Frederick Douglass asserts that he, as an adolescent “understood the pathway from slavery to freedom” upon his comprehension of English reading. To contemporary audiences, this may be a hard concept to grasp, an individual reared from birth as a slave understanding the significance of literacy and equating such with freedom.
His cognition of this enormous concept can be explained as such: by breaking the literacy barrier, Douglass raised his status (symbolically) from a subhuman, slave status, to human, a White equal. Because all humans are entitled to certain rights, his symbolic progression from slave to human affords those rights, in particular the right to freedom. Slaves were forbidden to read and slave owners were forbidden to teach slaves to read and write. The existence of such a restriction on educating slaves is proof that the slaveholders felt a need to suppress the capabilities of slaves.
As a slave, Douglass was given the opportunity to learn and elevate his status only to have all that, including the invitation to join “high” society snatched away. Such a tease and broken promise of a better day proved to be more than Douglass could bear. He devoted each of his idle moments to mastering the language arts. In addition, as if mastering it were not enough, Douglass meticulously educated other slaves in the English language of reading and writing. Douglass’ action was indicative of the significance found in literacy.
If he had not put literacy at such high esteem, he would not have taken the time to continue his education and persuade others to pursue theirs. Douglass knew first hand that education was a effective tool of empowerment especially to slavesthose who had spent their lives without any power. This separation of man from education was a control issue and reclaiming control meant education one’s self and his or her peers. Through educating his peers, Douglass demonstrated his knowledge of the underlying power in literacy. Douglass practiced not only reading but also writing his English language. 20/20 hindsight provides the reader with the result of his hard work; he was able to record his story and immortalize his experience in the minds of those who may not have known otherwise.
The risk of losing his life and not being able to orchestrate the educating of fellow slaves did not outweigh the importance of his actions. In short, Douglass’ means justified the end; he disobeyed the rules of his time for the greater benefit of his social circle.