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

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

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.


Blogger Julie said...

Nicely done. The passage you discuss about the final meeting of Equiano and his sister is indeed very heart wrenching. I also found that passage to stand out. I like how you digest the passage. I feel that you gave it the importance that Equiano gave to it in the text.

12:39 PM  

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