The Ingenuity Of Frederick Douglass: Learning To Write

729 words - 3 pages

In his self-titled chronicle, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave", the author presents his audience with a memorable description of his resourcefulness in how he learned to write. His determination to shake off the bonds of illiteracy imposed by his slaveholders created in him the ability to conquer obstacles that held many slaves back. His mastery of the basic steps of the written language would one day play a central role in his success as a free man. The way these skills were acquired teaches us not only of his willpower, but also of his ingenuity as well. The outcome of his efforts culminated in an inimitable slave-narrative, as well as a career as one of the most famous abolitionists that this country would ever know.

From an early age, Frederick Douglass refused to accept the life of confinement into which he was born. The way he learned to write is a fine example of his exceptional resourcefulness and persistence to rise above. In The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Douglass's depiction of his self-education can be found on page 942. In this passage, he tells how he watched the hewing and readying of the timbers used to build the crafts in a shipyard that he frequented as a child. The carpenters would mark the pieces according to location using four letters of the alphabet to indicate larboard, starboard, aft, and forward. Douglass soon "learned the names of these letters" (Douglass).

Given the hurdles that Douglass was required to overcome, his ingenuity in self-education is more than outstanding. He writes that he was forced to "resort to various stratagems" in order to be successful (939). One of these methods was to challenge other boys that were literate to writing contests in which he would practice and prove his ability to write the alphabet. As a slave, he recognized that these were the writing "lessons" that he might not have received in any other way (942).

The process of Douglass's literacy did not occur overnight or without an ample amount of resolve. He had recently learned to...

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