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Learning to Read and Write (Fredrick Douglass Reading Responce)

By Tevinmcleod Nov 07, 2010 592 Words
The Essay “Learning to Read and Write” by Fredrick Douglass is a reminiscent type writing where Douglass talks about how he learned to read. Douglass, a slave growing up in Maryland was not allowed to read or write. So his mistress, the slave master’s wife, taught him to read even though it was forbidden. The mistress Soon stopped for a reason that was never clarified but it was probably because the master found out about Douglass learning to read and made his mistress stop teaching him. So to read and write with help from no one, Douglass goes to a lumber yard and copies the letters written on the wood and studies them. Another tactic Douglass uses is challenging the white children to a writing competition of sorts, where he would write something and the other child had to write something better. After doing this for a while Douglass had a good basis to learn from. The master’s son was also learning to read and write and had a book where he took notes, when the family left Douglass alone to clean the house, he sometimes picked up the child’s writing book and copied it so that he may learn more.

“Learning to read and write” was written in 1845, the dialect from that time period had the words “ye” and “thou” which mainly replaced the word “you”. The word choices in this essay may prove difficult to someone who does not do much reading but personally I had no problems with the vocabulary of this essay. Knowing the definitions of certain words will help if one was to run into those words, also knowing certain words will help one use context clues to further unlock the full meaning of the essay.

When Douglass stated “Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever” he made a powerful statement that contains more information than its eight words make it seem. The “freedom” that Douglass is referring to is the ability to learn. One can be taught, but once he learns to read his mind may expand infinitely. In the Bible it says “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime”. As soon as someone learns to read they have the opportunity to have all the knowledge in the universe, and through knowledge, one can destroy ignorance. Douglass seemed to like figurative language, preferably metaphors. One metaphor he uses in his essay is, “mistress, in teaching me the alphabet, had given me the inch and no precaution could prevent me from taking the ell” (156). In this clever metaphor the word “ell” is an older version of the modern word “mile” and Douglass is basically saying that once he learned the alphabet he had the necessary tools to learn to fully read and expand his vast knowledge, he would stop at nothing. Another nice metaphor Douglass uses is “it opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out”. Normally the slaves were forced to be illiterate; this mass illiteracy caused the slaves to be ignorant of the situation that they were in. Douglass however was not illiterate, he could read and write, which gave him the knowledge he needed to realize that the conditions he was living in was wrong and unethical whereas the other slaves accepted it as normality. Douglass was shown how bleak and horrible his situation was through reading, but he was shown no way out.

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