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

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

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.


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