Equiano’s Internalization and his Subsequent Qualification of Bull’s Satricial Cartoon

What makes Olaudah Equiano’s slave narrative particularly interesting is its seemingly docile approach to slavery. Multiple times throughout the text, Equiano excuses the actions of his colonizers, internalizing many of their beliefs, and at times supporting the very actions he condemns. For this reason, readers witness a sort of role-reversal, with Equiano adapting into an Englishman, at times condoning colonization and slavery, while still remaining abolitionist. Equiano’s narrative harkens back to the problem with internalization; his narrative cannot be fully abolitionist due to his defense of his English countrymen. On multiple accounts, Equiano sheds light on the abuse he encounters with the English: he recalls how they frequently physically attacked him, and psychologically tortured him by withholding food from him and telling him that they would kill him. Perhaps in viewing John Bulls’ satirical cartoon in knowledge of Equiano’s narrative one could easily refute its claims, however this is not the case. If anything, Equiano’s narrative complicates the validity of the cartoon.

Bulls’ satirical cartoon is anti-abolitionist, serving as a rebuttal to abolitionist claims about the barbarity of slavery while also bringing in conversation about socio-economic problems. In the cartoon, Bull accuses abolitionists of manipulating the economy by advocating for East India Sugar companies, which at the time did not support slavery. In the cartoon, children sign a petition to seemingly prohibit slavery, while others look through a telescope lens at Africa, only to be blocked by nefarious pictures of “negro slavery”. Bull in doing this satirizes abolitionist claims, making a bold statement that abolitionists’ work is simply a plot to damage West India’s influx of support. Equiano’s narrative does little to combat Bull. Though he castigates the harshness of the English, he knowingly participates in slavery: he subjugates Indians using techniques he garnered from reading Columbus, and he even aids his slave master in choosing slaves being sold at an auction. Equiano even approvingly mentions in the beginning pages of his narrative that “[t]he West India planters prefer the slaves of Benin or Eboe to those of any other part of Guinea, for their hardiness, intelligence, integrity, and zeal. Those benefits are felt by us in the general healthiness of the people, and in their vigour and activity; I might have added too in their comeliness”. Equiano attributes the success of the West India companies use of slaves, which complicates the abolitionist narrative. In addition to this, Equiano trivializes his own suffering, remarking in his first chapter “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 favourite of Heaven, and acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life”. He remarks how not all Englishmen treated him with cruelty and distain, but that several of them touched his life in positive ways (e.g. his “little friend Dick”). Perhaps this is where Equiano’s narrative complicates the slavery narrative; he ceases to serve as abolitionist propaganda and instead serves the opposite. For these reasons, I would argue that Equiano’s narrative qualifies a good portion of Bull’s claims.

– Sara Nuila-Chae

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11 thoughts on “Equiano’s Internalization and his Subsequent Qualification of Bull’s Satricial Cartoon

  1. Pingback: In-class student blog comments | English Literature of the Long Eighteenth Century (1660-1837) Gone Global

  2. I highly agree with your argument, and is in fact, similar to where I am taking my own. You did indeed have evidence to point out the conflict in Equiano’s claims of being an abolitionist. However, maybe just a little less explanation and use of evidence could really hone in on your argument, in the case of a blog post.

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  3. The most original idea was ‘Bull accuses abolitionists of manipulating the economy by advocating for East India Sugar companies, which at the time did not support slavery.” this really set the tone for the rest of the post. Probably going more in depth on how ‘Equiano’s narrative does little to combat Bull’.

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  4. The original idea of this blog post is that when compared to Bull’s cartoon Equiano’s narrative complicates the claims made by said cartoon. Although I agree with your argument Equiano also shows a different side every now and then in his narrative. Yes he is complicated but he also flip flops in certain areas of his narrative in which it is confusing as to whose side he is advocating for.

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  5. Hi Sara!

    I think your points are really interesting. Personally, I felt the cartoon to be at different ends than the narrative but, your notion that there is a possible side to Equiano’s narrative which qualifies the cartoon is striking. My only problem is your lack of solid evidence. The passages you add seem to be stretched pretty far in order for you to make your point. They are entirely open to interpretation but its hard for me to believe that Equiano would support slavery (or attribute the success of something to slavery). I think it would be helpful for you to go back and look at what he really means if that makes sense, or find stronger evidence to truly suggest he is leaning towards accepting slavery or having a role-reversal. The narrative is very personally and politically entwined but I don’t see true evidence that he ever really qualifies what the political cartoon presents, his description of his life itself serves as anti-abolition in its purest form. It proves the genuine suffering of the slaves.

    -Cait

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  6. The way you introduced Bull’s picture was smooth and eased me right into the topic that which you’re discussing. That said, your quotes do its job to show how Equiano complicates the abolitionist narrative, with reference to Bull’s drawing as well. He wants to say that his time in slavery was bad, yes, not but quite as bad as it could have been. Though it’s not directly saying that being enslaved under a master is necessarily good, it does at least try to show that it’s not all that bad. Great post!

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  7. The point about Equiano being a prime example of a problematic abolitionist is very carefully explained; as well as the observance of his internalization of European attitudes. I wholeheartedly agree with you although, while your analysis is strong, I think it’d be beneficial to expand beyond finding the cause and also talking about the effects it will have on the interpretation of his narrative. This newfound information could lead to even more discussion upon the subject of morality, the economy, and political ties of the time.
    -Daniel Corral

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  8. The image and the text work hand in hand to highlight the complexity of the issue. One the one hand Equiano’s stance on slavery does seem to be uneasy. He goes against slavery but yet practices it with techniques he learned from.

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  9. Hello! I thought your idea about the cartoon illustrating that Bull is “making a bold statement that abolitionists’ work is simply a plot to damage West India’s influx of support” is interesting! It made me think about how far companies go to sabotage their competitors today. I would recommend finding a quote from the novel to demonstrate how Equiano uses literary elements to convey a docile approach to slavery and analysis why you interpreted it as a docile approach to the brutality of slavery rather than being just being hypocritical.

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  10. I find your interpretation of the cartoon and its relation to the text fascinating. Going as far as to claim Equiano as anti-abolitionist really does complicate the slavery narrative. He practices the abuse that has been inflicted on him by the slave traders onto the Indians, which could be argued that he has been greatly influence by the immorality of the slave trade.

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