Sherman Alexie V. Frederick Douglass

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Compare and Contrast Essay

Frederick Douglass V. Sherman Alexie

As a young child, we are given certain opportunities and guidance to expand our knowledge right off the bat when it comes to reading and writing. Going to school to get an education is what every parent aspires their child to do. Parents want the best for their children, to be accepted and to learn to their fullest extent just like every other child their age. However, there are many children and families who are not as privileged when it comes to receiving these certain opportunities. I ask myself a simple question: is education really taken for granted as if it is just a given and not a privilege? It seems that these days, going to school and learning is just expected. Nobody takes the time to realize how privileged they are to have an education, where they can learn to express themselves creatively and form opinions when thinking for themselves without others affecting you. Looking at two essays, “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and me” by Sherman Alexie, and “Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass, comparisons between the two are greatly visible. Both of these stories take an in depth look at these two young men’s lives, as we focus on what these stories are trying to tell, and what message(s) are trying to get across. Not only do these two authors share similarities in upbringing, but they also share the same determination when it comes to educating themselves on their own and proving to others that ignorance truly is bliss.

Born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, Sherman Alexie was truly a remarkable boy. Coming from what he considered to be a poor family “by most standards”, Alexie claims that him and his family lived “on a combination of irregular paychecks, hope, fear and government surplus food” (Alexie pg.16). At the young age of three, Alexie taught himself how to read with a Superman comic book. Where Alexie was from, “A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non-Indians alike.” (pg.17). Expectations were at a low standard for Indian children like him. Teachers and students expected him to fail, especially in a learning environment of non-Indian students. Despite these ignorant accusations, Alexie refused to not only be a statistic within his community, but a failure as well. This is shown as he wrote, “I refused to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant. I was lucky. I read books late into the night, until I could barely keep my eyes open” (pg. 17). He jumped at the chance to read anything in his tracks, giving him the opportunity to expand his mind and knowledge base. He fought with his classmates on a daily basis because they expected him to stay silent if questions were asked in class. Alexie refused to do so; he bypassed his classmates intellectually and would not let anyone make him feel inferior. As he grew up to become a writer, we see pain in the story he tells. “I loved those books, but I also knew that love had only one purpose. I was trying to save my life” (pg.18). Alexie wanted to be someone greater than what others expected him to be. People would put him down constantly, but he fought back just as much. He tried to save himself from the stereotypes of being just another dumb Indian. He had more determination to prove others wrong when it came too exceeding in reading to further excel in his daily life.

When talking about determination and power to succeed, many similarities are portrayed by Sherman Alexie and Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1818 in Maryland. For most of his life he lived in what he said, “Master Hugh’s family” (Douglass pg. 129). Douglass’s mistress, someone he claimed to be a “kind and tender-hearted woman” (pg.129), had begun to instruct him on how to read and write starting with teaching him the alphabet. Slavery is mainly what caused the change...
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