Review Olaudah Equiano’s Slave Narrative
Book Review of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself
The slave-narrative genre in literature, which became popular in the eighteenth century, was established by Olaudah Equiano. He used his personal life story to show the slave’s struggle for freedom and identity. The book review helps understand the events that took place during the escalation of slavery in the eighteenth century in order to see the humiliating attitude towards people who were deprived of freedom and living conditions, as well as inner feelings and views changes of the author during his enslavement.
The first point is that the book is written in the form of a spiritual autobiography. The style of it is analogous to Confessions by Saint Augustine and is full of reflections connected with the Christian attitude to the life and an individual correspondingly. Moreover, the author used this form in a new way by adding the theme of a social struggle and protest. The book considers three stages of becoming a Christian according to Olaudah Equiano. The first one is the life of the main character in his Motherland, the second one the internal changes in beliefs, and the last one the birth of a Christian. The author describes his struggle for becoming a Christian and to physical freedom. A constant desire to save the soul and escape from slavery are the two interconnected ideas of the genius book (The interesting narrative, n. d.).
The eighteenth century works used romantic tones for describing even the most terrible events. Equiano added to it a strict and comprehensive manner. In talking about adventures, he vividly describes details and characters.
In the beginning, Olaudah Equiano demonstrates the understanding of the white world by Africans. Their souls are depicted as being full of fear of technical achievements. The great difference of attitude to people, the value of life, nature, relations, and religion is shown from the very beginning of the book. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself explains readers the feelings of the main character, a slave and a free person, who dives into the life of the Western reality. The author describes his desire to become a part of this new world in order to become free. However, he never appreciates the negative and even disgusting sides of this society such as slavery, violence, rape, and defeat, among many others (Equiano, 2005).
It is necessary to stress that Equianos personal experience, enslavement, and events that he had to overcome gave him the impetus to describe the African life and his Motherland, as well as its traditions, some laws, and customs vividly. The desire to become a missionary and a person of good will points to the fact that most religions have similarities and seek to teach representatives of other faiths harmony, loyalty, and tolerance.
Furthermore, the main character represents himself as a businessperson. The hard working conditions, inequity, and inequality did not stop the author from the desire to overcome difficulties and acquire freedom. The duties of a slave gave minor but very desirable opportunities to earn money and pay for freedom. This issue is the most difficult to comprehend for modern people that have been free for all their lives. The author shows a manumission paper in the middle of his book in order to make a reader aware of such documents and feel both sorry and happy for the main character. The book The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano shows a personal success on the way to freedom, as well as business achievements of the enslaved man.
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The main themes of the book are the enslavement in the countries of West Africa, personal freedom, Christianity, and slaves journey to the American continent. The differences between these concepts in the American and African countries are shown in details. In addition, the viewpoints of the white society and black slaves concerning the issue of personal freedom are highlighted with the help of the main characters emotions representation.
Olaudah Equiano explains his internal state, changes, and the movement from heathenism to Christianity. Nonetheless, the enslavement under the law restricts the rights of slaves and closes the doors to the freedom. By means of the right provided by the laws to white citizens, slaves masters gained an opportunity to gain unrestricted freedom and to do what they considered fair. On the other hand, however, the inequality caused constant riots and nurtured a deep inner fear of being killed by slaves.
The author starts his narrative by convincing audience that he is a good man with the normal human desire to be free, happy, and to live as a person devoted to Christ. This stand impresses the readers from the very beginning as personal freedom is a natural right of each human being. As a matter of fact, the main character was born in the territory of Africa; thus, local beliefs became a part of his identity. However, there were scientists that argued the place of birth of Equiano. In his research, Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa? New Light on Eighteenth-Century Question of Identity (1999), Vincent Carretta stresses that Olaudah Equiano was born in the West Indies. The issue is not new; however, Equiano denied the theory by himself and claimed that the idea contradicted the truth. He considered such assertions to diminish the value of the narrative (Egan, n. d.).
In the early part of the book, traditions, customs, and religious views of main characters native people make readers understand the beauty of the simplicity and spiritual pureness of the African people. The development of society and survival of traditions are provided in order to ensure that the world, which is different from the rules of the white society, is not alien and also has a right to develop. Crude stone weapons and utensils and the ways of protection against invaders, as well as simple and respectful attitude to life and nature, are not the basement to consider the authors culture as ineligible or antagonistic (Equiano, 2005).
The first five chapters present the author’s account of his country, his birth and ancestry, and the horrors of being kidnapped and taken to the other country. Not only the awful sea voyage but also the loss of a sister became the first cornerstones for an irresistible desire to change the course of destiny and become a free man again. However, ideas of the main character about technological advances and extreme weather conditions did not smooth the horrifying brutality of the white people. The moving autobiography of a slave recounts issues such as the womens rape, oppression, and obtaining money by force, threats, and enslavement of other people (Altenhoff, 2009). On the other hand, the narrative repeatedly shows that the hard work and dedication, as well as the purity of thoughts, necessarily leads a man to the fulfillment of his dreams. The author managed to trade for his own redemption (Equiano, 2005).
In the light of these events, the Middle Passage is full of grief and despair as it shows a set of constant changes in the life and brutality of the white society (The life of Olaudah Equiano, n. d.). Nevertheless, there were masters that treated their slaves with a relative respect and kindness (Equiano, 2005). This fair description provides the reader with an opportunity to reconstruct in the mind the image and pictures of the contemporary events. The author stresses that he has no personal benefit from it and hopes that the book will be useful for the humankind as a whole. This approach is similar to the writing style of Benjamin Franklins autobiography (Lecture notes for Olaudah Equiano, n. d.).
Chapter 10 clearly depicts the main characters impressions of the cold near the North Pole. The man almost froze to death there. Nevertheless, the desire to survive inspired him to think about the afterlife. Furthermore, he began attending the gatherings of different religious churches, including the Roman Catholics, Jews, and Quakers (The life of Olaudah Equiano, n. d.). Moreover, the reading of the New Testament gives Olaudah Equiano the fullness of life understanding and strikes him with its simplicity. The book shows a growing faith in God and desire to profess and preach Christianity. All of a sudden, the Bishop denied Equianos desire to volunteer as a sermoner in Africa. The author argues that the development of the African countries is favorable for England as it provokes the growth of the British market (The interesting narrative, n. d.). The book is valuable and can be interesting for a wide range of readers.
In conclusion, the book vividly portrayed all parties involved in the shameful phenomenon of slavery. Honest views, simplicity, and moderation in the lifestyle of the author’s native people evoke the readers respect. Certainly, the book convinces that diverse cultures have an equal right to exist. Terrible pictures of the transportation of slaves by ships and the separation of members of one family touch everyone who reads the book. The author shows relatively benevolent and, on the other hand, cruel owners of slaves. The book teaches that brutality and aggression generate fear and slow down the overall industrial development of the world. A parallel desire to liberate the soul from the sin and become a real Christian, as well as the wish to release a physical body from enslavement, is the main idea of Olaudah Equianos book.