While Frederick Douglass’s literacy did not in itself set him free, it informed him he was in bondage and was the catalyst of his identity with freedom. When Frederick Douglass was rented to the amazingly deceptive slave owner Edward Covey, he almost lost his will to live amid the labor intensive work and cruelty of Covey. However, because Douglass knew in his core that he was a man and not the animal Covey treated him to be. He realized despite the consequences it was time to fight back, and in almost super human strength he fought Covey and succeeded in taking back his manhood and solidifying that his ultimate destiny was freedom.
Mrs. Auld, the wife of Douglass’ owner, before she knew better, began teaching Douglass the English alphabet. Though this was a far as he got with Mrs. Auld, this learning incited in him a thirst for more and he was very ingenious about different places to find it. In his narrative, he writes how naïve white children helped him to learn words and to write. Douglass was a listener, and he listened to conversations around him which helped him in his quest for literacy. Literacy gave Douglass the information he needed to counteract what was happening to him in his exterior world.
In chapter seven, Douglass reads The Columbian Orator, which speaks the words that he has hidden in his heart. The writings of the author Sheridan, heightens Douglass’ hatred towards his owners and the institution of slavery and he consider them nothing but thieves. Douglass laments whether learning to read is a curse or a blessing. Douglass writes, “I often found myself regretting my own existence, and wishing myself dead; and but for the hope of being free, I have no doubt but that I should have killed myself, or done something for which I should have been killed.”
It is this hope that Douglass carries with him to Edward Covey’s plantation. This was the first time that Douglass, as a slave, is subjected to working in the field. Covey made no consideration of Douglass’s lack of experience and almost immediately subjected him to frequent beatings. Under the watchful eye of Covey, Douglass was almost broken. This was Covey’s expertise, breaking slaves; however, since Douglass during this time, almost unconsciously, still hoped for freedom, one day he decided to challenge Covey. This was a breaking point for Douglass, and he took his authority back from Covey as well as his man hood when he stood up to him. Literacy gave Douglass the reasoning to understand and identify that slavery was not his ultimate destiny, and created an internal breaking point that resulted in his challenged to Covey’s authority.