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In the essays Learning to Read and Write and Coming to the Awareness of Language Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, respectively, write about the trials and tribulations they faced while attempting to educate themselves and con

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The Quest for Freedom through Literacy In the essays "Learning to Read and Write" and "Coming to the Awareness of Language" Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, respectively, write about the trials and tribulations they faced while attempting to educate themselves and conquer their illiteracy. While Douglass, although physically free, became increasingly and agonizingly aware of his own imprisonment through slavery, Malcolm X's mind transcended the bars that imprisoned his body. For both Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X, learning to read and write was a radical act of self-consciousness. Malcolm X began his quest to learn to read and write in order to develop communication skills that were preferable to "street" level. He wanted to converse and correspond in a way that he felt would command positive attention and respect. While he hungered for proficiency of both written expression and verbal articulation, it is not commonly known that before he became a resident of Norfolk Prison Colony, Malcolm X was a very promising student. ...read more.


Once opened, however, the door could not be closed, and Douglass was determined to continue learning on his own. Although both Malcolm X and Douglass used copying as a way of learning to write, Malcolm X had the clear advantage of access to a dictionary, paper, proper writing utensils, and the freedom to use them. In contrast, Douglass was forced to be creative with the only items and surfaces that were available to him, chalk and the pavement or a brick wall (Douglass 199) among them, to obtain the knowledge he craved. While Malcolm X spent many hours carefully writing out the words in the dictionary "...down to the punctuation marks" (Malcolm X 18) on a pad and repeating them out loud to himself in attempt to memorize them, Douglass found it necessary to use subterfuge and to cleverly manipulate the white youngsters in the neighborhood into teaching him what he was so eager to learn. ...read more.


For the first time, he wished himself as ignorant and unknowing as his fellow slaves (Douglass 197). However, his introduction to the word "abolitionist" was the lifeline that rescued him from the pit of depression and possible self-destruction. He noted, "If a slave ran away and succeeded in getting clear, or if a slave killed his master, set fire to a barn, or did anything very wrong in the mind of a slaveholder, it was spoken of as the fruit of abolition" (Douglass 197). This newfound knowledge, coupled with the possibility of escape, provided the motivation and courage Douglass needed to persevere toward his dream of intellectual freedom and physical independence. Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X succeeded in becoming two of the most highly regarded speakers and writers of their times. These men, born 100 years apart, one enslaved and one imprisoned, overcame insurmountable odds, both physical and psychological, to attain the freedom through literacy that they each so deeply desired; odds which would daunt, and perhaps defeat, even the most driven person today. ...read more.

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