"Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world" (78). Words that would serve as an affront to most work to inspire Frederick Douglass. Douglass himself states earlier in his book that the "mere circumstance of being removed from that plantation to Baltimore..." (75) would be the foundation on which he found his freedom, but I see this quote, from a conversation with his master to his wife on the risks involved in educating a black man, a slave, to be first and most significant (of many other quite important) lessons in Fredericks lifetime of lessons.
It was 1826 and Frederick was somewhere between the ages of seven and eight. Young Douglass is sent to Baltimore - an exciting prospect for a slave - to live with Hugh and Sophia Auld. Sophia had never owned a slave before and had herself made her own living before her marriage. She showed a kindness toward Frederick that he had never experienced from a white person. Sophia began to teach him to read and to spell which ended up being the end to a white woman's kindness to a slave boy and a slave boys awakening to the reality of his life. Mr. Auld inadvertently gave Frederick just the ell he needed to eventually gain his freedom. Frederick realizes it is the slaves illiteracy which allows the white man to keep hold over slaves, and "From that moment, (I) understood the pathway from slavery to freedom" (79). Sophia, now under the spell of ownership discourages Fredericks learning sending him to trade lessons for bread with the white boys on the street.
At age twelve Frederick finds The Columbian Orator. In this publication a slave is portrayed as not just chattel to be bought and sold, but as an interesting, logical and reasoning human being. He read speeches of emancipation and found the words printed on a page equaling the thoughts living, for him, in his head alone. Frederick, in reading from the Orator is enabled to argue his case intelligently and with confidence; he is not alone. Knowledge signifies a coming of age for Douglass and proves to be bittersweet; in learning, there is indeed power, but with it comes a fuller understanding of the situation a slave is in. This is in turn strengthens and defeats the young man combating his way through the cold, merciless life of a slave
Douglass builds on his knowledge of reading to the knowledge of writing. Inspired by his work in the shipyard and the carpenters labeling of timber, ...