Essay on Literacy in African-American Literature

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Levels of Literacy in African-American Literature - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Song of Solomon, and Push


Through literacy will come emancipation. So runs a theme throughout the various selections we have read thus far. But emancipation comes in many forms, as does literacy. The various aspects of academic literacy are rather obvious in relation to emancipation, especially when one is confronted with exclusion from membership in the dominant culture. In the various slave narratives we have examined, all but one writer, Mary Prince, managed to achieve academic literacy to varying degrees (although, Mary Prince was in the process of learning to read and write). And even though she was not literate, Mary was still
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Auld's reasoning is that being able to read would "[...] forever unfit him [Douglass] to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master" (274). From Auld's admonitions, Douglass determines that his road to freedom is paved with words: "From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. [...] The very decided manner with which he spoke [...] served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering" (275). Douglass understands that he has everything to gain from literacy, especially the freedom that he desires above all else. His path will be difficult, though, since he will have to find ways to teach himself to read, but it becomes a quest for him.



Does Frederick Douglass have to pay a price to become literate? He states that he "[...] was compelled to resort to various stratagems [...]" to become literate and would "[...] [make] friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street" (276). He would ply them with scraps of bread in his efforts to gain knowledge and would read while he was running errands for his master. Later, he forges "protections" (307) so he and others can attempt to escape to Maryland. Ethically or morally, does he feel even the slightest regret that he resorts to subterfuge and bribery to meet his goals? His text is not explicit in this regard, but given his circumstances, it is obvious that the end justify…