This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

30 Million Blogs And Counting . . .

30 Million Blogs And Counting . . .

We're either on the cusp of a wave or the tail of a trend.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Equiano: The Interesting Narrative

The interesting story of Olaudah Equiano is compelling in the sense of human nature. The story shows just how much a person can suffer through and still maintain a intelligent state of being. Through the narrative Equiano relates to his reader in different ways, trying to allow people into his world.
One way Equiano attempts to reach the reader is through the universal tie in religion. When speaking of the time before he was captured, "I remember we never polluted the name of the object of our adoration, on the contrary, it was always mentioned with the greatest reverence;..." He speaks of their relation to the Jews, "We practiced circumcisionlike the Jews, and made offerings and feasts on that occasion, in the same manner as they did." By portraying the relation between his narrative and religion it allows the reader to be pulled in due to their own religious background. He reveals how the faith of Christianity is against slavery, "O, ye nominal Christians! Might not an African ask you - Learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you." At another point in the story he makes another comment referring to the Christian faith and where is stands on slavery, "Who (God) hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth..." Throughout these attempts Equiano is pleading with the reader to see that the way society is living is completely opposite of their teachings. He also brings to the surface the reader's fear, as he speaks of the possibility of a rebellion of the slaves.
Equiano pulls the reader by their emotions as well. He shares about the love he had for his sister and when she was taken from him, " While she and I held another by the hands across his breast all night; and thus for awhile we forgot our misfortunes, in the joy of being together, but even this small comfort was soon to have an end; for scarcely had the fatal morning appeared when she was again torn from me forever!" He goes on to express the pain and heartache he has a result of this tragedy,"I was now more miserable, if possible than before." Equiano also approaches the reader's sentimental side, "Negros taken from their wives, wives taken from their husbands, and children taken from their parents, and sent off to other islands, and wherever else their merciless lords choose, and probably never more during life see each other!" Through this he is revealing the emotional pain of slavery and depression that can become of it.
My final point that Equiano uses is logic. Natural rights were very important to Equiano in his beliefs. According to him we all as human beings, black,white,red or purple all have basic natural rights. He views that we were not created in such a way as slavery. That it is this world and its sin of power that taints human kindness with cruelty. When talking about this fact he states,"which violates that first natural right of mankind , equality and independency, and gives one man a dominion over his fellow which God could never intend!"
Equiano's narrative is compelling to the reader's understanding of a very influential time in history that has determined the world we live in today. He allows ones eyes to see his story in a very descriptive way and allowed them to feel his pain. Whether the story is completely true or if there are some fabrications the reader is still able to view the history of slavery and tragedy human beings have suffered due to its consequences.

Friday, February 10, 2006

My Interpretation

The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano is a proposal for the abolishment or rather the reformation of slavery written in the guise of an autobiography. Within his narrative Equiano directly as well as indirectly argues not so much the practice of slavery but rather the methods by which it is practiced. This I believe is due to an issue of cultural relevance. For even in his own country slavery is widely practiced, only by a different means. The capture of slaves is done in the same manner I believe. The Africans capture their slaves through inter-tribal warfare whereas the Europeans obtain slaves through a much more discreet form of warfare in which the attack the native Africans lust for power with the weapon of advanced capitalism. It is through this practice that Europeans persuade some Africans to betray their countrymen to the gnarled wretched hands of the western slave trade.

Equiano uses several rhetorical strategies to convey his message. He first appeals to the readers sense of humanity by explaining equality of all people of the same blood. He does this by describing his native culture this strategy shows the reader the humanity of his people. He then uses historical as well as theological references to point out a common ancestry with the Jews. He accredits this claim by citing his sources of a European writer as well as the bible.

The next strategy he uses is appealing to the readers sense of sentiment by describing his family and the way he and his sister were captured then transported.
This is rather effective as he explains the fear of a child being snatched from his loved ones and dragged to unknown and far off lands. He then describes the pain of losing his sister and how awful the experience was. In this section he also contrast the methods of slavery among Africans and Europeans. The worst comes as he arrives to the coast and paints a vivid depiction of an innocent child lost and filled with fear as he describes his first experience with Europeans. He then describes the horrors of the slave ship, his arrival to Barbadoes, and the atrocious treatment of the slave there. This appeal to sentiment he achieves throughout the story with several instances of betrayal, cruelty and humiliation. Such as in the instances involving the incident in Savannah Georgia, Mr. Annis and his plight, the fish and goods as well as the dignity stolen from his countrymen, and even his own betrayal by captain Pascal as well as many more throughout the text.

Equiano also appeals to the readers sense of religious values by pointing out the contradictions among the practice of slavery and the Christian faith. He does this throughout the text. In one instance he states "O, ye nominal Christians! Might not an African ask you- Learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you?". Equino also appeals to the readers sense of fear with a passage in which he in no subtle manner introduces the in the following passage a possibility of a bloody rebellion of the slaves "But above all are there no dangers attending this mode of treatment? Are you not hourly in dread of insurrection?".

The last method I will point out by which Equiano argues the method by which slavery is practiced is how he alludes to the possibility of economic gain by trading with the Africans as a free people. Our author proposes the westernization of Africa as a means to increase production and trade. Another method I believe was in the way Equiano described himself as a rational businessman with deep constitution, and a desire to please all around him. Through this method he seemingly proposes the futility in enslaving and binding such a person and preventing them from blossoming into such an upstanding member of any community.
Through this I believe he is making a point to all Africans showing that under the proper treatment they to can better society as a whole. Steven Robbins

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Equiano: The Interesting Narrative

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano is just that, a very interesting one. The story was written by himself, which that fact itself is very astonishing. During this time period it was thought impossible for an African descendant to have the knowledge for coming up with such a story. Yet Equiano was an amanuensis, or self taught individual. This was an extremely rare accomplishment for a former slave at this point in history, as showed his intelligence a human being to overcome such adversity. Through most of this story, one could say it is an autobiography or a slave narrative. While looking at it from another angle, you may think of it as a book being used to make a point, and possibly abolish slavery. Equiano realizes that he can not strongly argue his reason for wanting to end slavery by noting all the hardships and terrible treatment of the slaves. He also realizes that if he wants support in ending slavery he can not exaggerate his misfortunes and tribulations to make them seem worse than they were.

I would like to focus on a passage for a moment. About six or seven months after he was kidnapped, middle paragraph of page 423, Equiano discusses some of his travels and how he was exchanged between many different owners and his eventual arrival at the sea coast. “I was immediately handled...and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me” (423). Up to this point, Equiano sees the whites as being a superior being, and that everything they did was accomplished by magic. Equiano is highly intimidated by them, and fears them tremendously. This now leads me to my next point.

Throughout the story, Equiano repeatedly comes across as being a very modest man. He never sees himself as being better than anyone else. Equiano is always referring to himself as being very fortunate, lucky, or blessed. “It was now between two and three years since I first came to England, a great time which I had spent at sea; so that I became inured to that service, and began to consider myself as happily situated, for my master always treated me extremely well; and my attachment and gratitude towards him were very great” (431). From that passage, I get the impression that Equiano is indeed being very modest, but more importantly I believe he is sucking up his pride and letting his rationale create the boundaries between fact and fiction. Equiano has now begun to accept the culture of the whites, and realizes that they too are human beings. He no longer sees the whites to be superior beings, nor magical ones.

Equiano lays credit to all of his good fortune and luck to his spirituality. Equiano was a very religious man during his younger days as a free person in his homeland, and all throughout his adulthood in captivity as a slave. His name, Olaudah, “means fortunate one,” and he always considers himself “a particular favorite of Heaven” (402). An important event takes place when Equiano converts to Christianity, but months before he does so, he continuously studies the bible and seeks advice on various passages’ meanings. He is disturbed by the hypocrisy of whites that are Christian as well as slave owners. In this way, I think Equiano is trying to say that slavery is an un-Christian event. He also notices many similarities between Christianity and the customs of his native tribe, the Ibo’s. “Once convinced of the authenticity of his spiritual transformation and well studied in the Bible, Equiano joined the Methodist Church and became something of an evangelist, sparring over doctrine with a Catholic priest in Cadiz and preaching to the Mosquito Indians during his voyage to Central America in 1776” (403). Digging into the true purpose of this passage; I get the impression that the author wants the reader to see slaves, and maybe all other blacks, as being a rational race; hopefully influencing whoever reads to realize that the Africans are humans as well.

A Sentimental View...

In “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano” written by himself,
Equiano begins his narrative in the simple, yet enthusiastic voice that carries the reader throughout his life story. He makes his plans entirely clear, he intends his narrative to open the world's eyes to the degradation and inhumanity of slavery. Yet he knows, too, that merely preaching of goodwill towards Africans would not turn any heads. He must show directly the irony that those naming others "barbarians" were the barbaric ones themselves. His intensely personal story, with detailed descriptions of what he saw, cruel or ordinary, and of how one African dealt with forced encounters with different lands and cultures, was what it would take for Englishmen to relate and thus to understand. Equiano uses rhetoric as a way to grab the reader’s attention and to appeal to his/her emotions without directly stating that his trials were horrendous or that he was subjected to several acts of wrongdoing. Rhetoric is an effective expression in writing or speech, it is language that is not sincere. Rhetoric is an important factor in all forms of composition and analysis. Equiano’s writing portrays Christian and sentimental rhetoric. He also provides the reader with rhetoric pertaining to one’s natural rights. The particular form of rhetoric that I would like to discuss a bit further is that of the sentimental type. Equiano was enslaved as a young boy and passed through a variety of experiences. When Equiano was about the age of eleven, members of a rival tribe took him from his home, and he became separated from his family. The ones that were kidnapped were usually exchanged for rifles, textiles, tobacco, iron, brass, and other items. Sometimes, as in Equiano’s case, the captured would pass through a number of hands on their forced journey to the coastal towns along the Gold Coast or in the Nigeria delta, where they were held in forts until sold to European slave traders. The only person that Equiano had to turn to for companionship was his sister, who was taken away from him, not once, but twice. In his narrative, Equiano describes the horrible conditions aboard the slave ship, and the anxieties and sorrows he suffered upon being moved from place to place. Although, Equiano describes his hardships and provides the reader with several situations portraying signs of his excruciating distress, Equiano states, “I believe there are few events in my life which have not happened to many; it is true the incidents of it are numerous, and, did I consider myself an European, I might say my sufferings were great; but when I compare my lot with that of most of my countrymen, I regard myself as a particular favorite of heaven” (407). Equiano does not appear to be foolishly vain. He appears to be rather logical, modest, and rational. Equiano appeals to the reader’s emotions by making the negative situations known, but he does so without asking for the reader’s sympathy.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Equiano's Individuality

As Equiano told his story, he faced several hurdles and things he had never encountered; he managed to come out of his situation learning as much as he could from it. Though there are several prevalent themes throughout this narrative, and many that could be discussed, what I found to be most interesting is how we see Equiano "come of age". While he writes about his specific hurdles, triumphs, tragedies, and feelings, we as the reader begin to see something else: the struggle for individuality. It seems as though through this time, Equiano is facing what could be his biggest struggle: discovering himself.
Equiano aims to please, yet he doesn't want to be taken advantage of either. He speaks of the desire to please quite frequently, writing passages such as, "I had the good fortune to please my master in every department in which he employed me..."(439). Even when he is freed, he desires to please all he comes in contact with, but is also quick to defend himself if needed. It seems as though he is working out who he wants to be in this aspect.
Another struggle he seems to have is whether he is an Englishman or and African. At the beginning of the narrative, he eludes to the thought that he is an African, remarking that, "I was now persuaded I had gotten into a world of bad spirits and that they [white men] were going to kill me"(423). He obviously believes, at this point at least, that the white men are not superior at all to his African decent. Throughout the narrative, he makes comments about how if he was an Englishman, that he would think his struggles were more difficult, for example in his introduction he says " is true the incidents of it are numerous and, did I consider myself an European, I might say my sufferings were great..."(407). However, as he begins to investigate this new culture and world he finds himself in, he begins to submit to it. He becomes a Christian, almost ignoring the ancient traditions of his homeland. He also begins to admire the men he once did not understand. On page 432 he writes "I not only felt myself quite easy with these new countrymen, but relished their society and manners. I no longer looked at them as spirits, but as men superior to us; and therefore I had the strong desire to resemble them...". It seems that Equiano is dealing with quite an identity crisis at times. I am sure this is something many slaves must have felt- who did they belong to?
As the narrative continues and comes to a close, I feel as though Equiano has a better understanding of who he is. He turns into quite an observer. His last paragraph states that "almost every event of my life made an impression on my mind and influenced my conduct..."(469). It seems that Equiano has grown into who he is, like we all do, and he is thankful for every experience and thought and question he might have had about his character, because, as he acknowledges, it brought him to where he is comfortable with himself.

Just a Passage

Because we seem to have thoroughly discussed Equiano’s forms of rhetoric (and because I can’t remember what Dr. Shlensky said we should write about), I have decided to discuss something different. I would like to draw attention to a passage at the end of chapter one, starting on page 416 through the end of the chapter. It starts with “Such is the imperfect sketch my memory has furnished me with …” and goes on to compare the practices of his African village with those of the Jews. I found this passage very interesting for two reasons. First of all, it was the first indication that the writer of the text was more intelligent than he let on. His citation of several different works is one thing that led me to this conclusion. I don’t know whether the authors, such as Dr. John Gill or Thomas Clarkson, were credible in their time, but Equiano must have thoroughly read and understood them. He also shows a supreme understanding of the bible, a text which I myself find difficult to understand. But what is more important than Equiano’s education is his ability to reason. He uses this ability throughout the text to argue his point against slavery, but only when he is arguing a point. He never complicates his descriptions of what happens to him with lengthy explanation, unless it is suitable to his story’s purpose. Upon reading this passage, I realized that this was not just an autobiography of a slave. It is a direct and purposeful book.
I would also like to explore his specific argument in this passage. He makes the connection that ancient Jewish practices are very similar to his village’s practices, enough so to suggest that they originated as the same people. He goes on suggest that there is really nothing different between the races, other than their skin color. On page 417 he states “These instances … while they show how the complexion of the same persons vary in different climates, it is hoped may tend also to remove the prejudice that some conceive against the natives of Africa on account of their color.” While this idea may coincide with the most reasonable of the Enlightenment period, it seems radical to the norm of society to suggest that Africans are equal to Europeans, that the differences are due only to their climate. It is as if he is no longer just arguing against slavery, but instead arguing for equality among the races. As the paragraph goes on, he uses both reason and religious rhetoric to support this. He writes “Let the polished and haughty European recollect that his ancestors were once, like the Africans, uncivilized, and even barbarous.” with this he is saying that it is the education of men that make them civilized, not their skin color. He also uses a well known quote from the bible that says that God made all men from the same blood, so that in essence they are all the same. I do not think that Equiano is really trying to persuade his audience that all races are equal. In the context of the entire book Equiano uses this passage to support his argument against slavery. It is important to note this idea of equality, as it is an idea that many have faced and tried to argue well into the 20th century.

Equiano's Rhetorical Accounts

Throughout U.S. history we learn of the horrific tales of slavery and cruel treatment towards blacks, but seldom do we look upon the journeys in which these initial slaves from Africa endured as they were forcibly brought to the new world. It is noted that Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano was the 2nd slave narrative to be composed during its time as well as the first of which to not be written by an amanuensis. This was an extremely rare accomplishment for a former slave at this point in history and demonstrated his brilliance as a human being to overcome such obstacles. Hardships throughout Equiano’s story helped to form strong views on slavery and made him an important figure in the abolition movement. Equiano uses several modes of arguing to express his feelings on the matter. His rhetorical stance on slavery is gathered by relating Christian ideals, challenging the beliefs of society and focusing on the sentimental aspects of his audience.

Like the majority of Africans sold into the slave trade, Equiano practiced the rituals and beliefs of his homeland. Despite the fact that these religions differed in each area of the continent, they all held common practices which greatly separated them from Christianity. Later in Equiano’s life he becomes intrigued with Christian values and discovers that it is the only way for him to be truly happy in his life. He notices early on that the teaching of the Bible blatantly denounce and oppose the act of owning another person, but yet the Christian world over looks it by enslaving his people. In simplest terms Equiano is saying that slavery is unchristian.

This weakness in the European society is pointed out in order to announce that although the African religions seem unjust in their ways, the Europeans have their flaws as well. European presumptions of Africans were skewed as they portrayed these people as savages with cannibalistic agendas. Equiano reverses these hierarchical biases, which elevate the whites over the blacks. He uses this reversal method to better express situation by switching the thinking of the reader. During his first encounter with these new people, Equiano is terrified and notes that; “I asked if I where not going to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces and long hair”(p. 424). He makes the same accusations that any European might come to if Africans took them captive. Every aspect of these people baffles Equiano and even the movement of the ships over the sea is thought to have been a power given to the white men by some sacred spirit on they could conjure.

Equiano identifies the harsh reality of slavery to the reader by implementing sentimental rhetoric. When members of another tribe take Equiano from his home, he becomes separated from his family. During this time the only comfort he has is the company of his sister, which is taken from him twice. Equiano explains other accounts of the anguish that these divisions in family can produced by saying; “Oftentimes my heart has bled at these partings, when the friends of the departed have been at the waterside, and with sighs and tears, have kept their eyes fixed on the vessel, till it went out of sight” (p. 433).

In all, Equiano firmly believes that slavery conflicts with human rights on an endless amount of levels. He condemns slavery in general, but supports the act of slavery in his own land because of the treatment of their slaves in comparison to that in the new world. Equiano uses these forms of rhetoric in hopes to attract the attention and support of the reader.

My Knowledge of Slavery

Even though European Nations were among the first countries that indulged in slave trading, one does not learn a lot about it in school there. It was very difficult when I moved from Europe to the United States in 1998 to adapt to the culture and the racial issues. I wasn’t brought up to look at skin color as a way to judge someone’s character. It was strange to me that white people that lived in Mobile, still had the perspective on black people as if they were nothing and vice versa. When we started reading “Equiano”, I was surprised how little I knew about the slave trade and what brutalities these societies had gone through. I was determined to read the story and educate myself.

When Equiano starts his story he gives you a sense of comfort. He tells you that he’s not writing it because he wants pity, but rather because it’s important that the story be told. Once he stared talking about being taken away from his family, but especially being separated from his sister, I had to stop for a minute and take a deep breath. I couldn’t believe that families were separated and children raised without mothers. I could never imagine being without my family. The more I read, the less I liked humans. To think that humans would do such acts against other humans is frightening. The story went on to talk about his adventures on different ships and under different masters. He describes how some slaves were flogged to death for disobedience. He also goes on to say that he tried to escape but there was no where to go and if he committed suicide he would he punished in the after life. This answers both questions that I had prior to this reading of why slaves were held captive and not set free. It’s because deep down they had no choice but to obey the “White Man.” They had nowhere to go and no one to speak up for them. They were traded as if they were animals. At some point Equiano points out that slaves were put on a scale and sold by weight. Slave women were viewed as objects of the white man’s desire. They were mistreated and used for sexual favors. And if they told their husbands, it only caused more suffering because there was nothing either one could do about it.

I started to wonder why Europeans didn’t like to talk about slaves in history books and in class rooms. The only conclusion that I could come up with is that it was too painful for their nation to see what kind of injustice they had done. Europeans should acknowledge their part in the slave trade and teach it to youth of their countries. It is very important to know what humans are capable of. I gat a one on one education thru Equiano and I was embarrassed to say that I didn’t know much about slavery before this story.

A Narrative...and so much more

When I first saw that we were reading Equiano's Interesting Narrative, I assumed that this story would be similar to all the other stories we have read, even though I knew some of the history behind this particular one. However, I was wrong; Equiano wrote a narrative that millions of African Americans can relate to and a narrative that thousands of people sympathize with. Nevertheless, what amazed me most was Equiano’s attitude throughout his whole ordeal…he realized how lucky he was to have kind masters and to obtain his freedom. Equiano’s life was different from most slaves in that he obtained his freedom, but he could also read and write. His life was also different in that he made an impact on the slavery movement that is still felt today; his narrative opened up the door for other African Americans to get their stories out as well.
Throughout his narrative, he is very aware of his audience, and this is very apparent. He goes into detail about much of his life, including his home in Africa, to help the readers better understand what he has been through. At the beginning, he addresses the reader, and begins forming the image that he wants to portray of himself. “…but when I compare my lot with that of most of my countrymen, I regard myself as a particular favorite of heaven, and acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life.” Equiano wants to make sure that his reader remembers that although this story is about his life, overall is about his dislike for the treatment of slaves. One thing I found very different about this narrative was that Equiano never advances the complete abolition of slavery—he simply discusses how horrible slaves are treated. He knows that if he had supported the abolition of slavery, many people would never have listened to him. In addition, I believe that Equiano did not mind some forms of slavery; he even discusses how slaves were in his home country of Africa. Equiano goes into detail describing some of the horrible things that have happened to slaves in some of this places he has been. “It was very common in several of the islands, particularly in St. Kitts, for the slaves to be branded with the initial letters of their master’s name; and a load of heavy iron hooks hung about their necks. Indeed on the most trifling occasions they were loaded with chains; and often instruments of torture were added.” I at first began to feel sorry for Equiano and the many things he went through, but that did not compare to the sorrow I felt for the slaves who had the typical life. I believe that Equiano did not want pity for himself—he wanted pity for other slaves. One of the passages I find most compelling is toward the end when Equiano describes John Annis, who is a cook on the Anglicanai, but is taken back by his old master. Equiano goes through great difficulty to help him, but is unsuccessful. “I also was told of it by some very respectable families now in London, who saw him in St. Kitts, in the same state, in which he remained till kind death released him out of the hands of his tyrants.” I believe this truly shows how powerless African Americans were, even if they had their freedom. Equiano just wanted to show that African Americans were humans, not savages, and that they deserved to be treated just like everyone else.

Stephanie Bosarge

Olaudah Equiano

Equiano uses various rhetorical strategies to argue against the brutal practices of slavery. The two main strategies he uses to argue his point throughout the text are religious/Christian and sentimental arguments. Equiano does not come out right and say slavery is bad and the people that practice it are wrong but alludes to that point well in the text. Equiano uses these two modes of arguing, sentimental and religious, to get people to listen and feel for what is going on in the Americas and Europe with slavery. This is much more effective than simply telling people what they should and should not do.

Equiano’s main rhetorical strategy, that I picked out from the text, against slavery, or practices of slavery, is his mode of arguing using religious practices. There are many instances where Equiano tries to figure out why the “white man” does the brutal things he does to other “human beings” and then says he is Christian. When witnessing families torn apart in slave sales Equiano writes to the Christians that an African might ask them, does not your God say, “Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you.” Actions of the “white man” throughout the text go against Christianity. For example, when Equiano was on the ship sailing over he mentions that the “white man” threw the extra fish over board instead of allowing it to be eaten by the hungry slaves. One of his masters, who became a very good friend to him, went against his word to Equiano and betrayed him; Equiano was sold instead of given his freedom when it was promised to him. The Christian master deceived his “friend” and then went about his day like he did nothing wrong. In another instance, Equiano points out a “Christian master” that pinned a slave down by his wrists and ankles and dropped hot wax over his back for attempting to escape. These are just a few of many examples of how Equiano uses religious beliefs to argue against the practices of slavery. He points out, throughout his text the many things the “white man” is doing that go against the Christian beliefs and teachings, but that the “white man” does not seem to realize this.

The reader will also find many examples of Equiano arguing what he believes to be right using a sentimental appeal to the reader. Equiano tells us throughout the text about many heartbreaking experiences. When Equiano uses this mode of arguing he paints a very clear picture for the reader to understand and feel what he might have felt. Reading about Equiano and his sister being separated for the final time made me think about how I would feel if I were in the same situation, and made me think how heartbroken I would be at that age to be torn from my brother. Some of Equiano’s arguments use both religious and sentimental rhetoric at the same time. For example, when he talks about how badly slaves are treated for things that are simple mistakes appeals to both the Christian beliefs and a person’s feelings. The point Equiano makes that I agree with most is when he tries to understand why slaves are treated badly. He says if masters will treat their slaves better, the slaves will perform better, and both will be happier and get more out of the relationship.

Julie Adkison

Equiano's Slavery

In Equiano's narrative I love how he is able to create such a modest ethos for
himself. In the begging of his narrative, Equiano apologizes to his audience and writes that he does not want to be praised or pitied. "Let it therefore be
remembered, that, in wishing to avoid censure, I do not aspire to praise" (408). This shows how modest Equiano is and that his sole concern is about the inhumane treatment of slaves. Equiano does not tell his story to be pitied, he writes his narrative to make his audience aware of the practice of slavery and how cruel and unjust it is. This is what drew me in to Equiano's narrative. His story made me want to learn more about the slavery and his tale kept me interested through the end. Through Equiano's narrative, he is trying to reform the practice of slavery. He is not critiquing the institution because when Robert King offers him a slave he doesn't say anything. "...have land and slaves of my own. I thanked him for this instance of friendship; but, as I wished very much to be in London, I declined
remaining any longer there, and begged he would excuse me" (451-52).The idea of slavery is completely normal for him. Even back home in Africa, they have slaves; however, they are treated just as good as the citizens. They are not taken from their home as children like Equiano or beaten and flogged to death. In Africa, the slaves are captives that were captured during war. The idea of slavery does not seem to bother Equiano, it is the inhumane treated these slaves are put through that motivates him to write this slave narrative. I find it interesting that Equiano is so passionate about the unjust treatment of slaves, although, he was always treated with kindness. Equiano's slave masters were his authority figures. Since Equiano was taken from his home at search an early age, he is constantly searching for someone to love him, an authority figure. Equiano's masters teach him their ways such as religion, language, writing, etc. Equiano is finally freed by the kindness of his masters and it is their teaching that enables Equiano to write such a sentimental, moving piece such as his narrative.

Toils and troubles

Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano is perfect example of how a skilled writer can criticize a widely accepted institution without alienating his audience through veiled criticism of their hypocrisy. Christianity and sentiment are the two rhetorical devices Equiano uses in order to argue the immorality of slavery and make it seem wrong to those who would think it right. But just the description of the horrors of being captured from your homeland and being sold between men is an excellent way of arguing why slavery is unjust without even arguing. It was a terrible fate Equiano suffered. No reader other than perhaps another former slave could relate to Equiano’s experience and therefore it showed light on a subject many could not imagining happening to them.

Equiano’s arguments against slavery mainly stemmed from the brutality inflicted upon slaves by their masters. The most horrendous act of brutality came from the story of how a master prevented his slave from running away. He had the man’s leg amputated because the slave had attempted to run away. Equiano’s response to this act is an excellent reaction to readers in the 18th century because it is a moral reaction stemming from his Christian beliefs, during a time when religion is very important. He wonders how a man who is Christian can commit such acts and stand before God to answer for them? It is Equiano’s way of criticizing the hypocrisy of Christian slave owners while at the same time making his Christian readers question these brutal injustices and opening their eyes to the unholy and sinfulness of the violence against slaves. Equiano also uses references of God and His blessings in order to point out good in some of his masters. When he describes being bought by Captain Pascal he refers to God being the Creator who led Equiano to his new fate. He finds comfort with having been bought by this new master because he is a just man who treats Equiano fairly. This can be an influence because by praising God for sending him to Captain Pascal, it can encourage other Christians do treat slaves the same way and be praised for their kindness.

Another rhetoric device Equiano employed was that of sentiment. In the 18th century the family and the bonds made between them was an important part of life. Parents looked to children to carry on the family line and brothers and sisters created close bonds often in large families because they had no other playmates. In Equiano’s experience, he first describes how he comes from a large family. He is the youngest son and is adored by his mother. On the day he is captured his sister is also taken and she is the only daughter of his father. Equiano describes in great detail how his sister being with him is his only hope and comfort. He also describes how they are separated and then reunited only to be torn apart again. The anguish and despair he feels over the loss is very intense. It pulls on the heartstrings of anyone who isn’t completely ignorant to human emotion. It is more help in Equiano’s argument because many readers would die rather than separate from their families. In this time often the family was the only comfort a person had and to lose it all would be a very hard thing to endure. And Equiano was able to survive this great loss and more.

The Characteristics of Equiano

The narrative of Equiano is very interesting. Equiano as a little boy was taken from him home in which he lived with his family and was sent off to be a slave. As Equiano grew older, he was traded and sold to serve several different slave masters. The narrative of Equiano was so impacting and touching that all that read it will in some way or fashion be touched in one way or another.
Equiano possesses so many different characteristics. He is very modest. In the characteristic of being modest, he does not except that he is any way strong. He will not admit that it is his strengths that made him capable of doing something. Equiano has great belief in his faith. He always thanks god for what he is able to accomplish or he says it is simple luck that gave him the ability to do something. As a child Equiano believes in the spirits, he thinks that white men are devils and he believes his name was suppose to mean “favored by god”. But as he grows into his adult years, he no longer thinks or believes in the superstitious beliefs in which he did as a child. He still appreciates some of the beliefs in which he worshiped as a child, but now as an adult he thinks more of the Christianity beliefs. He always believes that some sort of fate is leading and guiding him in every path that he is taken to experience. Equiano is very smart in many aspects, but that too is something that he will not admit to having. Considering the circumstances in which Equiano grew up, he has learned a tremendous amount of things. Every master in which he served, he learned one or many things. He was a very eager to learn person, but once he held the knowledge he did not want to receive any acknowledgement for possessing the knowledge. Equiano has a strong desire to serve people. He is always seeking out to serve people and always wanting someone to need him to serve them. Even after Equiano had paid for his freedom, he still felt as if he needed to serve someone. Even after being held as a slave for most of his life, and Equiano finally being let free, he still looked for people to serve. What made it different from being held as a slave and choosing to serve someone was that Equiano had a peace of mind that he was able to make all of the decisions. He could choose who he wanted to serve and he was getting paid for it. The slavery itself was not what Equiano was against, he was more against the fact of the brutal treatment that some masters practiced on their slaves. Many masters believed in beating, starving, and treating their slaves as if they were inhumane. Considering all that Equiano experienced in his life, he is a very strong, courageous, compassionate, and mind set person. The characteristic of Equiano is very easily admired.

Equiano, A Battle for Self-Identity

The slave narrative of Olaudah Equiano proves to be a ground-breaking tale of the adventures of an extraordinary slave who earns his freedom and ,in the very parlors and bedrooms of English high society, challenges the institution of slavery. By appealing to Christian and economical reasons for outlawing this “inhuman” practice of slavery, Equiano’s work influences any rational British mind. Yet, as a man, human, and individual, Equiano seems to struggle with his own self-concepts of individualism, identity, and empowerment. Some of the most significant examples of this conflict are found in his discussions of the various names he receives throughout his life.

According to his narrative, Equiano is given four different names throughout his life. The first is Olaudah Equiano which according to Equiano “signifies vicissitude, or fortunate; also, one favored, and having a loud voice and well spoken.” Certainly, this name exudes great power and meaning. Certainly, it is evident why he chooses to use this name in the title of his narrative. The notion of fortune, favored, and having a loud voice are all qualities necessary to take on the great task of influencing British opinion on the practices of slavery. It is as though his
name is a symbol of his abolitionist role.

Yet, becoming a slave changes his name, sense of power, and personal meaning. By the time he reaches Virginia, he is called Jacob and, then, Michael. Thus, he no longer has any control over his identity. Describing this point in his life when he is completely subservient, in a strange land, and unable to communicate with anyone; he says, “I had been some time in this miserable, forlorn, and much dejected state….which made my life a burden.” Clearly, Equiano’s loss of identity greatly impacts his sense of power. He is pitiful and, through ignorance, unable to make a defense. Yet, through great fortune, or, according to Equiano, “the kind unknown hand of the Creator”, he is bought by a gentler master, which improves his lot greatly.

Interestingly, though, this coincides with another name change. His master Michael Henry Pascal changes his name to Gustavas Vassa. At this time, it was a common name and referred to a Swedish nobleman who led a successful revolt against Danish rule. One can only guess why Pascal chooses this name. Yet, it could be that Equiano had a slight defiant spirit. This would certainly coincide with his reaction once he comes to understand some English and realizes Pascal is changing his name. At this instance, Equiano relates, “I at that time began to understand him a little, and refused to be called so…I refused to answer to my new name.” Thus he defies his master. In fact to the degree that he says, “ it gained me many a cuff; so at length I submitted, and by which I have been known ever since.” Thus, he struggles to maintain control over his identity and empowerment, yet, is unsuccessful. His outwardly defiant spirit is broken.

The fact that he continues to use this name even when freed could very well question his sense of identity as an ex-slave. Certainly, even as a free man, he seeks to work for his former slave master and attaches to religion to help define himself. This search for self-identity and balance, though, continues to plague him. This could very well explain why he uses relatively indirect rhetoric such as religion and economics to express anti-slavery sentiments instead of directly and ardently chastising British society. Nonetheless, he is effectual. He may never completely define himself as either an Englishman or African, but he does seem to reconcile his identities, which makes him more powerful than he ever could have been as just Olaudah Equiano.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Equiano, really an interesting narrative!!!

In reading this narrative a lot of emotions surfaced. Feelings of sympathy, anger and confusion to name a few. Slavery is to me a subject like religion, it causes explosive debates based on personal and political opinions and facts. Equiano's narrative is filled with examples of all of these opinions. From beginning to end the narrative has a great flow. Equiano used several rhetoric angles to deliver this story. The central rhetoric angle is Christianity. Equiano uses the laws of Christianity to argue that slavery is unjust and barbaric. In the story, Equiano's character asks one of the overseers during the admission of a brutal act of amputating one of a slave's legs, if the man had died in the operation, how he would, and a Christian be prepared to answer to God for that horrid act. Equiano believed there is a standard of life a Christian must live. These things are against slavery in every way. A Christian should image the spirit of God, the creator. Kindness, love, and peace are traits a Christian should possess. This is the total opposite of what a slave owner was. Equiano used a second rhetoric angle, being human rights. Equiano proposed the argument that every human being deserves the right to be treated fairly. He argues his point by visiting the idea that no man is superior or inferior to another. During slavery blacks and Africans were treated like animals. They had no rights like other humans had. The slaves were beat, brutalized, and disgraced. All dignity was stripped from them. The descriptions of how the slaves were brutily treated sets the stage for a third rhetoric angle, sentiment. Equiano uses sentimental rhetoric in a modest way to explain his experiences with slavery. Any human being with emotions will be moved by Equiano's description of how he was torn from his family and all that he loved to become a slave. The reader, in my case, will find themselves having empathy as well as sympathy for Equiano's character. To have another human being treat you like you are less than an animal makes you full of anger and frustration. The slave owners were cruel for sport towards the slaves. The way they hunted other humans, like a hunter hunts for deer is almost unimagineable. In a way Equiano's narrative has similarities to Rousseau's narrative confessions. Both characters are cosumed with the need to please the opposite sex, which seems to root from the relationships they had, or didn't have with their mother. Equiano often mentions how close he was to his mother, before he was captured. He tells the reader how he always wanted to be with her in any circumstance. The similarities of the two narritives are so prevalent, because they are narratives spoken from the author's emotional sense. By writing from an emotional point of view, the author is able to grasp the reader in a way that logic and rationalism cannot. Equiano's narrative causes people in my opinion to question their views on slavery and general treatment of mankind. It brings about an appreciation for our lives today. If Equiano's character can go through the trials of horrid slavery and still have innocense, then everyone should lock away a small part of themselves that can remain innocent and optimistic in times of tribulation.

Equiano's Interesting Appeal

After reading and further reviewing Equiano’s narrative, I am impressed with the strategical manner in which he critiques the morality, practices and characteristics of European “civilized” society without alienating or even really offending his target audience during that period. Equiano has the ability to express his opinion and opposition to certain European practices while at the same time, and in the same breathe at times, praising their resourcefulness and intelligence. He achieves a balance that remains consistent throughout the narrative.
Equiano’s first stab at Europeans occurs in the first paragraph when he is referring to the events of his life, which were not uncommon during that period in time. He adds, however, “did I consider myself an European, I might say my sufferings were great.” With this comment, he is referring to the easy way of life Europeans enjoyed in comparison to slaves although they tended to take this for granted and dramatized their “hardships.”
As the narrative develops, Equiano sets them up then knocks them down while keeping the guise of a moderate. In the description of his homeland, he highlights the Ibo people’s simple way of life, their convenient rather than ornamental buildings, their obsession with cleanliness, their “cheerfulness and affability,” their aversion for idleness and their kind treatment of their prisoners turned slaves. Equiano says, “and we were totally unacquainted with swearing, and all those terms of abuse and reproach which find their way so readily and copiously into the language of more civilized people.”
Further into the story, when describing his time aboard the Industrious Bee, he uses this balance of praise and critique when he muses, “I was astonished at the wisdom of the white people in all things I saw; but was amazed at their not sacrificing, or making any offering, and eating with unwashed hands and touching the dead.”
Throughout the story, Equiano acknowledges the unusually kind treatment he received from some of his masters and various other people he encounters along the way. The “polished and haughty European” people teach him to read and write, do arithmetic, shave and dress hair. Equiano “relished their society and manners” while they taught him of the Bible and Christianity. For this, he expresses his appreciation for the opportunity to learn such things.
Equiano then uses these teachings to attack European’s hypocrisy in which they have Christian beliefs and exalt Christian tendencies while practicing inhuman, immoral practices, such as slavery. He cannot see the rationality in what he sees as blatant sin. He pleads with the reader asking the rhetorical question, “And do not the assembly which enacted it deserve the appellation of savages and brutes rather than of Christians and men?”
Equiano cleverly reverses the labels and descriptions Europeans give him and other Africans making the Europeans look like the savage brutes by expressing his fears regarding their strange appearance, possible cannibalistic nature and dark magic. He makes these instances come off as a bit humorous in order to avoid making the average European reader uncomfortable with his thoughts. In reality, Equiano is quite serious in his descriptions of his encounters with these people.
I think Equiano’s narrative succeeds in appeasing his anticipated readership while still subtly, and sometimes blatantly but with polish, expressing his real thoughts towards the practice of slavery and European society. I also believe that if free from fear of censorship or worse, Equiano’s position would have definitely been more radical alluding to “the law of retaliation.” However, this argument is a blog for another day.

The Humble Character of Equiano

The Humble Character of Olaudah Equiano
One apparent thing that I noticed as I read this narrative was the amount of humility that Equiano possesses. His noble character is very effective in the telling of this story. He even begins the work with an apologetic tone, saying “if, then, the following narrative does not appear sufficiently interesting to engage general attention, let my motive be some excuse for its publication.” He then proceeds to tell his readers that it was at his friends’ requests that he writes this autobiography, and that he does not, in any way, aspire to praise. So from the very first paragraph of the narrative to the closing sentences, we see in Equiano a very humble or modest person. Though he may have been in reality as modest as he portrays himself in the narrative, I believe there are a couple other reasons why Equiano is so modest throughout his work.
The first reason why Equiano needs to be so humble is that the underlying ideas he is presenting in his narrative were quite controversial in his time. The message behind his work was somewhat radical, and many people would not want to accept change. Many people, especially those who owned slaves had become dependent on the slave system and any attempts to disrupt their system were potentially dangerous. In his introductory paragraph, Equiano says, “what is obvious we are apt to turn away from in disgust and to charge the reader with impertinence.” We see that he is already concerned with people discrediting him on account of what he is writing about. With his abolitionist thought in mind, Equiano needed his story to be read and considered. He wanted his anti-slavery message to get out. In order to do so, he had to come off as a modest man, not a crazed radical, acting only out of passion. Reason and a rational approach, he figured, could persuade more minds.
Another reason I think Equiano is so modest in his work is to establish credibility. As a black man writing to a mainly white audience, he had a barrier to overcome. People of his day admitted that he was quite extraordinary. As a freedman he could read and write, and perform some arithmetic. He could perform many various tasks from styling hair and desalinating seawater. He had a vast knowledge of sailing and could sail a ship almost single-handedly. There are many others ways in the narrative in which Equiano proves his intelligence and industriousness. The reader comes to realize just how exceptional Equiano really is. However, any time that it may seem that he is boasting, he is careful to attribute his success to a higher authority, whether to a kind master or to the providence of God. Even in the beginning he says, “I regard myself as a particular favorite of heaven, and acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life.” By doing this, Equiano seeks to establish credibility with his readers, that they may accept his message.
Throughout the work, Equiano’s character remains the same. Though he becomes disillusioned with the white men he first considers magical, he is still at the end of the novel almost childlike and innocent. He learns a great deal throughout his life and is witness to many horrible things, but he remains hopeful. His faith in the end helps to see him through. His humility is one thing that he also always maintains, from the beginning as a child in Africa to the end as a Christian freedman. His humility or modesty helps him come through to his readers and present a radical message that otherwise may not have been possible for him to convey.

A Fisherman's Story

“When he had caught any fish, his master would frequently take them from him without paying him; and at other times some other white people would serve him in the same manner. One day he said to me, very movingly, ‘Sometimes when a white man take away my fish, I go to my master, and he get me my right; and when my master by strength take away my fishes, what me must do? I can’t go to any body to be righted; then…I must look up to God Mighty in the top for right.’”

This seemingly simple tale about a fishing slave uses all rhetoric that Olaudah Equiano needs to use to reach all of his audience.

Firstly, we see that Olaudah employs Christian morals to make his readers glance at their own souls. This poor slave finds himself without hope after, not only his freedom, but his fish are taken away from him. He looks up to Providence for justice, knowing that he can never attain that in his present situation. The slave epitomizes a Christ-like personality, as if he is turning the other cheek because he knows he’ll have his justice in the afterlife. Equiano’s tactic is targeted at white Christians to provoke them to really think about the morality of the slave trade. Equiano seems to say, “How can you persecute a man, even more zealous than you are, who worships the same God as you?”

Secondly, Equiano touches on the rhetoric of man’s natural rights. The poor slave’s master is quick to defend his slave against any other man taking his fish, but only for his own prosperity. The slave went out and caught the fish on his own, enjoying the little time he had, only to be unjustly robbed by his own master, the only person he has to protect him. Even worse, is the fact that the slave is seemingly unalarmed by this action of his master; as if this happens all the time, and nothing else is to be expected. This blatantly takes away the slave’s right of liberty.

Finally, Equiano uses this passage to pull at the heartstrings of his audience. The reader can’t help but feel sympathy for the poor slave. Equiano draws a vivid image of this uneducated slave using what spare moments he has after his labor to fish, to find some sort of freedom with his time. And even after serving his master all day in hard labor, he still has to give up his fish if his master sees fit. The slave is so yielding, so hopeless, because he knows that he can do nothing else, lest he be punished.

After reading this passage, the reader can’t help but think of how unjust it is for the white men to take away his fish. While Equiano comes off as telling a narrative, he is also using passages like this one to dig into the question of the morality of slavery. The readers find themselves having sympathy for the poor slaves, unjustly punished and robbed by the white men. This feeling is what spurred the uproar that started the abolitionist movement. Is this Interesting Narrative simply that, or is it an underlying call to the abolishment of slavery?


My Essay

What rhetorical strategies does Equiano use in arguing against slavery?

In the passage where he thinks he is describing how a certain group of European. ''I have never seen among my people such as instances of brutal cruelty’’ and then says how they turn a man into a brute or something less than a human being.
A few more passages down he discusses the horrors on the ship that he feels reduced himself so low from constant fear of what the screams were about and if those instances would happen to him. This must have really put an opinion of the whites is his mind from all the constant cruelty that was implied on an hourly basis for many days. The consistent stress on the mind is wearing him down to the point where death is more valued than life amongst the slaves.
He talks about hearing the cries of brothers being separated from each other on the ship and quotes a passage from a Christian religion ‘’do unto all men as you would men should do unto you’’ well he asks the question of this quotes, ‘’should all mankind suffer the most unimaginable fears in the life of being torn from their loved ones for ever just to satisfy a buyer’s choice?’’ this is a new way to punish a man, not just by slavery, but by taking everything else from them that is no material. Maybe he doesn’t understand at this time why a Christian would believe these words and then do the worst he could to another.
Later he admits to becoming immune to the horrors and fears from the Europeans because he had learned their culture almost as well as his own. Now the visions of the visions of them as spirits but as men like him. The master of this time was teaching him Christian values and ways as he seen them and explained that God would not love him for being ‘’wrong’’ things. With all this intellect that was taught to him and the freedom he had been so used to having made him very ‘’cocky’’. This would start the horrors back over again and they new ones were going to be much worse. The thought of his freedom spends him on another journey to seek it again just as he did when he was a boy hiding in the bushes waiting to go home.
Then he arrives at the new island of Montserrat, he uses a sentimental way to describe to of us the horror. So we shall feel it ourselves. He describes it as a ‘’fresh horror, that chilled his heart’’. A former slave brought back to the reality that he had lost. Although his fate is not as bad when he arrives as he imagined, but just the thought of losing what he had gained from the white people was worse than the descriptions is what he lost when be first left his country.
Then men from the West Indies are described like the Europeans he saw a mentioned earlier that took all the human dignity away from the slaves and had no remorse for the Negros. Their homes are in the worst conditions and they treat the pregnant women like a brute also. The neglect causes serious health conditions here. The narrorator refers to Mr. D, the passage in the bible of doing unto. Mr. D answers him by thoughts that his schemed worked to keep them under order. The narrorator seems to have a deeper understanding for the Christian doctrine than these people that are supposably teaching it to him and supplying him bibles throughout the story. These horror stories from the islands that the narrorator is telling us about are trying to appeal to our senses. Not just his pain and heartache at times, but for the other slaves that have been brutally beaten and tortured for non other than them. To add to the senses, the narrator gives us a sense of how he feels the slave trade has rewinded the natural rights of man that he has learned that all are supposed to have ‘’Such a tendency has the slave trade to debauch men’s minds and harden them to every feeling of humanity.’’ The narrorator suggests that this slave trade ‘’taints everything it touches’’. By taking away the rights of a man to give another one more is unmoral and hypercritical of all. He has been told was the way it should be.

Servitude VS. Slavery.

The Life of Olaudah Equiano is one of the greatest slave narratives ever written. Not only was it among the first of its kind, it was also the tinder that ignited a moral fire to burn away the icy grip of persecution. Throughout the course of this narrative, Equiano paints a picture full of tragedy,oppression,love, spirituality and in the end abolition(though not in his lifetime). By making use of several different forms of rhetoric, Equiano clearly exhibits his hatred for slavery. He then establishes an account that clearly shows that oppression is not only savage; but present in a society that on the surface, portrays a strict adherence to the holy writ.

In order to better understand such a complex individual. It is necessary to focus on the methods Equiano himself uses to promote his character and leave a lasting impression upon his readers. The rhetoric used to support his opinions is greatly enhanced when his character is portrayed so pure and innocent. His ability to keep a clear head despite his lot of troubles is perhaps his greatest ally. So many lesser men would have given in to such hardships (and many did!). Throughout the course of the text, several interesting passages seem to stand out above the rest. Perhaps the most fascinating use of his rhetoric is seen in his use of reversal of hierarchies. “...... and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me. Their complexions, too, differing so much from ours, their long hair, and the language they spoke, united to conform me in this belief”. Equiano’s anguish and fears alluded to in the latter passage are candidly similar to the way Europeans view black people. This passage clearly shows the obscurity the Europeans falsely assert towards Africans. Another important theme throughout the narrative is Equiano’s modest view of himself. It seems that the modesty asserted to his character is his way of showing that he himself is not an exception, but instead, that sensuality, love, kindness, servitude (though not forced) and intellectual ability are present in all “savage” peoples. Instead as it would seem, the morality and traits of a true savage are present only in the European’s contempt and persecution of the black man.

Servitude Vs. Slavery
The lines between slavery and servitude are hazed by a belief that in order to serve one must fear his master in all aspects of life. However, we can notice that servitude can be achieved by exercising respect and keeping a high morale among workers. “... and as he treated his slaves better than any other man on the island, so he was better and more faithfully served by them in return”. Servitude is not entirely a bad thing. When Equiano becomes a free man, he still takes up work that in a sense serves other men. This theme shows that when people are treated ethically and with care they will produce results far superior to those who are oppressed, tortured, and unjustly murdered. A very interesting passage related to the latter idea is the following. "the good man expressed a great deal of affection for me, and sorrow that I should leave him and warmly advised me to stay there, insisting that I was much respected by all the gentlemen in the place, that I might do very well, and in a short time have land and slaves of my own".
In response to this Equiano politely declines the invitation and begs to be excused to leave for London. Why did he not rebuff at the very hint of being himself a slave owner? Perhaps he felt to wamly for his former master and wished to leave on good terms, or perhaps it is not the idea of slavery that scares him, but instead the idea of being owned by other men who express complete dominance over all aspects of life. Even after Equiano has been a "free" man for upwards of seven years he still exhibits the need to serve. "It was now 1774. I sought for a master, and found a captain". Why does Equiano still feel the need to have a "master" almost a decade after purchasing his freedom? One idea is the mere fact that servitude dominated nearly his entire life, or maybe Equiano was simply a kind, gentle, brilliant and faithful servant to manking in general. The emotions Equiano so eloquently strives to make understood are in a sense incomprhehensible to people who read about slavery from the comfort of their homes. Perhaps it is impossible to accurately pinpoint every feeling or idea that takes place over the entire manuscript. In closing we can see that the notion of finding servitude on this earthly realm is completely juxtaposed with the servitude required to achieve a much sought after passage into heaven. Every man will serve another, some will be slaves and some will simply serve out of the humbleness of their own character. Equiano did both and kept his humanity while brilliantly using his lifetime of adversity to ensure that the future world would be a better place.

Rhetoric in The Interesting Narrative

Equiano uses two major forms of rhetoric in his slave narrative in order to show the injustice of slavery. These include sentiment and Christianity. The work, as a whole, appeals to the sentimental nature of the reader. The treatment of slaves, and young Equiano in particular, is appalling to any reasonable person. Slaves endured hunger, beatings, and horrifying treatment in general. As the reader reads through the story, he or she continually finds himself on an emotional roller coaster. As soon as Equiano begins to settle into a place that provides a safe, somewhat comfortable environment, he is snatched away for a worse circumstance. Not only does the overall story play on the emotions of the reader, Equiano uses specific passages to dwell the hardships into the mind of the reader.
One major passage in which the hearts of the readers go out to Equiano is when he found his sister; he was thrilled to see her again. He stated that he was “overpowered” and “neither of us could speak”. The reader is excited by the idea of the two of them being reunited, but that excitement is quickly lost when the two are once again torn apart. Equiano directly addresses his sister in order to fully show the sorrow he felt at their separation. He addresses the many hardships she is likely to face in the future including “the violence of the African trader, the pestilential stench of a Guinea ship, the seasoning in the European colonies, or the lash and lust of a brutal and unrelenting overseer”. This enables the reader to feel the love he has for his sister as if they were our own feelings while also showing the repulsive treatment she will surely receive. By changing the tone of his writing the reader experiences the true sorrow and pain felt, therefore directly reaching for the emotion of the reader. One aspect of the cruelty of the slave trade is portrayed through this passage. Equiano is able to show many of the different aspects in this way by playing to the emotions of the reader. By reaching our emotions in such a way, we must wonder how any reasonable person could have condoned this type of treatment of any individual, much less, thousands of people.
Christianity is another way in which Equiano attempts to reach out to the reader and display the horrifying nature of slavery. Through his slave narrative, Equiano attempts to show that the Africans who were sold into slavery were quite similar to Christians. They shared many of the same practices and beliefs; the major difference in the Christians and the Africans was the color of their skin. Again, the reader must wonder how any person could put another human being through the hardships involved in slavery. In one passage, Equiano compares many Jewish customs to that of the Ibo Africans including the practice of circumcision, “like the Jews, and made offerings and feasts on that occasion”, he expresses the similarities of naming of children after some event or circumstance, and the avoidance of calling God’s name in vain, and informed the reader that they were also unfamiliar with the practice of swearing. With so many similarities between the African and the Jewish, the reader must once again wonder what the grounds for the beginning of slavery could have been other than such a simplistic reason as the color of their skin. By expressing these similarities, the reader is forced to consider the stupidity of slavery forced on people.
The use of rhetoric in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano was very important in the expression of questioning of how a reasonable populace could force this type of servitude on any other human being. He is able to explain that the slaves were no different than slave owners, yet they were forced to live according to the laws of unreasonable human beings. He was also able to express the true obscene nature of the slave trade.

Violence is not the answer

In Equiano's autobiography, his main theme is about rhetoric. He repeatedly points out facts to persuade his audience of the hardships of slavery. He is a true abolistionist, but he brings out the facts with common sense instead of "in your face" radicalism. Odaulah Equiano's approach to reperending slavery reminds me of Dr. Martin Luther King's approach to the Civil Rights Movements.

If you compared their styles, Equiano use a "I want to make you think" style of persuasion. Even though he was kidnapped from his home and forced into a life of slavery, he never really mention or express the thought of a really negative connotation. In laming term, he never really express hate for his European counter-parts. The one thing that sticks out to me is that after he bought his freedom, he felt as if he was alone and needed to be back in servitude just to feel a sense of belonging again. It's like leaving your parents house without the proper training. He believes that everything happened for a reason and in some cases, considers himself fortunate to be in the whole ordeal. When reading this (through the eyes of a ninetieth century Caucasian), you can't help but to feel the common sense of guiltiness. What I like about his style is that he makes the reader want to cry for their past sins instead of angry or fearful. A good contrasting abolistionist story is the famous Uncle Tom's Cabin. In this story, a slave is in the possession of a kind-hearted master, but is later sold to a cruel master who ends up beating him to death. Unlike Equiano's autobiography, Uncle Tom's Cabin made it's readers feel up with anger and sorrow instead of wisdom and reason. Ultimately, Uncle Tom's Cabin started a war (some would say).

Previously, I compared Odaulah Equiano with Dr. Martin Luther King. Like Equiano, King made his white listeners think instead of act when he spoke to them. He preached about peace and taught that violence never solved anything. His opposite counter-part was Malcolm X. Before he separated himself from the Honorary Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X preached against King's teachings and had a more "eye for eye, tooth for a tooth". If someone messed with you, then you had the right to retaliate. He believed in segregation and the best way to achieve a goal was through fear.

But if you look at the lives of Equiano and King compared to other slaves and Malcolm X, you will notice that their lives were very different. In his autobiography, even Equiano himself considered himself very fortunate compared to other slaves. He seemed to had always been under to servitude of a master that at least treated him with dignity, unlike other slaves who were just beaten senseless whenever they didn't produce well. Even with Rev. King, he grew up in a normal early twentieth century African American family. Sure, maybe he couldn't be associated with other white kids in anyway, but at least his father wasn't killed and had his family splitted apart because his mother couldn't afford to raise all nine of her kids.

So if you look at the upbringing of the two, you would notice that the good produce the nice while the bad produce the mean. It makes perfect since, if a parent doesn't raise her kids right, then he becomes lost and can become a very dangerous adult. King David failed in raising one of his kids right and ended fighting against him in a revolt. But if either or is good or bad, the true fact is that we all can learn from all of these people.

Equiano’s use of rhetoric

In Equiano’s autobiography, he uses several different rhetoric in arguing his case. However, even though Equiano was a slave, his claim is not necessarily against slavery all together but more so against the brutal practices which existed within the institution. These he seeks to abolish through the explanation of how they are not conducive to the productivity of the slave and how a more humane approach can better benefit both parties.

One of the rhetoric which Equiano uses is the rhetoric of Christianity. As he says at one point when talking to a Mr. D, Equiano asked him “how he, as a Christian, could answer for the horrid act before God?” The horrid act in this case was the cutting off of a Negro man’s leg for trying to run away. In another instance, Equiano speaks of a Christian master dripping molten wax on the bare back of a slave who had attempted escape. These references are an effort to persuade a Christian reader to believe how brutal practices are inherently wrong.

Another mode of reasoning which Equiano uses is the rhetoric of sentimentality. The way in which he uses this is at times very interesting because even though slavery caused him to be separated from his family, he praises it because through it he was able to learn a great deal of information which he would have been denied had he not been taken into captivity. Nevertheless, Equiano is heart broken at the beginning of his autobiography by the initial separation from most of his family. He then explains how he had to go through those tumultuous feelings once more when he was reunited with his sister only to be dragged away with the break of dawn. When using the sentimentality appeal, Equiano seeks to show how the people being taken captive had the same feelings as the captors who took them.

Equiano also challenges different societies and their social standings. For instance, Equiano sees the Europeans as savage and cruel, much the same way as the Europeans looked upon the Africans. For instance, when Equiano is taken to the sea, upon seeing the white men he says, “I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me. Their complexions, too, differing so much from ours, their long hair, and the language they spoke”. With this passage, Equiano describes how similar the two different cultures are by showing that each thought the same when contemplating the other.

However, if they were indeed so much alike, the question begging to be asked is, what would have it been like if the Africans were the first to travel the seas and seek new land? Would the race of white men have been enslaved to black owners? The answer lies in the fact that all men have predispositions to do evil deeds regardless of who the doers may be.

Spencer Oswald

Monday, February 06, 2006


I believe that Equiano's Interesting Narrative is a brilliant ploy at educating the reader of the harsh reality and horrors of the slave trading that occurred in the 18th century. It is a compelling story that appeals to the reader's emotions in every fashion. While reading the first few chapters I personally felt a great deal of sympathy for the loss the young Equiano suffered. How terrible it must have been to be kidnapped and sold into slavery, being treated as though you were an animal of some sort. The very thought of going through and experience of that magnitude makes me shutter. After traveling a great deal of distance from their home, Equiano describes the first night that he and his sister were taken. "We were then unbound, but we were unable to take any food; and being quite overpowered by fatigue and grief, our only relief was some sleep, which allayed our misfortune for a short time." He then goes on to tell of the very next day when he and his sister were separated and sold to different masters. Equiano was so sticken with even more grief that he has was again unable to eat for days.

The anger within me erupted as Equiano described his voyage and the misfortune that he encountered on the slave ship. The poor slaves were subjected to such ill treatment that some threw themselves overboard to hopefully perish at sea, but to their own demise were saved from their sweet ending by the crew on the ship. The captives were chained to each other in the hull of the ship with nothing but the stench of the person next to them in their nose. Such harsh conditions should not even be suiting to a hog. Equiano described "I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life; I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor has I the least desire to taste anything."

Equiano himself even considered death as a welcomed friend that he wanted to meet. The evil men operating these slave routed aboard these ships have shown no compassion or even any sense of humanity. Some believe that these men turned the slaves into savages though harsh punishment, but I believe that these slave trading men must not have been men at all, they must have been beast to treat these individuals with such inconceivable treatment. It is sick to think that these men could cruise up to a foreign country and think that they had the right to enslave the inhabitants. How disgusting is the whole operation.

As Equiano is passed from master to master and ship to new lands he describes many encounters with other slaves and the ill treatment that they endured. Equiano' s life as a slave was terrible, I could not imagine myself being able to endure such hardship and pain. But, Equiano considered himself luck and blessed by the grace of God in comparison to the other slaves. Equiano' s experiences made him a strong individual and encouraged him, once a free man, to fight for the lives of many other blacks that were enslaved by these brutes. Perhaps all of the hardship that he endured was worth the stand the he was able to make again slavery. The old saying that "what does not kill us only makes us stronger"comes to my mind when I picture this courageous man.

Brandi Venable-Crawford

Invention and the "Genius"

Inventor of the TV remote wants to set the record straight

As this story suggests, famed inventors may not always be the ones behind the innovation for which they are credited -- affirming what Jaucourt suggests about inventions and genius in his article in Diderot's Encyclopedie.