A Story of Literacy: Frederick Douglas and Richard Wright Short Summary

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In the midst of adversity, two African American men defied the odds and learned to read and write during a time when even the mere thought of which would have had dire consequences. Frederick Douglass was born a slave and overcame the restraints of his time by obtaining the ability to read and write. Fast forward 80 years and we meet Richard Wright, though his time came after physical slavery had ended, mentally, he was just as educationally shackled as Douglass. Like Douglass, Wright was a man who yearned for knowledge.

Both men have miraculous stories of how they learned to read ND write during a time when it was considered illegal for an African American man to possess such skills. Two men, a common goal. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery and it was all he knew, it was all he was bred to know. When Douglass was young he was introduced to the world reading by his mistress, ” a kind and tender-hearted woman… 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 beingњwas not only wrong, but dangerously so. (p. 1-2). Eventually, her husband’s beliefs broke through coming her own, against her better nature. “Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamb-like disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierce-nesses. ” (p. 2). Soon, Douglass mistress had not only ceased their reading lessons, but refused to let him proceed reading all together. They were telling Douglass that his place lied exclusively in the darkness of his ignorance, just as they did to Wright. Though they tried, nothing was going to hinder him from pursuing is quest for literacy.

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Douglass now had to rely on is cunning and wits and by befriending some of the neighborhood poor kids, who already knew how to read and write, he would receive books from them and would have them teach him how to write in exchange for bread. He also taught himself to write by copying words that he saw in books and on the sides of ships. Against the rules of his land which makes it “… An unpardonTABLE offense to teach slaves to read in this Christian country. ” (p. 3), over the course of seven years, Douglass succeeded in reading and writing.

Wright also lived in a time that was tyrannies, but nowhere as much as Douglass era. He also had the desire for experiencing the power of words. Though, unlike Douglass, Wright already possessed the power of reading somewhat. Wright’s search for intellectual wisdom arose one day when he read a paper slandering H. L. Mencken, a white man. “l wondered what on earth this Mencken had done to call down upon him the scorn of the South. The only people had ever heard denounced in the South were Negroes, and this man was not a Negro. (p. 1) Wright now had to know what it was about this man that made him such a hated man by his people. So he decided to find a way to check out books by Mencken so he could find out more about him. He had many white workers at his job which had access to the library, but he needed the right one who would not turn on him because, much like in Douglass time it was a crime to be African American and reading. He decided upon asking a white Irish man who was out castes from the other workers due to his difference in religion.

Much like Douglass mistress, Wrights Irish co-worker seemed to have a good heart and not fazed by the status quo. Wright decided he could trust him in asking for the favor of using his library card, and not telling on him reading. The Irish man allowed him to do so only telling him to let the Irish man know what he has learned. Despite Wright getting the Irish man to lend his library card, he still had to plot a way to attain the books. Wright had to now rely on cunning to chivy his quest for literacy, much like Douglass. After reading some of Mencken books, Wright commenced on a journey of words. … Now it surged up again and I hungered for books, new ways of looking and seeing. It was not a matter of believing or disbelieving what I read, but of feeling something new, of being affected by something that made the look Of the world different. ” (p. 3) In the same Way reading infected Douglass it also Infected Wright, they opened his eyes to a world which he had lived in his whole life yet never really knew. “Every opportunity I got, used to read… They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance.

The moral which gained from the dialogue was the rower of truth over the conscience of even a slaveholder. “(Learning to Read and Write p. 6) Though reading to both Douglas and Wright was a blessing and great accomplishment it was also a curse. “In buoying me up, reading also cast me down, made me see what was possible, what I had Library Card p. 4). “… But while they relieved me of one difficulty, they brought on another even more painful than the one of which I was relieve… Would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse than a blessing. ” (Learning to Read and Write p. ). Both men also had a difficult time dealing with the reality of their new found understandings of life and realization of the little power they held over their own situations. As soon as Douglass started to read and learned more and more information, he realized that he could not handle the information. His readings made him hate the white people around him. “It had given me a view of my wretchedocondition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony,ODL envied my fellow-slaves for their

Wright, felt as though he had been left out. Like there was a world out there that he was not allowed to be in. Yet they both overcame the Odds and also became friends with members of the white race which was very uncommon. They both strives to know more. Even in the darkest of times, desire drove to men to reach what they were restricted to have. Their hunger drove them to do better and succeed and reach their goals. They never gave up they found every angle to get what they needed, and even though it seemed to hurt them, it was for their own good.

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A Story of Literacy: Frederick Douglas and Richard Wright Short Summary. (2018, Feb 03). Retrieved from


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