The Power of Slave Narratives:
The influence of Fredrick Douglass and his struggle for emancipation will always be a source of inspiration. Douglass’ history, as articulated in The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, has a remained an influential element on those seeking liberation from oppression and has maintained a tangible position in African-American popular culture. Douglass demonstrates the availability of counter hegemonic ideologies but also provides a guide to achieving corporeal and racial agency. For Douglass, one avenue of liberation was reading. While a close reading of his narrative also suggests music was a fundamental component of his circumstances.
A source of inspiration for this paper is Douglass’ retelling of learning his ABCs. Douglass recalls the moment when Mr. Auld scolds his wife, Mrs. Auld, for teaching Douglass. The reason why Douglass should not be educated is harrowing, “If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master--to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world” (Douglass 45). Consequently, this assertion of spoiling is caused by reading and literacy. Education gives Douglass the tools to question his existence resulting in a realization of oppression. Thus with the ability to read and write, he could escape by both literally and figuratively writing his own pass to freedom. From here Douglass realizes that the “...pathway from slavery to freedom...” was via education and that “...the argument which [Mr. Auld] so warmly waged, against my learning to read, only seemed to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn..” (Douglass 46). Passion and perseverance force Douglass to exchange bread for reading lessons, to copy and recopy abandoned spellers, and find any type of text to read be it thrown-away newspapers or the sides of ships. Accordingly, the development of the intellect spoils the power paradigm between master and slave. As Douglass reminds readers, “In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress” (Douglass 46). From this context, reading becomes the master’s tool, and to give those tools to the slave would entail grave consequences.
As the narrative progresses, Douglass relates his experience with opening his own Sabbath School despite the overshadowing danger that accompanies such a move. It was common for slaves to be whipped, have their thumbs removed or even killed if they were found learning or teaching. However, these dangers proved minimal in comparison to the emotional and intellectual rejuvenation experienced by schooling. Heather Williams further enforces the importance of education as a method of self-preservation to slaves in Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom. Williams relates stories of slaves forming schools in caves and in holes in the ground in order to learn and to pass...