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Olaudah Equiano

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Llarina Perez Salazar

on 15 January 2014

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Transcript of Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano
Narrative of The Life
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavas Vassa, the African. Written by Himself.


"Richard Baker was a native of America [...] who was not ashamed to notice, to associate with, and to be the friend and instructor of one who was ignorant, a stranger, of a different complexion and a slave."(p.689,5)
African Manners
" I was trained up from my earliest years in the art of war: my daily exercise was shooting and throwing javelins; and my mother adorned me with emblems, after the manner of our
greatest warriors
." (p.677,II,6)

“warrior spirit”
will go with Olaudah throughout his life. Similitudes with Indians (Benjamin Franklin´s texts).
Slave´s trade horrors

"...two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both, and, without giving us time to cry out, or make resistance, they

stopped our mouths, and tied our hands
” (p.677,II, 24)
remarkable relationship with
Olaudah´s sister
. She is the only
he finds, neither victuals nor drinks are important for him.

Oscillating life cycle
“But alas! we were soon deprived of even the small comfort of weeping together. The next day proved a day of greater sorrow than I had yet experienced for my sister and I were separated, while we lay clasped in each other´s arms…she was torn from me…I
cried and grieved continually.
...I got into the hands of a chieftain, and they
used me very extremely
and did all they could to
comfort me.
”(p.678 middle of the paragraph)

Oscillating life cycle= whenever something good happens, then the following fact is terrible, and vice versa.

Oscillating life cycle

“Thus, at the very moment I dreamed of the greatest
I found myself most
; and it seemed as if fortune wished to give me this
taste of joy
, only to render the
everse more poignant.
The change I now experienced was as painful as it was sudden and unexpected. It was a change indeed from a state of bliss to a scene which is inexpressible by me, as it discovered to me an element I had never before beheld, and till then had no idea of, and wherein such instances of hardship and
continually occurred as I can never reflect on but with horror.” (p.681, IV)

: shift from
happiness to misfortune.
Bittersweet feeling.

Culture and traditions

"I might say my
sufferings were great
: but when I compare my lot with that of most of my countrymen, I regard myself as a
particular favorite of Heaven
, and acknowledge the mercies of
in every occurrence of my life. If then the following narrative does not appear sufficiently interesting to engage general attention, let my motive be some excuse for its publication.
(p.676, I)

He did this publication seeking to help his enslaved brothers, and trying to avoid censure. He was not expecting praise, nor inmortality or literary reputation.
Vivid description of cruelty and violence

"I was not long suffered to indulge my grief; I was soon
put down under the decks
, and there I received such a
salutation in my nostrils
as I had never experienced in my life: so that, with the
loathsomeness of the stench
, and
crying together
, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste any thing. I now
for the last friend,
, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across I think the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other
flogged me severely
." (p.683. II,5)

evocation of grief, fear, despair, violence, and fetidness.
Vision of White People
"They gave me to understand we were to be carried to these white people's country to work for them[...] but
I feared I should be put to death
, the white people
looked and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner;
for I had never seen among any people such instances of
brutal cruelty
; and this not only shewn towards us blacks, but also to some of the whites themselves. One white man in particular I saw, when we were permitted to be on deck,
flogged so unmercifully
with a large rope near the foremast, that he
in consequence of it; and they
tossed him
over the side as they would have done a
." (p.683, from bottom line 8)
Every circumstance I met with served only to render my state more painful, and heighten my apprehensions, and my opinion of the cruelty of the whites [...] One day, two of my wearied countrymen who were chained together ,
preferring death to such a life of misery,
somehow made through the nettings and
jumped into the sea."
(685, I, II-8)

"We thought by this we should be
by these
ugly men
," (p.686, 2)"

This vision of white people is practically the same white people think and talk about Indians.
Switched positions
(See Benjamin Franklin´s book)
They prefer
death to slavery.

Vision of White People:

"O, ye nominal Christians!

might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God, who says unto you,
Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you
? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your
luxury and lust of gain
? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery with the small comfort of being together and mingling their sufferings and sorrows?" (p.686, III, 13)

This is a critic to the white people who are supposed to follow their religion and the paths of god, but they are corrupted.
Cruelty of white people

"I had seen a
black woman
slave as I came through the house, who was cooking the dinner, and the poor creature was cruelly
loaded with various kinds of iron machines
; she had one particularly on her head, which locked her mouth so fast that she could
scarcely speak
; and could not

nor drink."
(p.687, middle of paragraph)

This iron machine was called the iron muzzle
Conversion into a citizen
"my captain and master named me
Gustavus Vassa
.[...] and when I refused to answer to my new name, which at first I did, it gained me many a cuff; so at length I submitted, and was obliged to bear the present name, by which I have been known ever since.” (p.688, middle of paragraph)

"I now not only felt myself quite easy with these new countrymen, but relished their society and manners. I no longer looked upon them as spirits, but as men superior to us; and therefore I had the
stronger desire to resemble them; to imbibe their spirit, and imitate their manners
." (p.689,13)
".... I could not go to
unless I was
. This made me very uneasy; for I had now some faint idea of a future state: accordingly I communicated my anxiety to the eldest Miss Guerin, [...] so I was baptized [...] by my present name." (p.689, II,1)
Development of the character, A new way of thinking.
Personal enlightenment
achieved through
Individual changes= to be baptized.
Independent thought
Ability to reason
Personal Freedom
Freedom expectations

"I thought the time long till I
obtained my freedom
. For though my
master had not promised it to me
, [...] he always treated me with the greatest kindness, and reposed in me an unbounded confidence; he even
paid attention to my morals
; and would never suffer me to deceive him, or tell lies, of which he used to tell me the consequences; and that if I did so God would not love me; so that,
from all this tenderness
, I had never once supposed, in all my dreams of freedom, that he would think of detaining me any longer than I wished. " (p. 692, I, 1)

Feelings of affection, assumptions about slavery.
Slave´s trade horrors

"The punishments of the slaves on every trifling occasion are so frequent, and so well known, together with the
different instruments
with which they are tortured, that it cannot any longer afford novelty to recite them; and they are
too shocking
to yield delight either to the writer or the reader." (p.697,II)
Slave´s trade horrors

“Another negro man was
half hanged,
and then burnt
, for attempting to poison a cruel overseer. Thus by repeated cruelties are the wretched first urged to despair, and then murdered, because they still retain so much of human nature about them as to wished [wish] to put an end to their
, and
retaliate on their tyrants!
“ (p.696, II, 1-5)

Slave´s trade horrors
“...these human
who cut and mangle the slaves in a shocking manner on the most trifling occasions, and altogether treat them in every respect like
. They pay no regard to the situation of
pregnant women
, nor the least attention to the lodging of the field negroes. Their huts, which ought to be well covered, and the place dry where they take their little repose, are often open sheds, built in damp places; so that, when the poor creatures return tired from the toils of the field, they contract many disorders, from being exposed to the damp air in this uncomfortable state, while they are heated, and their pores are open. This neglect certainly conspires with many others to cause a
decrease in the births as well as in the lives of the grown Negroes
. ” (p. 696, II, 8-18)

"After I had been sailing for some time with this captain, at length I endeavoured to try my luck and
commence merchant
. I had but a very small capital to begin with; for one single half bit, which is equal to three pence in England, made up my whole stock. However, I
trusted to the Lord to be with me
; and at one of our trips , I bought a glass tumbler with my half bit, and when I came I sold it for a bit, or sixpence." (p.698, II,1)

He is showing the
characteristics of the Enlightenment. Also present in chapter 4.
emphasis on knowledge
assertion of individuality
1. What role did religion play in Equiano’s life?
2. The introduction suggests that Equiano may not have been born in Africa, but in South Carolina (hdt). If this were true, does it change the way we read and evaluate this memoir?
daily exposed to new hardships and impositions
...My mind was therefore hourly replete with
inventions and thoughts of being freed
, and, if possible,
by honest and honourable means
; for I always remembered the old adage; and I trust it has ever been my ruling principle,
"that honesty is the best policy"
; and likewise that other golden precept—
"to do unto all men as I would they should do unto me. "

Enlightenment features
: reason, logic as foremost.
He is always learning theory from the situations and problems he goes through=
From examples to theory
Enlightenment (Christianity)
"...but as I thought that if it were
God's will
I ever should be freed it would be so, and, on the contrary, if it was not his will it would not happen." (p.703,16)

He uses God to feel "keep and safe in a world of wilderness". He is his hope.
Abolition of slavery
" I prayed him to be as good as his offer to me, when he was pleased to
promise me my freedom
as soon as I could purchase it. My master said, he would not be worse than his promise; and took the money. These words of my master were like a voice from
to me: in an instant all my trepidation was turned into
unutterable bliss
; and I most reverently bowed myself with
, unable to express my feelings, but by the overflowing of my eyes. " (p.707, II, 8)
he is an
for other people. He demonstrates his
"warrior spirit"
(from chapter 2)


"...everybody on board
used me very kindly
, quite contrary to what I had seen of any white people before; I therefore began to think that
they were not all of the same disposition
. " (p.688,II, 4)

Equiano begins to differentiate among men based not upon skin color, hair texture, and language, but upon character and morality-qualities of individuals rather than of groups.

- Memoir, autobiography.
- 1st edition published in London in 1789
- Equiano the
vs. Equiano the

- Slavery and freedom
- Evil and goodness
- Wickedness and morality.

with an
authoritative voice.

- Intention of explaining the
horrors of slave
trade and causing the colonies to
cease the practice
3. What does Equiano mean when he refers to "nominal Christians"? (p. 686, III, 13)

Colonial power's
Slavery was actually good for the slaves
because it introduced and often converted
them to
Slaves, free blacks and Africans were central
to the
economic, political, and social domi-
nation of Europe.
4. Do we still have slavery/ a kind of 'modern slavery' nowadays?
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