• Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
  • Marcus Jacobs
  • 30.06.2020
  • Allgemeine Hochschulreife
  • Englisch
  • 11, 12
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Ex­tract from chap­ter 7

I lived in Mas­ter Hugh's fa­mi­ly about seven years. Du­ring this time, I suc­cee­ded in lear­ning to read and write. In ac­com­pli­shing this, I was com­pel­led to re­sort to va­rious stra­ta­gems. I had no re­gu­lar te­acher. My mi­stress, who had kind­ly com­men­ced to in­struct me, had, in com­pli­ance with the ad­vice and di­rec­tion of her hus­band, not only ce­a­sed to in­struct, but had set her face again­st my being in­struc­ted by any one else. It is due, howe­ver, to my mi­stress to say of her, that she did not adopt this cour­se of treat­ment im­me­dia­te­ly. She at first la­cked the de­pra­vi­ty in­dis­pen­sable to shut­ting me up in men­tal dark­ness. It was at least ne­cessa­ry for her to have some trai­ning in the exer­cise of ir­re­spon­si­ble power, to make her equal to the task of trea­ting me as though I were a brute.

My mi­stress was, as I have said, a kind and tender-​hearted woman; and in the sim­pli­ci­ty of her soul she com­men­ced, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she sup­po­sed one human being ought to treat another. In en­te­ring upon the du­ties of a slave­hol­der, she did not seem to per­cei­ve that I sus­tained to her the re­la­ti­on of a mere chat­tel, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dan­ge­rous­ly so. Slavery pro­ved as in­ju­rious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-​hearted woman. There was no sor­row or suf­fe­ring for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hun­gry, clothes for the naked, and com­fort for every mour­ner that came within her reach. Slavery soon pro­ved its abi­li­ty to di­vest her of these hea­ven­ly qua­li­ties. Under its in­flu­ence, the ten­der heart be­ca­me stone, and the lam­bli­ke dis­po­si­ti­on gave way to one of tiger-​like fier­cen­ess. The first step in her down­ward cour­se was in her ce­a­sing to in­struct me. She now com­men­ced to prac­ti­se her hus­band's pre­cepts. She fi­nal­ly be­ca­me even more vio­lent in her op­po­si­ti­on than her hus­band hims­elf. She was not sa­tis­fied with sim­p­ly doing as well as he had com­man­ded; she see­med an­xious to do bet­ter. Nothing see­med to make her more angry than to see me with a news­pa­per. She see­med to think that here lay the dan­ger. I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a news­pa­per, in a man­ner that fully re­vea­led her appre­hen­si­on. She was an apt woman; and a litt­le ex­pe­ri­ence soon de­mons­tra­ted, to her sa­tis­f­ac­tion, that edu­ca­ti­on and slavery were in­com­pa­ti­ble with each other.

From this time I was most nar­row­ly watched. If I was in a se­pa­ra­te room any con­sidera­ble length of time, I was sure to be suspec­ted of ha­ving a book, and was at once cal­led to give an ac­count of mys­elf. All this, howe­ver, was too late. The first step had been taken. Mi­stress, in te­a­ching me the al­pha­bet, had given me the inch, and no pre­cau­ti­on could pre­vent me from ta­king the ell.

The plan which I ad­op­ted, and the one by which I was most suc­cess­ful, was that of ma­king fri­ends of all the litt­le white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I con­ver­ted into te­achers. With their kind­ly aid, ob­tai­ned at dif­fe­rent times and in dif­fe­rent places, I fi­nal­ly suc­cee­ded in lear­ning to read. When I was sent of er­rands, I al­ways took my book with me, and by going one part of my er­rand quick­ly, I found time to get a les­son be­fo­re my re­turn. I used also to carry bread with me, enough of which was al­ways in the house, and to which I was al­ways wel­co­me; for I was much bet­ter off in this re­gard than many of the poor white child­ren in our neigh­bor­hood. This bread I used to be­s­tow upon the hun­gry litt­le ur­ch­ins, who, in re­turn, would give me that more va­lua­ble bread of know­ledge. I am stron­gly temp­ted to give the names of two or three of those litt­le boys, as a tes­ti­mo­ni­al of the gra­ti­tu­de and af­fec­tion I bear them; but pru­dence for­bids;—not that it would in­ju­re me, but it might em­barrass them; for it is al­most an un­par­donable of­fence to teach slaves to read in this Chris­ti­an coun­try. [...]

I often found mys­elf re­gret­ting my own exis­tence, and wis­hing mys­elf dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have kil­led mys­elf, or done so­me­thing for which I should have been kil­led. While in this state of mind, I was eager to hear any one speak of slavery. I was a ready lis­te­n­er. Every litt­le while, I could hear so­me­thing about the ab­oli­tio­nists. It was some time be­fo­re I found what the word meant. It was al­ways used in such con­nec­tions as to make it an in­te­resting word to me. If a slave ran away and suc­cee­ded in get­ting clear, or if a slave kil­led his mas­ter, set fire to a barn, or did any thing very wrong in the mind of a slave­hol­der, it was spo­ken of as the fruit of ab­oli­ti­on. Hea­ring the word in this con­nec­tion very often, I set about lear­ning what it meant. The dic­tio­n­a­ry af­for­ded me litt­le or no help. I found it was "the act of ab­o­li­shing;" but then I did not know what was to be ab­o­lished.

Here I was per­plexed. I did not dare to ask any one about its me­a­ning, for I was sa­tis­fied that it was so­me­thing they wan­ted me to know very litt­le about. After a pa­ti­ent wai­ting, I got one of our city pa­pers, con­tai­ning an ac­count of the num­ber of pe­ti­ti­ons from the north, pray­ing for the ab­oli­ti­on of slavery in the District of Co­lum­bia, and of the slave trade bet­ween the Sta­tes. From this time I un­ders­tood the words ab­oli­ti­on and ab­oli­tio­nist, and al­ways drew near when that word was spo­ken, ex­pec­ting to hear so­me­thing of im­por­tance to mys­elf and fellow-​slaves. The light broke in upon me by de­grees. I went one day down on the wharf of Mr. Wa­ters; and see­ing two Irish­men un­loa­ding a scow of stone, I went, unas­ked, and hel­ped them. When we had fi­nis­hed, one of them came to me and asked me if I were a slave. I told him I was. He asked, "Are ye a slave for life?" I told him that I was. The good Irish­man see­med to be deep­ly af­fec­ted by the state­ment. He said to the other that it was a pity so fine a litt­le fel­low as mys­elf should be a slave for life. He said it was a shame to hold me. They both ad­vi­sed me to run away to the north; that I should find fri­ends there, and that I should be free. I pre­ten­ded not to be in­te­res­ted in what they said, and trea­ted them as if I did not un­der­stand them; for I fe­a­red they might be tre­acherous. White men have been known to en­cou­ra­ge slaves to es­cape, and then, to get the re­ward, catch them and re­turn them to their mas­ters. I was afraid that these see­min­gly good men might use me so; but I ne­ver­the­less re­mem­be­red their ad­vice, and from that time I re­sol­ved to run away. I loo­ked for­ward to a time at which it would be safe for me to es­cape. I was too young to think of doing so im­me­dia­te­ly; be­si­des, I wis­hed to learn how to write, as I might have oc­ca­si­on to write my own pass. I con­so­led mys­elf with the hope that I should one day find a good chan­ce. Me­an­while, I would learn to write.


Name the steps taken by Dou­glass to learn to read.
Sum­ma­ri­ze the ef­fec­ts of slavery on Dou­glass' mi­stress.