Since the beginning of time, education has constantly been a part of our way of life. However, the reason that everyone learns differently because every person is different. Of course, education and learn begins at childhood; whether from a parent or school teacher. Eventually, there comes a point in life when every person is taken over by a sense of independence and that is when people find their will to learn more in their own way. This passion for education and learning has been demonstrated by two separate essays, namely “Learning to Read and Write” by Frederick Douglass, and “The Lonely, Good Company of Books” by Richard Rodriguez. The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast these two essays by exploring what they are actually about, then analyzing a points or topics these essays have in common, and what distinguishes the two essays as well as their authors from each other.
In “Learning to Read and Write” Frederick Douglass discusses the various the difficulties he experienced in the 1830s while learning to read and write. Learning to read and write was not legal at the time for slaves, yet Douglass used every opportunity and risked his life in order to learn to read and write. Frederick Douglass gets his point across to the readers by using various tactics. For most of us learning to read and write is quite simple, yet often we do not want to, and it is amazing how much Douglass went through for this. When it comes to learning to read and write, today we have more than enough resources, but he had to do many different things to accomplish this. “This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who in return would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge” (Douglas 409).
On the other hand, Richard Rodriguez was a hundred and fifty years after Douglas, in a Spanish speaking family. The essay “The Lonely, Good Company of Books” is a narration of Rodriguez’s recalls his experience of learning and he discusses how he started reading books in order to learn. As a child, Rodriguez was not fond of reading because was not specifically good at it. However, soon he realized how different kinds of doors would open for him if he learned to read books, in the sense that he could forget about anything else by immersing himself in a book. “I had the idea that they were crucial for my academic success, though I couldn't have said exactly how or why” (Rodriguez). By then he enjoyed reading, spent most of his time reading, and had already read hundreds of books by the time he reached high school.
Frederick Douglass and Richard Rodriguez are two distinguished paradigms of individuals whose lives from childhood to adulthood were influenced by their process of learning. That is why the two essays by these authors are worth comparing. Both Douglass and Rodriguez “sensed that there was something about acquiring knowledgethat would provide [them] with a certain amount of independence” (Muller 258). Beginning at a young age, every American is introduced to the opportunity of education. The process of learning tends to enlighten people and makes them aware of the world around them, something that Douglass and Rodriguez were not until they started to learn to read. If the readers pay attention to all the things that both authors had to go through in order to learn to read, both have some expositional areas in their essays that can be put together.
The point or topic that both these essays have in common is the fact that primarily they are explanations of how the authors learned how to read and write. Douglas’s essay tells of how his owner, since Douglas was a slave, showed him the alphabet, and how he began reading by simply looking at the alphabet and text. Similarly, Rodriguez’s essay begins with an account about how he started reading during childhood with a nurse. In both the essays, the authors explain everything that they had to go through and all the hard work they did in order to finally be able to read and write. Both Douglas and Rodriguez write in their essays that they came from poor families, and wanted to learn to read and write in order to adapt to the society. They both write of how painful the experience of learning to read and write initially was.
Indeed, both Douglass and Rodriguez were passionate about learning to read and write; however, the experience for both the authors was not enjoyable. In Learning to Read Write,
Douglas describes his learning experience as “a curse rather than a blessing” (Douglas) because he started feeling that he was living in a wretched situation when he was able to read. After Douglas learned how to read and write, he had the knowledge needed for reading and writing, but unfortunately, he was living in a society where he had no platform to express himself. When he was able to read he realized that his life was like a “horrible pit,” but being able to read did not point him to a “ladder upon which to get out” or show him how overcome the challenges in life.
Similarly, although Rodriguez’s essay reflects the passion he had for reading, but he writes that he never found happiness while spending his time reading. The main reason that Rodriguez wanted to learn how to read and spent his time read was to succeed academically or get praised by his teacher, and to ultimately get a sense of self-fulfillment. Through his essay Lonely, Good Company of Books, Rodriguez is trying to show mainly the unpleasant part of the learning and reading experience, a picture of reading difficult books that is seldom seen. Despite these similarities, their learning experiences of the two authors were not significantly influenced by them.
Regardless of the passion to read and write that both Douglas and Rodriguez share, but their learning experiences were quite different to a great extent, which is a major contrasting point or topic between the two essays. The difference in their learning experience that is the most evident is the fact that Douglas’s desire to learn to read and write was opposed by the society and system. On the other hand, Rodriguez did not have to face as much opposition when wanted to learn to read and write, in fact, he even had some support from society. Douglas was a slave and he was not free until 1838, while Rodriguez was a free man. Douglass had to take risks in order to learn and his experiences were fearful, while Rodriguez had access to books and information since he was free.
In conclusion, it is obvious that both the authors are writing about the passion they had for reading earlier in their life. Both write about how they learned how to read and write, and why they wanted to learn. Analyzing these two essays not only reveals the similarities between the lives of the authors but also differences in their learning experiences. Nonetheless, both the essays reflect the importance of education. In contrast to these essays, it is apparent that learning to read and write has become quite easy, and we seem to take this convenience for granted.
Douglas, Frederick. Learning to Read Write. The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues Across the Disciplines. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2010. Print.
Rodriguez, Richard. Lonely, Good Company of Book. The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues Across the Disciplines. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2010. Print.