Essay on Finding Identity in the Pathway from Slavery to Literacy

Essay on Finding Identity in the Pathway from Slavery to Literacy

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You have seen how a man was made a slave;
you shall see how a slave was made a man.”
-Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life (1845)
The most shameful practices of American history is the act of slavery from the whites to the African Americans. Many African Americans were born into slavery and forced to feel inferior towards their white masters. Actual human beings were treated like animals. The inhumane condition of slavery challenged African Americans to discover their individual true identity. The whites defined the slaves’ identity as nothing but servants to them. To the slaves, a symbol of hope was the chance to become literate —learning how to read and write. Frederick Douglass, an African American slave, believed that literacy was “the pathway from slavery to freedom” (945). Through literacy, slaves like Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass were able to define their identity.
Phillis Wheatley was a black slave born in Africa. She was taken to Boston in 1761 when he was eight years old and was purchased by a wealthy tailor who brought her to America. Wheatley was fortunate to learn how to read and write taught by her master Susannah (419). One of Wheatley’s poems “On Being Brought from Africa to America” describes her discovery of her identity in this world. In the first two lines of the poem “‘Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land, / Taught my benighted soul to understand (lines 1-2)” Wheatley expresses that moving out of Africa and being exposed to the religion of Christianity was a good thing for her. She feels that her “benighted,” or dark soul is now a lighter soul. In the next two lines “That there's a God, that there's a Savior too: / Once I redemption neither sought nor knew (lines 3-4).” Wheatley is pleased ...


... middle of paper ...


...ian God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave -- we are called upon to prove that we are men? (990).

He strongly expresses that a “slave is a man!” (990) and not an animal. Douglass lists similar characteristics that all humans share. He feels that religion is the strongest similarity between the two races. All races of the nation should share this idea of true freedom and liberty. Douglass used words like “bloody,” “shocking,” “shameless,” “revolting” (991) to describe the act of slavery in America. Speaking in front of all races, Douglass has truly discovered his identity not as a slave nor a respected literate scholar, but as a human being who is a powerful voice for those who seek equality for all.





Works Cited

Baym, Nina. "Frederick Douglass." Norton Anthology American Literature: Shorter. S.l.: W W Norton &, 2007. 920-23. Print.

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