utilizing the resources left behind by little Master Thomas. After several years of dedication and resilience, the narrator succeeds in learning how to write.


Education poses an enormous threat to the slave owners who feel that that education and slavery are incompatible with each other. Learning to read and write is therefore perceived by the slave owners as a tool for radicalization that might enlighten the slaves about their basic human rights. Consequently, a revolution would most likely occur when the slave get empowered to claim for equal rights as those of his master.

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