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

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

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.


Blogger Caroline Wagner said...

I really enjoyed your post. Equiano is a very complex charater, so it's veryinteresting to see what you have to say abot him. As far as close reading goes, I think you started out really well. The middle gets kind of vague. Maybe you could back up your ideas with some more spacific details. I also thought you had some good points in the end of your post that you might to explore more, esp. the connnection between his humility and his African roots.

2:34 PM  

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