An Attempt to Provoke an Epiphany

In, Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, there is a tone of reasoning that carries throughout Equiano’s work. I focused specifically on the references to John Milton’s Paradise Lost and his constant references to God. Equiano writes describing the harsh circumstances that slavery has caused, then moves to the reasoning behind why slavery does not allow for peace in the world, and lands in a call to action for people to wake up and realize slavery is the biggest sin. The reference to Paradise Lost, “With shudd’ring horror pale, and eyes aghast, They view their lamentable lot and find, no rest” is being used to describe that death became a luxury to slaves. They could not even decide to kill themselves to avoid the suffering because they were to work until they died for the white man, they would never rest. Equiano furthers this by saying “…but torture without end still urges” (92). This suffering talked about that comes from sin in Paradise Lost is what Equiano is trying to use to show that slaves have no hope, they are stripped away from it at all times, with no break.

Once Equiano realizes his master is not planning on letting him go free, he begins to realize that there was never going to be a deal for freedom. He was back in, “misery, stripes and chains” asking God to, “direct the stroke of death” on him before having to remain a slave (92). In referencing Paradise Lost, he’s also saying that Adam and Eve at least the privilege of deciding their future, but slaves couldn’t even jump off a boat without someone rescuing them only to prolong their death. Equiano then uses another biblical example and justifies Moses for killing in defense of a Hebrew slave because he stood up for those who were marginalized. He is giving people a chance to reflect and think about the sin they’re committing. However, Equiano is not attacking them, he is instead leveling the playing field by saying, “For I will not suppose that the dealers in slaves are born worse than other men-No” (102). He is saying they have the potential to be good people, to serve a God who “could never intend” to “violate the first natural right of mankind” and “give one man a dominion over his fellows” (102). He calls slave owners out and says, “You stupify them with stripes, and think it necessary to keep them in a state of ignorance; and yet you assert that they are incapable of learning” (103). He’s asking them to reconsider their ways, that they don’t make any sense because they’ve shown over and over again that they are resilient. He uses biblical references because he knows that slave owners use the bible to justify slavery, Equiano is saying that God doesn’t want that. If they learn to treat Black folks with respect and stop dehumanizing them, that they too will find the peace and happiness in God’s favor. Through the biblical references and Milton’s Paradise Lost, Equiano leads to suggesting that slavery end and that they be treated as human, as men, because if they did, “they would be faithful, honest, intelligent, and vigorous; and peace, prosperity and happiness would attend you” (103). He uses biblical references because he knows that slave owners use the bible to justify slavery, Equiano is saying that God doesn’t want that. If they learn to treat Black folks with respect and stop dehumanizing them, that they too will find the peace and happiness in God’s favor.

-Ruth Serrano

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s