Frederick Douglass and Richard Rodriguez (Comparative Essay)


Educators say that reading is a very important skill that needs to be developed early in life. Some parents start to read to their babies before they are born. Not only does it help to develop language skills it can educate and take you places you’ve never been before. Frederick Douglas and Richard Rodriquez are two writers that contributed great works of art to society. In spite of being born nearly 150 years apart; both had a profound need to educate themselves by learning to read. Self-determined and motivated by the desire for education they both accomplished what they set out to do. Reading and writing are two major skills that are needed in our basic day-to-day lives. It is crucial to have these two sets of skills in order to get anywhere in life. The complexity of one’s reading and writing, however, is individual based and solely depends on the person’s needs for it to be complex or not. The essay`s objective is mainly to know about their experiences regarding their learning to read and write; as they both have had a great influence and impact on the society, literature and world of learning and living through it. Being born nearly one and half century apart from each other, it is not very easy to compare these two persons, in common ways of comparing and contrasting. In this essay, it is tried to compare both writers, from the aspect of their personal life, and social life.


Frederick Douglas was born a slave and received his first teachings from the mistress of the house. After the mistress was commanded by her husband not to teach him anymore, Frederick had to resort to different ruses to learn to read and write. Frederick was a slave and slaves were not allowed to read or write. If caught slaves were beaten and tortured or even worse killed sometimes for trying to learn to read and write. Frederick Douglass in his essay “learning to read and write” explains all the difficulties he had to when he learned to read and write in 1830s. Being a slave, it was against the law to learn to read and write, yet Douglass by risking his life, using all opportunities managed to learn reading and writing. Richard Rodriguez, on the other hand, was a child who was born 150 years later in a Spanish speaking family. In his essay “the lonely, good company of books” Rodriguez narrates his learning experience and explains he started learning from reading books. Both Douglass and Rodriguez came from poor families and had to adapt to an unwelcoming society. At the beginning reading and writing was painful for both of them and neither of them had support from their families. But these similarities did not have a major impact on their learning experience. Despite the fact that both Douglass and Rodriguez had a passion to read and write, to a large extent, their learning experiences were different. The most distinctive difference in their learning experience was that the system and society opposed Douglass’s desire to read and write, while Rodriguez was supported by the society. Rodriguez was supported by his teachers and was praised for the fact that he reads books. He was introduced to a nun who taught him how to get interested in reading and had all the opportunities to learn, while Douglass had to risk his life when he wanted to get a book and read it. He usually did this when he was alone and when he was not watched by someone. Douglass, in his essay, mentioned learning to read as a curse rather than blessing because when he was able to read, he had the feeling that he was living in a miserable condition. After being able to read and write, he had the knowledge to read and write, but the society did not give him a platform to express himself. Reading gave him an idea of how bad his life was, but no suggestion for how he could overcome the challenges in life and find a ladder upon which to get out. On the other hand, Rodriguez was able to go to school to learn reading and writing. He did not face obstacles set by the society. It was just that his family didn’t encourage him to read and write. Douglass did not have access to information. He did not have the right to spend his time as he wanted. He had to give an account of himself whenever he was spending time alone. He was not supposed to read books, and did not have the right to do anything against his master’s desires. On the other hand, Rodriguez was free to read any book that he desired and had access to books and other information. Douglass for being able to read and write, finds many ways of educating himself. He uses to carry bread with him and provide to educated hungry children of street, which in return they teach him to read. For Rodriguez, the ways of being educated were posted over his teacher desk; it means that the way was paved and ready to pass. In Frederick Douglass’s case, educations was something he desperately wanted, as Rodriguez thought of education as something he had to do. Douglass was thinking about being able to read and write, as a key to freedom. By reading newspapers and books, the thought of freedom and not being slave evolved in his mind, and caused him to think about escape and salvation. But for Rodriguez being able to read and write meant academic success.                                                                                Come to the main and base point, Frederick Douglass’s situation is similar to the Richard Rodriguez`. Both of them were struggling to become a part of a community, but not the exact point. For Frederick`s obstacle was to learn how to read and write, and Richard`s obstacle was to learn how to speak the English language, yet both of these accomplishments had taken them both a long ways. They both became successful in public speaking. Even though they had a loss, they gained a lot more from the whole experience. Frederick lost his freedom as a child, but gained it back after he became literate. And as for Richard, he lost the old family ways of his household, but became so confident as a person when it came to speaking in the public.

On the whole, both learning experiences were interesting and one could learn a lot by reading them. For me, Douglass’s experience was more useful as I could establish direct links between his experience and the people who live in this era around me. People are virtual slaves under the system set into place. The lack of resources and awareness about their position stop people from getting quality education and knowledge. Our society`s cultural and political system, is unable to pave the way for those who have thirst of reading, writing and mainly knowledge, yet. Therefore, if we look deeply into Douglass’s obstacles and have a brief look in his experiences in the way of learning how to read and write; we would be able to fight with the obstacles and pass from the barriers, stand in our way of getting educated and gaining our life`s goals.



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