In a Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, the realities behind the life of a slave throughout the 1800's are brought to life in astonishing detail as Douglass recaps the transition of his life from being born a slave in Maryland to settling as a free man in New Bedford, Massachusetts with his wife. Douglass's autobiography is one of the most important historical documents of the eighteenth century--written with the goal of abolishing slavery by reaching out to the hearts of his fellow men and women and captivating their sympathy as he describes the many roadblocks that he as a slave was forced to overcome, both physically and mentally. Through analysis and paradoxes, Douglass repeatedly stresses that obtaining an education, understanding what slavery truly is, being able to identify the religious hypocrisy of white slave-owners, and overcoming suffering are all crucial to developing as an individual.
Frederick Douglass claims that the advancement of education is crucial to personal development as well as the ability to truly see what is transpiring around him throughout his journey towards freedom. In defense of frequent claims by Southerners that blacks are slaves due to being born inferior, Douglass argues that slavery and education are complete opposites and that slavery actually creates the inferiority by promoting ignorance. On the first page he states, "By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their age as horses know of theirs, and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant," acknowledging that the white masters were aware that acquiring an education would create problems (41). Even as a young boy Douglass becomes frustrated at the fact that he does not know his birthday but all the white children do. He deems that life with illiteracy is the equivalent to a life full of "mental darkness," swearing to become literate no matter the cost (66).