Essay: Frederick Douglas and Push by Sapphire

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Frederick Douglass and Precious Jones are two larger than life figures, who show the world what it takes to become a human being when all the odds are against it. They stand for what education means in this world: everything. Unlike most of us, they had to overcome countless obstacles to learn something as basic as what others take for granted: the ABCs.

The two characters, one who wrote his own story, a real story, Frederick Douglass, and one who comes from fiction, Precious, embody the triumph of will and persistence against what most would consider obstacles that are impossible overcome. In their case, the will to get out of the darkness of illiteracy is stronger than any other reason to live.

Frederick Bailey, who later changed his name into Frederick Douglass to escape being brought back into slavery, was born early nineteenth century, on a plantation in Maryland, from a slave and, probably, her white master. A very intelligent boy, he grew up under harsh conditions, although not as harsh as those who were working in the fields their whole lives, as he describes it in his book. Nevertheless, life in slavery, be it in the fields or as a house-help, is the worst kind of life anyone could imagine. The little boy was horrified daily seeing how his fellows were mistreated, he longed for being treated like a human being, but most of all, he longed for freedom. He realized at an early age that the most powerful asset was knowledge. One of his mistresses, Mrs. Auld, starts to teach him how to read. She never finishes the job, but her husband offers the little boy, who was about ten at the time, the opportunity to find out why becoming literate was so important and dangerous at the same time. As he explains it to his wife, being unaware that he was offering the boy a reason to carry on, to break free and to help others get their freedom: "if you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy"(Douglass, 37). These were the words that opened the boy's young mind and changed his life forever. From that point on, he was determined to learn how to read and write, knowing that it was the only way to fight his enslavers, prejudice and their philosophy about inequality and their entitlement to own other human beings while treating them as subhuman beings. The difficulty came not from the effort of learning itself, but from the fact that from that point on, he was forbidden to have anything to do with reading in any form. However, he found ways to trick his masters and not only finish what his mistress had started, but he found ways to find teachers that were more or less unaware of the importance of their job. Becoming literate, the young boy became more and more aware of the unfairness of the abuse he was living himself and was surrounded with. One of the metaphors Douglass uses to describe the ways he found to acquire some of that basic knowledge of reading is very powerful and highly illustrative for the importance of literacy: "I used also to carry bread with me[…] for I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighborhood. This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge" (Douglass, 41).

He soon became able to use that bread of knowledge towards making his way out of slavery. His consciousness of his own value and therefore rights became stronger and this was what really set him free. He was free to think and therefore he escaped the prefabricated theories his oppressors used with their slaves as well as to ease their conscience. It was easy for the slave owners and their employees to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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