“Out of Focus”



“How comes it that all the white men on board who can read and write, and observe the sun, and know all things, yet swear, lie, and get drunk, only excepting yourself?”(188).  This passage while a rational question to ask, implicitly exposes the contradiction and hypocrisy that an Indian chief’s son witnesses and points out to Equiano amidst the Englishmen.  The young man, though seen as a “poor heathen” -as described in Equiano’s words, appears not be fooled by the fog of Christian rhetoric that they use to control natives and slaves.The young man’s clear point of view is, essentially illustrated,  within Robert Cruickshank’s anti-abolitionist cartoon.

Being that Equiano had tried to Christianize the young man, even to refer to the English author John Fox’s work Book of Martyrs, the young man became extremely confused with was being preached to him versus the corruption that was being displayed before his eyes.  Cruickshank’s cartoon is, too, confusing and hypocritical.  The red herrings found within that cartoon were cleverly placed there as propaganda to deter people from seeing the ugly truth about slavery -to continue to nurture the ignorance that caused people to go with the status quo of pro-slavery, in the first place.

The biggest conflict and contradiction is Equiano’s sense of allegiance in believing he must help the young man’s disbelief of Christianity.  Just like Cruickshank has attempted to persuade the people from not believing that slavery is even happening, Equiano is doing the same toward the young man’s state of mind about corruption in religion.  

While Cruickshank’s behavior cannot be excused, the conclusion to his way of thinking can only be sheer ignorance.  Equiano’s, on the other hand, is reprehensible as he knows first hand the experience of being enslaved, as well, the act of his cries going unheard -or worse, ignored.  

Cruickshank has skewed the focus on the lens for the audience who he knew he could bamboozle, and Equiano tried to do same with the young man, but failed.  Still, it did not affect Equiano much as he carried on with more undertakings and more missions, all while taking on his own slaves to help build plantations he’d come to own.  Thus, there is not much of a difference between the lies that are placed in the cartoon to the lies Equiano lived.

-Maricela (Marcy) Martinez


Unshackling the Drawing

In McLean’s monthly sheet of caricatures No.32, there is a vivid outreach for sympathy to the European on the left of the image. The faded, dull colors, the fragile chair, and expression of hardship make the viewer believe people of color already have a prosperous lifestyle. A lifestyle better than the Europeans is argued as well from observation. To the right, we can see ripe fruit, unity of a community, vibrant colors, and an overall image that is a vacation. We also see a walking baby which is a happy moment for a family and it also shows that the baby is in good health. Whites feared that slaves would revolt and retaliate against them (Equiano 17-18). Incorporating slaves into a free society was a fear for many whites. However, all is not paradise as it seems. “It was very common in several of the islands for slaves to be branded with the initial letters of their master’s name…make them seek refuge in death from those evils which render these lives intolerable” (Equiano 99). Truly horrific must be the conditions for someone to want to take their own life in order to receive some sort of salvation. The drawing I feel is perceived to make it seem as though slavery is humane and that the Europeans face hardships at time in order for the slaves to be comfortable. Katie shared a great link from “The Guardian”, added below. Henry Smeathman spoke before the Lords of the treasury of an idea to send back black people to Sierra Leone. Smeathman made it seem as if it was the best deal in the world to head back to Africa’s Sierra Leone.”One of the most pleasant and feasible countries in the known world” – Sierra Leone’, Smeathman made it sound like there was certain refuge and safeguard. It angers me because many of us are certain that by sending blacks back to Africa, they can easily be kidnapped again and sent to the West Indies, or somewhere less forgiving: “will find a certain and secure retreat from former suffering”(Schama) is just smoke and mirrors for the wealthy lords who mean well wanting to abolish slavery. They are just unknowledgeable of what really would occur.

So to tie it in to Equiano’s view, he is not fond of sending them back. Similar to John Annis, his friend from St. Kitts, Equiano knew that harm was certain. Like the lawyer that took his money and did nothing, the similar thing happened for the funding to supposedly take care of the people heading back to Sierra Leone. I feel Equiano changed his approach toward the ending of the book only because he was talking to a European audience so it was in his best interest to sound a bit nicer than he probably really felt about the issue. In addition, the grammar in the cartoon shows the black conversation to be very poorly constructed. Ignorance and poor education is evident. Although the cartoon intends to depict pro slavery, many abolitionists were simply unguided and did not know how to make the proper decisions. Intermarriage was also a radical idea at the time like Equiano suggested so I doubt that intermarriage would have been widely accepted. The white abolitionists were simply misguided.



-Daniel Estrada

Equiano’s Abolition

The first painting, John Bull Taking a Clear View of the Negro Slavery Question, questions the motives of abolition, asserting through subtle political cues that abolitionists are “in it for the money.” The man who claims it is a sin to buy anything other than East India sugar has stock in the East India company. Where the Africans are seen dancing, there is a trick in place to make them appear tortured, to make the general populace agree: slavery should be gotten rid of.

In many ways, this straw-man critique of “oh hey look, abolitionists are bad” can actually be targeted at Equiano. Equiano is one of the abolitionists who wants to see slavery removed for economic reasons. Equiano says “a commercial intercourse with Africa opens an inexhaustible source of wealth to the manufacturing interests of Great Britain… The abolition of slavery, so diabolical, will give a most rapid extension of manufactures, which is totally and diametrically opposed to what some interested people assert.” Here Equiano takes the slavery question, the torturous, “diabolical” act of slavery, and calmly, casually, looks at the question and provides an answer to the question. Equiano says, “listen. If we stop the slave trade, we get to go to Africa, colonize that too, and increase our manufacture. Nobody wants to trade with the diabolical masters. Even if you think slavery is good for industry, you’re thinking small scale, plantation size. Let’s go big scale. Let’s think on a continental scale.”

In this way, Equiano partially exemplifies the abolitionists in the “Clear View” painting. He is the money driven abolitionist who is more economic than moral, but he is not the emotionally manipulative, East India stockholder. He is a calm, rational, money-driven ass.

-Ross Koppel


Double Consciousness in Equiano

The topic of slavery has always had aspects of sentimentality attached to it, but this political cartoon of the 19th century politicizes the implications it had on the demographic of the countries affected by the slave trade. More than anything, it shows the economic impacts it had on the poor Irish in America in addition to the commercial interest of The East India company. In other words, some of the domestic outcry was that abolitionist movements were not exactly the most benevolent organizations in the ending of slavery since they were being paid by the corporate interest of the East India Co. Money is always in part of the equation when it comes to parties of opposing opinions. While this cartoon implies the rhetoric of abolitionist movements was to appeal to the sentimentality of Americans, the maker of this cartoon is ironically appealing to his audience by using the pathos of the audience regarding the Irish refugees. In Olaudah Equiano’s narrative, he appeals to the sentimentality of the reader as well, but he also uses a type of bias rhetoric to appeal to his readers, largely white. In volume 2, chapter 6, he cites a quote of one of the people that he served to appeal to white readers about his own docile sensibility in order to avoid alienating white readers. The person who oversaw Equiano says, “I consider him an excellent servant. I do certify that he always behaved well, and that he is perfectly trustworthy” (193), and this removes any hostility away from his confronting of the question of slavery. Furthermore, he is, as W.E.B. Dubois would say, putting a “veil” on his own subjectivity by seeing himself as an inherently second-class citizen. By doing so, he is assimilating to the culture of whites in Britain, but not assimilating their full citizenship. This is also emphasized when he alludes to his own slaves as his “poor countrymen” and “poor creatures” when he implies that he will not be there to watch over them (193-194). In effect, he is placing yet another layer of marginalization by lowering his own slaves even further from full citizenship. Equiano is using the benefit of his freedom and economic status to bring himself closer to full citizenship, but he is exploiting the status of his own slaves to imply a sort of hierarchy over them by claiming ownership. However, as Dubois would say, he also has a double consciousness that allows him to see through two lenses of subjectivity: white and black. Although he is trying to exploit his status of freedom, he is also empathizing with his fellow “countrymen” to advocate for the better treatment of them. On one hand he is dehumanizing them by elevating his status, but on the other he is also using sentimentality to appeal to the readers about the better treatment of slaves.

–Cesar R

The first cartoon is a critique on the true intentions of the abolitionist. The cartoon depicts the abolitionist as deceptive Quakers wit economic interests in East India Sugar. There is also a Irish man being ignored at the bottom of the cartoon. There is also a depiction of Africa and free Africans dancing. The author is trying to convey to the reader they should be more concerned about the corruption and injustices in their own country before focusing on something they aren’t even getting accurate information. The second cartoon draws on this same principle. I don’t believe that the artist of the cartoon is making an argument for or against slavery but an argument on where the interests of Englishmen should be. Due to all the troubles in England, such as hunger and corruption, the author does not feel like the public should be concerned with slavery. It also continues the narrative of the happy slave by depicting Africans with full bellies and dancing. In both cartoons the Africans don’t appear to have any attachment to slavery.  There are no white men, no shackles, and no sign that they are anything but happy. The artist possibly did this in order to convey that the real slaves are a different group of people.  

Equiano’s narrative, though polarizing at times, embodies what the cartoon says in a way. He states:  “tortures, murder, and every other imaginable barbarity and iniquity are practiced upon the poor slaves with impunity. I hope the slave-trade will be abolished. I pray it may be an event at hand. The great body of manufacturers, uniting in the cause, will considerably facilitate and expedite it; and, as I have already stated, it is most substantially their interest and advantage, and as such the nation’s at large…”. He acknowledges how terrible the slaves were treated but then goes on to say how he thinks slavery will only grow due to its economic benefits. Just like the cartoon, Equiano is in a way accepting slavery because it’s too tempting of an endeavor. Equiano also chooses to add “the nations at large” to his explanation. By doing this he is giving another explanation as to why slavery will not be abolished. There is a whole nation at stake! By using this utilitarian argument to explain slavery we can see why cartoons like the examples given were so focused on the economics of slavery and not the humanity.      



-Maya Gonzales



Pious work

The cartoon titled John Bull taking a Clear View of the Negro Slavery Question, by Robert Cruikshank, I believe is satirizing the abolitionists; anti-abolitionist. In discussion, we discussed (ha) that because there were young kids signing the petition that would be “…removing the duties on East India Sugar,” according to the poster/board above their heads, it is a  demonstration of weakness while also being illegitimate signatures. That could represent that the people who are supporting the termination of the East India Sugar don’t know what they’re doing, that they’re foolish. I don’t know if they actually had children signing the petition but  what often does happen is that the young people—high school students, college students and the general people aged 15-30 are the ones speaking up against injustices (that’s an estimate, I don’t know the statistics either, but c’mon, who do we mostly see protesting?). It would make sense, that a salty old cartoonist would make this type of satirical image.

To connect that with Olaudah Equiano’s narrative, we can look at the letter he sends to the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, where he writes,

“It is the duty of every man, every friend to religion and humanity, to assist the different Committees engaged in this pious work…” (219).

Pious work… with the context it is clear that he means the work is being done as a duty to religion but another definition of pious is, in similar words, a hypocritical approach to something for the sake of religion.

With that being said, let’s acknowledge that he himself had slaves as well. While also, looking at the quote we discussed in lecture that goes,

“Recollecting a passage I had read in the life of Columbus… where, on some occasion, he frightened them, by telling them of certain events in the heavens, I had recourse to the same expedient…” (191).

In class, my group and I agreed that in this situation, Equiano was trying to control the situation, and he used religion to do so—because it’s guaranteed to work! In his letter there’s also an emphasis on religion and how the freeing of slaves was a duty that people had at least in respects to their religion. Though he does address the inhumanity and injustice being done to the slaves, it seems as if religion is a tool for him. And because he used the word pious, whether he meant the hypocritical version of it or not, he’s still referring to the rightfulness of abolishing the slave trade as a “duty of friends to religion” while it should have been “duty to your fellow human” (though I could understand why it would have been easier to get people on board through religion rather than the humanity of slaves at the time—but still).

I’ll admit that I might have a bias on this as a non-religious person in assuming that he is only taking advantage of religion…

Relating that to the cartoon, I can understand why the Robert Cruikshank depicts the abolitionists as child-like because it may appear to him, and many people that think like him, that the abolitionist don’t have their ideas or reasoning together. For example, Equiano is an abolitionist with slaves, in the picture there’s three dudes with black coats that seem to be going on false tangents as they are altering what people are seeing, kids are supporting them and it’s just all over chaotic—in the eyes of people like the Robert Cruikshank. I am not justifying their degrading of the cause, but I can understand why they would think it’s foolish and why cartoonist make things like this.


-Luz Palacios


A Turbulent Life

The satirical political cartoon by Robert Cruikshank “John Bull Taking a Clear View of the Negro Slavery Question!!” pokes fun at the various methods abolitionists chose to spread their cause. Now Equiano no doubt had a difficult life, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time for most of his life and suffered very few liberties until later on in his life when he was able to afford his freedom. His job was not to be a statement piece but he now stands for many things. However, as turbulent as his life was he sometimes did not demonstrate the best judgment in certain situations.

The passage that we close read in lecture is one example of this. After a debacle between an Indian governor and “one of our most friendly chiefs” Equiano shows a bit of his dark side in his writing when he “could have wishes to have seen him tied fast to a tree and flogged for his behavior” (179). Now having to deal with physical abuse in his slave years one would think that he would have disdain towards violence and the manipulation of power but clearly he views it as a reasonable teaching lesson, even after he’s turned to God. Although he merely wished it, thinking this way shows the impact of the years of abuse and his outlook about the treatment of human beings, not a very abolitionist view at all.

A different passage, however, Equiano shows himself honestly in his anger towards his oppressors instead “I now, in the agony of distress and indignation, wishes that the ire of God in his forked lightning might transfix these cruel oppressors among the dead” (107). He has a pattern of being silently aggressive, but who can really blame him, and although he is wishing the worst on his oppressors he can understand the wrong they are doing. His character in his narrative comes out as aggressive, angry, and frustrated. Although in Cruikshank’s cartoon there is a Quaker looking man obscuring the view of a patron with an image of a slave being beaten, this was a daily struggle for Equiano. Although the image is false in the direction the patron is looking, the telescope is pointed towards an island where a people are living in peace and without the obstruction from the outside world, in other places this was constantly going on. The telescope is just pointed in one view while there are many other views to behold during this time.


— Alison Vining

Anti-Slavery or Not?

From the first part of the image i see indications of anti-slavery. There is propoganda going on, specifically the man holding an image in front of the telescope,  that demonstrates the visual this man dressed in black wants his audience to see. The image he holds displays what seems to be a slave being whipped by a white man. To have that image obscure an Island of foreigners is a form of controlling the audience into what should be percieved from said Island. It’s been known, at least within stories like Hartly House, where Europeans go into an indegenious land and take over said land and that can be a possible reason as to why the telescope is being obstructed. However, does the rest of the image lean towards anti-slavery?

In fact this is where i get confused, and why political cartoons are not my fortay in deconstructing, because there’s other people in the image being protrayed as inferior without realizing it. First you have two “poor pats” sitting on the ground looking filthy and miserable. This is a way to demonstrate the Irish people who were once seen as slaves. To bring awareness to this issue is an indication that even in this time period eurocentrism was at large; globally. The display of children signing a petition to abolish slavery is also a way to criticize those individuals’ ideologies. Ultimately, this type of obscurness makes it so European people, specifically British slave owners, remain dominant in society and to do so by keeping the truth away from their slaves.

-Kristy Frausto

Commodifying Humanism: Profit Motive, Capitalism, and Slavery

In Robert Cruishank’s picture entitled “John Bull Taking a Clear View of the Negro Slavery Question!!,” the drawing draws questions and scrutinizes the financial and economic interests of slave emancipators, abolitionists, and slave sympathizers. Personally, I don’t believe this picture belongs in either category, “pro-slavery” or “anti-slavery;” rather, this picture is anti-abolitionist.

Along the left side of the picture, the blue sign reads “Petitions to both Houses of Parliament for removing the duties on East India sugar,” hanging directly above pictures of a cracked whip and abused slaves. Another individual, just left of the center of the picture, is dressed in a Quaker garb, holding a sign that reads “Buy only East India sugar, ’tis sinful to buy any other,” where the man has an invoice from E.I. Sugar.  These two signs , in addition to the invoice, essentially accuse the abolitionists of having vested interests in economic gain. The picture accuses their pure intentions as being a veil for their their true interests, economic compensation for their progressive social movement.

Additionally, the “clear view” highlighted at the bottom of the picture is ironic, given that John Bull is not looking with the clarity of the telescope at the “negroes” in question, but, instead, is hyperfocused on the pictures of slavery’s injustices, rather than the joyous socialization of the slaves on the right side of the picture. This proposes that abolitionists do not want their supporters to see the true nature of slavery, with its happy, dancing captives, but, because of their economic interests, they encourage their supporters to only see the immoral abuse of slaves by malicious slave owners.

This economic argument in the discourse of slavery can also be found in and contrasted with The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, where Equiano argues against the current treatment of slaves with another economic argument. Equiano explains that “neglect certainly… cause[s] a decrease in the births as well as in the lives of the grown negroes” (108). He states that he can “quote many instances… [where] the negroes are treated with lenity and proper care, by which their lives are prolonged, and their masters are profited” (108). These “negroes” were treated so well that their owners “needed no fresh stock of negroes at any time” (108). Concluding his argument, Equiano states that, with the common, brutal mode of slave treatment, “it is no wonder taht the decrease should require 20,000 new negroes annually to fill up the vacant places of the dead” (108). This argument of treating slaves with “lenity” and “proper care” is a purely economical one, not catering to the idea that slaves are lives and, hence, should be treated with the respect that a life is due. Instead, Equiano makes a purely economical appeal to the psychology of his enslaving, rich, and white audience. He is aware that a purely moralistic or humanistic argument would simply not suffice; therefore, he will appeal to their wallets rather than their souls. A furitive master of rhetoric and logic, Equiano realizes that the cost of abolition would, first and foremost, be the loss of free labor, and, hence, he makes an appeal to that horrible, amoralistic side of the “Negro Slavery Question.”

With our modern, 21st century perspective, it would be easy to write-off Equiano as some sort of slavery sympathizer. Yet, we must be conscious of the rhetorical strategies needed to pierce the thick shell of slavery psychology, and, clearly, Equiano tries every rhetorical strategy in his power to do so.


—Nathaniel Schwass