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Since the beginning of time, the opportunity and the ability to learn has divided the rich from the poor and the elite from the ordinary. In today’s world, for many the higher the education the more likely the better life. As in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, learning can reveal things that are unpleasant or troublesome, but for the most part, having an education is a blessing. Though it was not always the case during the story, by the end, Douglass would contend that learning was not a curse.
Frederick Douglass tends to lapse into assertions that the condition he is in as a slave and obtaining an education are incompatible. From the beginning of the book all the way to the end, Douglass struggles with both the desire to learn and completely giving up on life. For instance, in Chapter Seven he says,” I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but no ladder upon which to get out.” In the case of Frederick Douglass, learning how to read and write, and becoming more intelligent tormented him and for a time had a negative impact on his mental state. As a result of his learning, he was more susceptible to the hopeless situation that he and the other slaves were in, which made him absolutely miserable. When he had accomplished his goal to become literate, he had opened a whole new world and a new perspective in which he saw the world. However, this made the world in which he lived in, as a slave, so much more difficult in which to survive. Multiple times Douglass pondered suicide in order to release himself from the pain he was forced to endure on a day-to-day basis. He felt as if he was trapped in a world of servitude with no escape. Later in the book Douglass states after his time with Covey, “My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died: the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute’. Douglass was beaten not only physically, but also mentally. He realized everything he went through to learn to read and write was possibly for nothing. As a slave, he knew literacy would likely never be put to use, and this knowledge made him angrier and more frustrated with the conditions and treatment than ever before. In spite of this, by the end of the narrative when Douglass escapes slavery, he realized that learning was critical to his becoming free. As a slave his intellect seemed to be a curse, but ultimately it was the greatest gift.
In today’s world, the opportunity and ability to learn is almost never a curse. Obtaining an education can often be the difference in earning more, living better and finding happiness. Education plays a critical role in life as it expands our skills and expertise. Currently, there are movements around the world to give everyone the chance to become educated, regardless of race, gender or income level. Thousands of people have effortly pushed for education for all because of its importance in today’s society. If it were true that learning was a curse rather than a blessing, people would not be fighting for causes like affordable schooling and even free education. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that proves the importance of education, but it does not mean there are no negative aspects that go along with it. Similar to Frederick Douglass, learning new things can open one’s eyes to the horrors of human suffering around the world. Furthermore, slaves who learned to read and write and were in a place of understanding their situation without the ability to escape it for a better life. It was rare for slaves to become free due to their intellect, however, in Frederick Douglass’s case it did.
Douglass knew that having an education would be critical in his path to freedom and thereby a positive not a negative force. That said, he faced many challenges associated with having knowledge along with the prospect of never being free. This theme is outlined in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. For the better part of Douglass’s life he fought slavery through self-education and would ultimately go on to understand the power that it gave him and how he used that to gain his freedom.
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