Basil Al Bader
English Composition I
Malcolm X / Frederick Douglas
Malcolm X and Frederick Douglas were two main figures of the black
community in the United States. Both of them were self-educated. Both of them
faced challenges to achieve their education and both of them had impacted by the
growth of their knowledge. We will see in this essay how they learned, the
challenges they faced while trying to learn and what impact learning had on them.
For both Malcolm X and Frederick Douglas, learning to read was a whole
process that took time. The first point that we will state is the environment in which
they learned to read and write.
In 1946,Malcolm X was sentenced eight to ten years in prison. This is where
his interest for reading and writing took birth. It is alone in prison that Malcolm
opened his first book, which for a matter was a dictionary. In his biography, Malcolm
explains the frustration he constantly felt while trying to express his feelings in
letter that he wrote. It is this frustration that led him to request a dictionary. At that
point, Malcolm did not realize so many words existed “I spent two days just riffling
uncertainly through the dictionary pages. I’d never realized so many words existed!”
(211) It is at that point that he started to copy the dictionary. After
copying the first page, he’d read his notes out loud over and over. By this process,
Malcolm created for himself a great way to learn “ I woke up next morning, thinking
about those words … I could also remember what many of those words meant”
(211). At that point Malcolm was launched “I was so fascinated that
I went on … I copied the dictionary’s next page”.
Frederick Douglas process to learn was different. The first point that we will
state is that Frederick was a slave. He wasn’t initially allowed to learn to read and
write. However, he had the chance to be introduced to that valuable knowledge by
his mistress “Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly
commenced to teach me the A, B, C” (Page given in class). Unfortunately, this
situation didn’t last. Once his master realized what was going on, the mistress’s
attitude changed. She actually stopped teaching him and for a matter of fact became
an obstacle to his learning. From now on Frederick had to find an other way to learn.
One way that he describes as being the most successful was to convert every sing
kid that he met into a teacher “ The plan, which I adopted, and the one by which I
was the most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom
I met in the street” (130). This is the main reason of his success to
learn reading “With their kindly aid … I finally succeeded in learning to read”.
The main difference that we can find between the ways they learned is that Malcolm
X learned on his own, with no help while Frederick Douglas used the knowledge of
Learning to read was a long process but it is important to say that it was a
hard process. Both of them faced challenges while learning.
Life in prison is ruled by very strict rules. Malcolm X had, in a certain way, to
fight with theses rules. One of them was the light extinction. Every night, at ten P.M.,
lights were turned of and night guards passes in front of every room every hour.
Malcolm X describes this situation “ … every night at about ten P.M. I would be
outraged with the ‘’lights out’’… At one-hour interval at night guards paced past
every room” (213). Determined to read Malcolm always founded a
way to overcome theses challenges “ Fortunately, right outside my door was a
corridor light that cast a glow into my room. The glow was enough to read by … each
time I heard the approaching footsteps, I...
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