Friday, July 13, 2012

Fredrick Douglass: The Importance of Others

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Fredrick Douglass is a name that will forever be remembered in American history. However, his life was not an easy one and there were many people who played important roles in his upbringing, adolescence, and even adulthood. Whether good or bad, these people shaped Douglass’ life immensely and taught him everything he needed to know to survive. Aside from himself, Sophia Auld was extremely important to his story. Many feel that in order to play an important role in a person’s life one must have an entirely good heart. However, this is not always true as seen in Sophia Auld.

Douglass came to live with the Auld’s at the very tender age of eight. At this time, a child is easily influenced yet also has his/her own idea of what life should be like. At eight Douglass was already feeling the backlash of American slavery at its peak. However, he learned more from Sophia about slavery and freedom alike than he had learned from any other person he had ever, or would ever, know.

Sophia Auld’s character was double sided. In the beginning she was a kind and generous human being. Although, as time progressed, she became just another slave owner caring for nothing more than her own happiness and luxury. Nevertheless, it was these characteristics that made Sophia such an importance to Douglass’ story.

When Douglass arrived at the Auld household, Sophia was a woman of the “kindest heart and finest feelings”. (710) Upon learning that Douglass could not read or write, Sophia immediately began to teach him the alphabet as well as the spelling of short commonly used words. This act of kindness opened innumerable new doors for Douglass. In time, this would become one of the major turning points in his life. Sophia’s na├»ve nature toward slaves allowed Douglass to see that there was more to the world than slaves and slaveholders, that he alone had the power to change his destiny.

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If Sophia had continued to teach Douglass to read and write she would not have been of such extreme importance in his life. However, the fact that she abruptly ended his lessons when her husband claimed that giving this knowledge to Douglass would “forever unfit [Douglass] to be a slave” (711) proved to Douglass the importance of the subject. It was here that he learned the power that the white man held over the black man.

The act of ending Douglass’ lessons drove Douglass to strive even harder to succeed in mastering the act of reading. Through Mr. Auld’s harsh words about a knowledgeable black man and Sophia’s actions to obey her husband, Douglass learned more about slavery and freedom than he ever could have from a book or newspaper. Sophia’s kind actions and her husband’s cruel actions were both extremely beneficial to Douglass’ eventual survival. It was in this way that Sophia Auld’s character was of utmost importance to the story.

Sophia’s teachings, more than anything else, inadvertently showed Douglas that the power to enslave and control others was based upon the amount of knowledge one had obtained during his/her life. From this point on, Sophia Auld was not the caring compassionate person she once was. However, it was now too late. Sophia had already, without knowing it, taught Douglas the “pathway from slavery to freedom”. (711) From this point on, Douglass embraced the privilege of knowledge and in turn, took it as far as he could.

Sophia Auld’s character was important for many reasons. To begin with, Sophia showed Douglass that not all white people were cold hearted and cruel. Although this appears to be a small achievement, it allowed Douglass to begin his journey from the black outsider to the black equal. Before Sophia, Douglass viewed all whites in the same manner. Even though he had heard good things about Northern whites, Douglass still had to experience it for himself in order to believe anything that was said. By being herself, a compassionate white female, Sophia proved to Douglass that people have the potential to change for better or for worse. In addition, she also proved to Douglass that all people have the ability and desire to love and care for others regardless of race, creed or color.

Furthermore, Sophia’s generosity and cruelty alike were extremely important. Without realizing it, Sophia set Douglass on his path to freedom. Before Douglass set foot in Boston he was a sheltered child who knew nothing more than the fact that whites were in charge and he must obey them at all costs. By the time he left, Douglass had an entirely different perspective of life and of people in general. After leaving Boston, Douglass was able to realize that he did not have to abide by any one’s rules but his own. He learned more than reading and writing in Boston. He learned that he was his own person, that he had control over his own life, even if it meant that he had to endure more hardships than others may have to. As well, Douglass realized that, although the situation may not be fair and may not always go in his favor, he alone had the ability to shape his future.

Overall, Douglass’ time with the Auld’s proved to be the first major turning point in his life. It was here that Douglass realized he was a human first and a slave second. And it was here that he realized that he could change this and become a human first and second and never a slave. Sophia was the first kind influence Douglass and ever encountered in his life, even though it was only for a short period of time. However, the time spent in the Auld household proved vital to the outcome of Fredrick Douglass’ life. In general, Sophia Auld taught Douglass everything about life, whether intentionally or not. For this reason, she had an extreme importance in the story.

Lawall, Sarah, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces Seventh Edition. New York WW Norton & Company, 1

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