The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudiah Equiano depicts personal courage a man who escapes slavery and fights for personal freedom and human rights. The narrative addresses many themes including slavery, religion, oppression, kidnapping, business relations, ideas of liberty and freedom, economic status of African countries and their political instability. The purpose of the themes covered in the Narrative is to unveil unique historical and political factors of the 18th century.
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In the Narrative, Equiano promulgates ideas of freedom and free will, liberation and personal courage portraying himself as a young boy who faces the charge of unmanliness. For example, after realizing himself incapable of keeping all ten commandments, Equiano “thought that my state was worse than any man’s; my mind was unaccountably disturbed; Similarly, Equiano chose to forgo several promising opportunities to escape (Equiano 92), believing that unless he was certain God willed it, he was undeserving of freedom. Equiano, in his relatively brief account, constructed a notion of slavery based on embattlements with numerous opposers: kidnappers, slave traders, enemy fire from French naval forces, unfair masters, cheating traders, incompetent and unstable captains.
It is possible to say that Equiano writes from the perspective of a slave speaking about ideas of freedom and economic prosperity because for Englishmen, ideas of freedom and liberty were not so important as for slaves who experienced injustice and oppression all the life. In the Narrative, Equiano often addresses slavery after harboring some hope for liberty; he assumes this unfortunate twist of fate is a result of his having uttered a swear word: “My conscience smote me for this unguarded expression” (Equiano 32).
As a black, enslaved, and then formerly enslaved, man, Equiano could not afford to be self-promoting. The most controversial theme in his Narrative is slavery where Equiano argues that slavery impedes rather than serves God’s plan for a fully equal, more virtuous world. In other words, only through its abolition could God’s intent for “an universal good” be realized (Equiano 177). More repugnant for Equiano is the fact that the manifest destiny rhetoric of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries also typically includes a defense of slavery.
Equiano describes his application to the Bishop of London to become a missionary of Africa: ‘”My sole motive…is the opinion which gentlemen of sense and education, who are acquainted with Africa, entertain of the probability of converting the inhabitants of it to the faith of Jesus Christ” (Equiano 169). Equiano puts forth the different view that God uses sin to the advantage of the universe. For him, slavery is designed to separate the saved from the damned and to enhance humanity’s appreciation — black and white alike — of liberty, equality, “peace, prosperity and happiness” (Equiano 81). Slavery is sinful because it not only relegates the enslaved to the “condition of brutes,” but it also “hardens [the slaveholders] to every feeling of humanity”: (Equiano 81).
In sum, the Narrative vividly portrays hardship faced by slaves and their great desire for freedom. Also, Equiano proposes readers unusual, for a former, slave views on slavery and ideas of freedom. Equiano’s nontraditional view of slavery and providence are coupled with his cultural values and his reluctance or inability to impersonate God. According to Equiano, for a country to be “civilized” means it must not only operate successfully in a global market economy but also exude Christian ethics and morals. To realize that vision, Africans living in Africa need conversion.
Works Cited Page
Equiano, O. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudiah Equiano. W.W. Norton & Co; New Ed edition, 2001.
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