The first pivotal moment in Douglass’s mental life is in Chapter I, when he is initiated into the horrors of slavery by seeing Captain Anthony whip Aunt Hester. The second turning point in Douglass’s youth occurs when Hugh Auld refuses to allow Douglass to become educated. Before this moment, Douglass has known intuitively that slavery is evil, but has been mystified by the logic of how slavery works. Hugh Auld’s pronouncement that education ruins slaves enlightens Douglass. He suddenly understands that slave owners gain and keep power over slaves by depriving slaves of education and ideas. Douglass realizes that he must become educated to become free. The idea that education is the means to freedom is a major theme in the Narrative.
Douglass presents his revelation about the importance of education as a moment of both alignment with and opposition to Hugh Auld. Though it is Sophia Auld who has been teaching Douglass to read, Douglass values Hugh Auld’s lesson more. Douglass presents the moment as a rejection of feminine lessons in favor of masculine authoritative knowledge. Douglass further aligns himself with Hugh Auld by pledging to place himself in opposition to Auld. A series of rhetorical antitheses pair the two, such as “What [Hugh Auld] most loved, that I most hated.” Throughout the Narrative, Douglass’s progress rests on this focus on white male authority.