Fredrick Douglass' How to Read and Write Essay

955 WordsNov 13, 20134 Pages
In Frederick Douglass's essay, "Learning to Read and Write", he describes the various teachers that assisted him in becoming literate during the era of slavery. The essay is rich with well-executed and potent literary tools that serve to both relay the struggle he endured in learning to read and write, as well as to further prove Douglass's distinguished accomplishments and ability against seemingly insurmountable odds. It is a very personal recount of a troubling time in his life, but it also correctly depicts Douglass as a capable writer with profoundly coherent thoughts. Through the use of irony, unique syntax, verbose diction, and intelligent metaphors, Frederick Douglass exhibits his ability to eloquently express himself and his personal strife. Irony is ever-present in this essay as Douglass describes his prior teaching situations. For example, although he was enslaved at the time of his teaching, he explains to the reader that he carried loaves of bread when sent on errands so that he could barter for an impromptu reading lesson from local children. He admits "I was much better off in this regard than many of the poor white children in our neighborhood" (Douglass 70). This statement is ironic because Douglass himself would presumably be in the worse position, but instead, even as a 12-year-old acknowledges what little advantages he does have. Character traits such as these are indicative of someone whose struggles should be recognized. Another emergence of irony is present later in the essay, when Douglass is explaining his mental struggle, long after successfully learning to read and write. He refers to his literacy as his "wretched condition" and even tells the reader "I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing" (Douglass 71). This admission is relevant because although Douglass's notoriety is in his feats in

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