Fredrick Douglass is no doubt the most important African American leader in the 19th century. He rose from extreme poverty and slavery to become one of the country’s most respected intellectuals and human right’s activists. During this time as an enslaved worker, Fredrick Douglass began to learn to read and write from any source possible. His first teacher was his mistress, but later begins to continue his education by trading “breads.” I found this part of Douglass’ biography interesting as he exchanged food for an education. “The bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge. Douglass later admitted that he would restrain from naming these young and poor children because they would be embarrassed by others for teaching an African American. Even though he was considered “better well off” in the standards of living due to his availability of food, he was able to exploit the poverty of Caucasian children who were educated. As a slave, food was less important to him than education, because an education was his way to freedom.

After reading the Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave the part that I found most intriguing was when Douglass talks about how he learned how to read. Douglass goes on to explain that he began to make friends with white boys that he would meet in the streets. In exchange for the boys teaching him to read he would give them bread that he had taken from his house. Douglass ends his story about how he learned to read by saying “This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge.” (Douglass 1199) One thing that really stood out to me about his story was that he was willing to trade away food, the key to surviving, for knowledge. One would think that most slaves would hold on to all the food they could get seeing as they were normally underfed, but not Douglass, he was more concerned with learning to read than he was about eating. When Douglass says that the “bread of knowledge” was more valuable than actual bread shows how important education and knowledge was to him. I found it interesting that Douglass uses the phrase “bread of knowledge”, to me,  he is implying that like bread is necessary for survival, to him, so is knowledge. This also shows that Douglass believed that knowledge was more important to survival than eating.

Throughout chapters 5 – 10 in the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, Douglass describes his hard life as a slave. Despite the slave’s situation of hunger and mistreatment, even the slave owner believed that “Not to give a slave enough, to eat is regarded as the most aggravated development of meanness even among the slaveholders” (Douglass 54). The slave holders did not want to seem like they were ruthless and cruel in the public light. However, this did not stop them from giving too little food to their slaves as there is no such thing as a benevolent slave owner. One of the ways Douglass describes the mistreatment of slaves by lack of food is through the use of a metaphor comparing slaves to animals.

One passage that stood out to me was when Douglass compares the hungry slave children to pigs. “Our food was coarse corn meal boiled. This is called mush. It was put into a large wooden tray or trough, and then set down upon the ground. The children were then called, like so many pigs, and like so many pigs they would come and devour the mush…none with spoons” (Douglass 36). Like animals, the food that the slaves eat is coarse and plain, nothing fancy or complicated. However, what really develops the metaphor of the children as pigs is the way that the food is served and the manner in which the children eat. Not only does Douglass use the word “trough” to describe the dish used to serve food to the children but also the children eat not like people but like animals, ravenously, without silverware and on the floor. The food was placed on the ground just as one would do to feed his or her pet. Notably, in a later chapter (chapter 8) Douglass explicitly states that slaves were of the same class as animals in the sentence, “Men and women…were ranked with horses, sheep, and swine” (Douglass 49).