The Narrative Of The Life Of Frederick Douglass is a true story based on a young African American man who experiences the cruel chains of slavery, which included subjection to unfair and harsh conditions. However different than many of his counterparts, Douglass was fortunate enough to be taught to read and write, but as we read the book we encounter a scene where Douglass was reading a pamphlet with pro-slavery arguments and he explicitly states,
“As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing”(Douglass 51).
He implies that not knowing is better than knowing, that ignorance is bliss. This therefore begs the question: Is it better to understand and bear the burden of understanding or is it better to not be able to understand and to live in oblivion?
As tough as it is to bear the burdens of the truth, it is important to be able to understand the truth and one’s surroundings in order to protect oneself against being taken advantage of. For example in the personal story of the Cambodian Vannak Prum, Prum is taken advantage of time and time again. Even after escaping from the initial bonds, Prum (still inexperienced and under educated) falls into another set of chains, but is joyous and grateful because he doesn’t seem to know that he isn’t being treated right and that he was once again sold into slavery. Furthermore, later on he was once again taken advantage of by the local authorities, who were trying to protect and cover their illegal actions, when he listened to them and confessed to being an illegal immigrant instead of explaining that he was captured and sold into the bonds of slavery unaware that the authorities were not going to release him earlier as promised. The underlying reason for constantly being taken advantage of is that he wasn’t aware that he was facing the unjust bonds of slavery. He thought he was experiencing happiness, but the only thing he was experiencing is unjustified and immoral cruelty. This story only evidences that it is better to understand and to know the truth even if it’s painful for being oblivious to the truth (more often than not) doesn’t result in genuine happiness.
An interview between the interviewer and Jim Allen shows how not understanding is worse than understanding. When speaking about work and conditions, he naively speaks about his condition under bonds in a fairly “positive” (as in the treatment was not as bad as it could be) manner. He described his old life and it seemed like the slaves (himself included) were often obedient and they never questioned their master. Why did they never question their master? They never did because they didn’t know about questioning, they didn’t know that they were not supposed to be subjected to that kind of treatment. Not knowing made them vulnerable to manipulation and gullible to everything. Thus, this once again demonstrates that not knowing is more dangerous to oneself because it is harder to protect and guard oneself against something that they do not know about.
In order to combat this situation, education is important. Regardless of the situation or circumstance, being informed and open is important and necessary. Being self aware about the situation is also equally important. In order to fully understand, the person in slavery must be aware that a human being should not be subjected to that kind of treatment. The person must understand and want to improve his or her station and he/she must not think that they deserve the cruelty they’re experiencing or that they’re not experiencing slavery (when they are).
In other words, it is better to understand and adopt the truth than to be ignorant about it. Even if the truth is the cold reality, it better to know it and accept it than to be in denial about it. It is important to bear this burden to protect yourself and others from the perils of the world. It is better to be truthfully informed than to be ignorantly bliss.