The Importance of Abolishing Slavery in Narrative of the Life of F. Douglass
Frederick Douglass was and remained to be an influential figure in US history in general and in the history of slavery and abolition in particular. His book entitled Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself is an invaluable account of documented atrocities faced by slaves and a guideline toward freedom. The famous abolitionist who had been a slave but managed to free himself uses his life story as an educational and enlightening instruction on the methods for eliminating one of the most inhumane phenomena. His narrative about his experience of obtaining liberation through literacy demonstrates the power of the ability to read and write over the dehumanizing principles of slavery. Since through reading one can widen the scope of knowledge and access the thought of others, it inevitably leads to the development of a personality. Ultimately, a personality that understands their human rights is powerful enough to withstand injustice and fight for freedom. Thus, this paper is designed to argue that the only way to abolish slavery is to humanize the enslaved through their access to education, which will empower them to resist.
Illiteracy as the Foundation of Slavery
In the book, the author presents a full analysis of slavery as a phenomenon by looking at it from the inside as an immediate participant. On the book’s pages, Douglass tells the truth about the reality of living as a slave, characterized by inhumane treatment, constant hard work, physical punishments for any error, and the need to obey any wish of the white master (5-7). Slaves’ living conditions were unbearable due to the tortures they were continuously exposed to as a way of masters’ control. Douglass presents multiple memories in the form of vivid, detailed examples of the beating and whipping of slaves that he witnessed. Dissatisfied with a slave’s behavior, the master “would whip her to make her scream, and whip her to make her hush; and not until overcome by fatigue, would he cease to swing the blood-clotted cowskin” (Douglass 5). In such a manner, cruelty and physical abuse were the forms of ruling over the population of slaves who could not and did not resist.
As the argument of the book unfolds, the author widens the scope of the discussion beyond his personal experience of slavery’s atrocities. He begins to analyze the reasons why white people managed to enslave black people on such a large scale and with such unthinkable cruelty. In this regard, Douglass presents his memory of the turning point in his life, which was a moment when he not only understood the premises of slavery but also found a key to freedom. It was the words of Mr. Auld, the husband of the mistress who taught Douglass the alphabet. When the master learned about the instruction, he forbade his wife to teach Frederick because it was dangerous for the whole system of slavery:
Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world. Now,” said he, 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 (Douglas 29).
In such a manner, it was the slave owner himself who, probably unintentionally, shared the core of slavery. It was in keeping black people ignorant and illiterate to eliminate the risk of their critical thinking, resist the oppression, and willingness to fight for freedom.
Liberation through Education
An individual whose ability to comprehend and critically think about the world is more likely to resist inhumane treatment. The author vividly describes his experience to demonstrate that persistence in the achievement of freedom is based on the understanding of self-worth, which is possible to obtain through literacy. Indeed, for Mrs. Auld, “a little experience soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction, that education and slavery were incompatible with each other” (Douglass 33). Thus, when learning to read and write, slaves could develop thinking and obtain valuable knowledge, which would assist them in becoming free. In particular, the ability to read is universal access to knowledge and information that opens opportunities for people. In the case of the oppressed slaves, their illiteracy and ignorance were the limits of their opportunities. Throughout their lives, since childhood, they were told, like Frederick Douglass was, that they are not human beings of the right kind and should know their place (Douglass 29). Through education, one can understand their human rights and resist discrimination based on a firm belief in one’s dignity as a human being.
Another significant particularity of Douglass’ life story is the contribution of learning from white boys and ultimately teaching other slaves. This element of passing the experience and knowledge between people has become a stepping stone for the argument that the author makes in his book. Indeed, liberation from slavery, in one case, is not an achievement. It is not sufficient in light of the prevalence of this inhumane social order that invaded the American South and allowed plantation owners to enrich themselves by means of the whole lives and work of black people. Instead of freeing only himself, Douglass paid much attention to educating fellow slaves. His recollection of working with two slaves for Mr. Freeland vividly illustrates the passion with which the author wanted to teach others. He states, “Henry and John were quite intelligent, and in a very little while after I went there, I succeeded in creating in them a strong desire to learn how to read” (Douglass 69). Through such an approach, he was building a foundation for the pathway toward the freedom of all slaves and the abolition of slavery as such completely.
In summation, at the time of Frederick Douglass’ life, the issue of slavery in the South of the USA was an unmanageable and outrageous social order that demonstrated the impunity of slave owners. The story of Douglass’ experience as a slave who managed to pave his way to freedom vividly demonstrates that the power of education and literacy is an inevitable element of liberation. It was early in his childhood when he learned that slavery and education were incompatible, which fueled his motivation to learn and teach others. The empowerment that was passed to other slaves through instruction to read and write was a foundation for the irreversible process of slaves’ liberation. Such devotion and belief in the enlightenment as a tool for ending slavery ultimately played a decisive role in the abolition of slavery.
Douglass, Frederic. Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself. Anti-slavery Office, 1845.