Literacy Vs Literacy

1776 Words8 Pages
Literacy is political, historical, and material, as it is defined “in terms of what it has meant to people over time and through specific contexts” (Edmondson 148). Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” are both bibliographical writings about the author’s experiences and perceptions about race and language. Through sharing their experiences, both authors display that the highly proficient usage of language promises social authority and influence. They both face and overcome their societies’ perspective on their language proficiency. In fact, both writers present themselves as distinguished among their races with their eloquent writing abilities, which implies that their races are not…show more content…
Douglass overcame society’s prevention, risking his life, while Tan overcame society’s stereotypes, rebelling against society’s views. Amidst all other illiterate slaves, Douglass managed to teach himself how to read and write, with the risk of his masters noticing his literacy. If Douglass got caught by his masters while practicing reading, his life would be in danger as a literate slave is unneeded by the masters. In a society where one has to risk his life for the sake of literacy, puzzlingly literacy can be assumed to be the source of something more valuable than life. It is a common knowledge that the first step in solving a problem is acknowledging that the problem exists. Literacy enabled Douglass to perceive the injustice of slavery and identify it as a problematic reality; it threatened his immediate survival, but it became the first step for him to live as a human being, not merely survive as a living thing. For Tan, although literacy was not a matter that defined her humanness, it defined her identity. In a biased society where Asians were associated with math and science, Tan rebelled and chose English fluency as a part of her characteristic. Thus, she became an Asian-American writer, establishing herself with a unique identity amongst her…show more content…
Douglass, with realization of his wretched state, does become miserable, and it is true that a slave who acknowledges the unfairness of slavery is undesirable to masters. In fact, this statement conveys a sense of fear regarding the slave’s literacy; this man seems to know that a literate slave would cause the rebellion against the whites. Douglass’s literacy would enable him to have “an increasing awareness of and control over the social means by which people sustain discourse, knowledge, and reality” (Royer) and inspire him to work against such society. Indeed, Douglass has escaped slavery through his personal realization. His Narrative uses the literacy acquired during his slavery to recollect the brutal treatment that he has received, and even takes a step further to inspire others, even the whites, to acknowledge the injustice of slavery, so that they may work towards abolition together.
Amy Tan also experiences racism secondhand by observing her mother’s experiences. She acknowledges that she lives in a society where poor language is looked down on. Her action against such perspective was to use her mother’s “fractured” English in her novel. By including it in the novel, and portraying the cultural richness and depth inside such language, Tan makes a statement against society’s view on grammatically incorrect or imperfect English. In fact, her mother became the reviewer of her first drafts and this caused
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