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

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

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.


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