Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Chapter 7 Summary
Douglass learns a new lesson about slavery: it doesn't just brutalize the slaves, it also brutalizes the masters too.
"Brutalize" is one of Douglass's favorite words, because it means both to treat someone badly and to make someone into a brute. Even though it might seem nice to have someone who would do anything you told them to do, Douglass wants us to understand that owning a slave makes the masters into monsters.
Case in point: Mrs. Auld. While she used to be a nice person, it isn't long before she starts to become "brutalized" by owning a slave. Her husband used to have to remind her to be cruel to the slaves, but before long, she's even worse than he is.
While she had once been happy to teach Douglass to read, now nothing makes her fly into a rage faster than catching Douglass with a newspaper.
Douglass is not going to let this slow him down, though. He is convinced that learning to read is the way out of slavery.
He manages to do it by making friends with white kids in the street, who are more than happy to teach him the things they've learned in school. Sometimes he trades food for lessons, but he mostly just gets help from children who haven't yet learned that black people aren't human beings. They haven't yet been brutalized by slavery.
Douglass's favorite book is called The Columbian Orator. It has a variety of speeches and orations (another word for speeches) on all sorts of topics. Not surprisingly, Douglass's favorite ones are the ones that deal with slavery.
One in particular that he remembers reading is a dialogue between a slave and his master. When the slave convinces his master to emancipate him, using only his powers of persuasion, Douglass takes notice.
This is pretty much the beginning of Douglass's career as an orator. Remember in the Preface when Garrison described the first time he saw Douglass speak in public? Before Douglass became famous for this book, he had been famous as a public speaker in the movement to abolish slavery.
Sometimes, though, Douglass wonders if learning to read wasn't more of a curse than a blessing. The more he learns, the more it hurts to know that he's a slave.
Douglass has heard the word "abolition" a bunch of times, and he's always been intrigued by it, since people use it to talk about slavery. But looking it up in the dictionary doesn't help him figure out its meaning. All it means is to abolish something.
Then one day, he figures it out while reading a newspaper: "Abolition" means putting an end to slavery, and an "Abolitionist" is someone who is working to make it happen.
Douglass hadn't realized there was a movement of people working against slavery. As you can imagine, he's excited to learn about it. And when an Irish dockworker encourages him to run away to the North, he learns that there are places in the world where a slave can be free.
Learning to write turns out to be a trickier proposition than learning to read. Since you need something to write with (and on), Douglass has to be even sneakier. But by challenging white boys to writing contests, he's soon on his way. Even though he always loses, the other boys end up showing him the right way to spell things.