Dr. Valerie Levy
Honors English Composition 103
2 October 2012
Negative vs. Positive Connotations
More often when we hear a word, the definition is not so clear; words in the English language have multiple meanings. For example, the word “gay.” This word is very ambiguous meaning either ecstatic or homosexual. Ecstatic obviously has a positive connotation while homosexual can be offensive. In a very similar way, Frederick Douglass’ essay “Learning to Read and Write” questions the definition of knowledge. Douglass saw that his only pathway to freedom was through literacy, so his goal was to learn how to read and write, no matter what the circumstances are. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is a response to a published statement by eight fellow clergymen from Alabama who fiercely criticized King for organization and participation in the protest march against segregation in Birmingham. King's letter, an attempt to defend himself from accusations, criticizes white moderates and church. Both these authors incorporated connotations of certain words – knowledge, extremist, and moderate – to prove their actions just in a precise and effective manner. Knowledge is directly correlated to education; Frederick Douglass, however, compares knowledge with power. As written in the Merriam Webster dictionary, knowledge means “being acquainted with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition.” According to Douglass, knowledge is a “silver trump of freedom” that had “roused [his] soul to eternal wakefulness (48).” When Douglass first got a taste of knowledge, he then understood the power in which it held. Douglass states in his autobiography, “Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass,” “I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty-to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man” (Douglass). This was Douglass’ first step towards freedom, which was learning what he had to do to...
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