Frederick Douglass Language Analysis

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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…
As non-whites in America, they were met with greater discrimination as the representatives of their races. Frederick Douglass was able to escape slavery and prove equality with whites. When he was first forbidden to learn to read, he overheard his master telling his wife that:
If you teach that nigger (speaking of myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy. (945)
This statement acts almost as a prophecy to Douglass’s situation. 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
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Unlike Frederick Douglass who was socially limited to mimicking the white’s intelligence to gain social influence, Tan steps further and chooses to write with and about Chinglish even though she is able to use perfect English. This is because Tan lives in a period where racial stereotypes still exist but are not as oppressively as in Frederick Douglass’s time. Also, Douglass was desperate to persuade whites to work with him against slavery; in order to do so, he had to appeal to the whites, and, therefore, writing using white people’s English would be more effective in conveying the message. Amy Tan was not as desperate as Douglass; although she may have been stereotyped by her teachers, she was never threatened. However, despite their differences, the fact that English fluency is required for both authors to gain social authority remains the same. They both took steps further to improve the situation of their races. Douglass became an inspirational abolitionist and Tan became a famous author. As mentioned at the very beginning of this paper, literacy has different meanings based on the political and historical contexts of the people (Edmonson 148). Douglass and Tan’s personal experiences of gaining literacy becomes an exemplary social movement of overcoming racial
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