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Hugh Auld borrows Douglass from his brother Thomas as a servant for Hugh’s son, and Douglass moves to Baltimore to live with them. While not as cruel as Thomas in the beginning, as a result of excessive drinking, Hugh’s treatment eventually becomes much harsher. Hugh is learned in the ways of slave owners and acts in accordance with the ideology of slavery. Importantly, Hugh expresses his belief that education and literacy ruin a slave. Though it is suggested that Hugh is affected by the knowledge that slavery and its treatment of slaves are dehumanizing, Hugh does not allow these truths to deter him from exercising control over Douglass. For example, Hugh’s refusal to allow his wife Sophia to educate Douglass depicts his attempt to assert power. Hugh’s prohibition also acts as a lesson to Sophia that prompts her transformation from kind and caring to cruel and monstrous.
Hugh’s prohibition is also a major turning point for Douglass’s sense of self and his maturation. Hugh’s suggestion that education tarnishes a slave with ideas of freedom leads Douglass to understand that slave owners purposefully keep slaves ignorant in order to gain and keep power over slaves. Douglass becomes enlightened, as well, that slavery is not innate and natural, but learned and systematic. In this sense, Hugh, unwittingly, teaches Douglass about the power of education and its necessity to become free. However, after committing himself to learning to read and write, Douglass proves Hugh right as he becomes unhappy in the understanding of his oppressed position. Douglass achieves a sense of intellectual freedom, but he also realizes that it is not the same as physical freedom.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass!