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Comparing Malcolm X And Frederick Douglass Essay

Both Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X were at a disadvantage at one time because of language. The mastery of the English language served as a double-edged sword towards Douglass, in contrast, it became a stepping stool for Malcolm X. The time and environmental differences between the two individuals affected their motives of learning the English language. Due to slavery, Douglass resorted to different strategies to become literate. Malcolm X, on the other hand, had an abundance of resources in which he was able to attain to master the English language.

Through the mastery of English, both Douglass and Malcolm X were able to express their ideas on subjects that related to the African history and personal experiences. The relation between Douglass and the English language caused certain conflicts due to his conditions while Malcolm X’s knowledge expanded and became his power in the later years. Both individuals’ conditions fueled their motivations to master the English language. Born as a slave, Frederick Douglass believed that his pathway to freedom was through learning how to read and write. Understanding the English language was an essential for Douglass to escape the life of a slave.

Meanwhile, Malcolm X’s reason for learning how to read and write was due to the inability to write formal letters to his mentor, Elijah Muhammad. Another source of Malcolm X’s motivation was his fellow prisoner, Bimbi, who was knowledgeable and dominant in most conversations. The reasoning behind learning the English language between the two individuals is the difference between want versus need. As a slave and due to his surrounding environment, Douglass had limited resources resulting in different strategies to obtain education whereas Malcolm X had everal resources within the social institution.

The first push to Douglass learning how to read and write was his mistress, Sophia Auld, teaching the alphabet to him. The relations between education and slaves were illegal due to the laws, resulting in Douglass using various strategies to learn. His first approach to learning was to befriend and trade bread to the poor white boys in the neighborhood which in return gained teachings of how to read and write. While doing errands, Douglass would always try to finish the task quickly leaving him time to read the book that he brought along.

Douglass learned how to write by copying the shipyards’ initials that were engraved on timbers as well as competing with the white boys on who can write the best. Furthermore, Douglass practiced his penmanship in the old notebooks of Master Thomas during school hours. The issue of limited resources to obtain a better understanding of English was resolved through Douglass’s craftiness. In contrast, Malcolm X had unlimited resources to master the English language. Not only that, Malcolm X had previously received an education until the eighth grade in which he quit later on in the early years of high school due to family circumstances.

Malcolm X was able to obtain a dictionary and writing supplies from Norfolk Prison Colony school. Malcolm X would copy the dictionary verbatim and memorize the definitions through reviewing. With the expansion of his vocabulary, Malcolm X was able to borrow books from the prison’s library and read over numerous topics. In the school building of Norfolk Prison Colony, held a variety of classes taught by professors from universities of Harvard and Boston and conducted debates over random topics. Unlike Douglass, Malcolm X was not forbidden to learn how to read or write except during the prison’s “lights out.

Douglass resolved his issue of finite resources through his cunning ways compared to Malcolm X’s unlimited resources of books and writing supplies. Learning How to Read and Write as well as A Homemade Education mentioned several topics regarding the white men using trickery and manipulation against the people of color in history. In the narrative of Douglass, the author focused on the situations surrounding his childhood life such as the abolitionists who wished to banish the systems of slavery and the Catholic emancipation.

During the chances that Douglass was able to read, he read “The Columbian Orator” which contained one of Sheridan’s speeches that covered the topic of Catholic emancipation (Douglass, p. 147). Sheridan’s speech created the base of Douglass’s ideas on the thought of slavery and opened the mind to a realization to the current conditions he was experiencing. Douglass had gained a bitter realization towards the conscience of the slaveholders and felt jealousy towards his fellow-slaves’ ignorance.

Douglass stated: “As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing,” (Douglass, p. 148). He described slaveholders as a band of successful robbers who had uprooted Africans from their home and country and forced them to work underneath their rule (Douglass, p. 148). With the sudden realization ongoing, Douglass felt suicidal yet clung onto the string of hope. Although showing the harsh reality to Douglass, Sheridan’s speech created a better understanding of the conditions around him.

Unlike Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X focused on various topics regarding of history, religion, and white people versus people of color. Malcolm X refers to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad who argues that white authors of history textbooks purposely leave out the history of people of color. Malcolm X took Mr. Muhammad’s statement personally as he has experienced the whitening effect on the history of African blacks. The history of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the inhumane punishments that slaves suffered had a heavy impact on Malcolm X for he has learned the history of his race.

However, it became one of his favorite subjects once he became the minister of Elijah Muhammad (Malcolm X, p. 134). As Malcolm X continued his homemade education in prison, he read numerous books that focused on the history of different countries. Books of how white men had uprooted other countries and their people through trickery and manipulation. As an example, India was taken over and controlled by Britain’s administration through the East India Company. Another historical event mentioned were the Opium Wars that had occurred between Britain and China during the 1800s.

Chinese people were addicted to the newly imported drug from “Christian traders” which left the Chinese government devastated and led to war. “Book after book showed me how the white man had brought upon the world’s black, brown, red, and yellow peoples every variety of sufferings of exploitation,” (Malcolm X, p. 135). Malcolm X’s interest in history showed him a painstaking truth between those of colors against white men. From the education and teachings both authors have received, their power of language creates a connection of racial oppression through personal experiences and historical events.

The two authors’ mastery of the English language has given both Douglass and Malcolm X the power to express their ideas and thoughts about the racial oppression against African Americans. However, with every gain, there is a loss to be made. The English language gave a sense of freedom and security during Douglass’s enslavement period while ensuring the pathway to freedom. However, understanding the English language also meant hardship due to his conditions as a slave. Douglass came to an understanding of Master Hugh’s warning of learning how to read and write would lead to feelings of regret.

Learning had become a curse rather than a blessing due to the realization of his surrounding conditions as a slave. “It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, l envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity,” (Douglass, p. 148). Douglass felt conflicted and envied his fellow-slaves for their ignorance of the slave trade and came to detest all slaveholders alike. Imprisoned for burglary, Malcolm X used his prison years wisely by learning and reading about this history of various countries and their people.

Malcolm X felt quite accomplished of mastering the English language through the technique of studying the dictionary. The limitations of his vocabulary were no longer an issue when writing a letter to Elijah Muhammad or reading a book and understanding the focus point. Malcolm X states: “In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life,” (Malcolm X, P131) in contrast to Douglass’s description of freedom appearing for a quick second and then disappearing into despair. The power of language created a consciousness of the racial oppression ongoing during both Douglass’s and Malcolm X’s lifetime.

Frederick Douglass was an advocate of and a leader in the antislavery movement. As a former slave, he used his personal experiences and his mastery of English to express his thoughts and ideas concerning slavery. After being released from prison, Malcolm X became a leader who spoke on behalf of Black Muslims and urged the usage of self-defense during the Civil Rights Movement. The mastery of the English language became both authors’ “pathway to freedom” and became their main power as leaders during their time.

In each loss there is a gain, as in every gain there is a loss, and with each ending comes a new beginning,” a Buddhist proverb. Through the mastery of English, Douglass gained awareness of his surroundings and his freedom yet loses his childlike ignorance. Malcolm X had also gained freedom during his prison years through reading. However, unlike Douglass, Malcolm X did not lose a sense of himself nor felt an amount of despair. The mastery of the English language gave Douglass and Malcolm X the power to express one’s ideas yet both author’s challenges clashed in differences.

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