Stereotypes and Suffering

In The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, the author engages with Image #2’s anti-slavery sentiments by showing his own intelligence and religiosity as proof of the human nature of slaves. Image #2 is satirizing the ways in which those people who are pro-slavery disregard and misinterpret both the literature written on the subject of anti-slavery and the obvious fact that slavery is abuse of the worst kind on other human beings. Engaging with the stereotypes of the animalistic African slave and the hard-working British citizen, the cartoon presents an image of a downtrodden English family whose head feels like a beast having to push a plow all day(which was a common way of viewing the slaves, as beasts) and a slave family whose words are lacking finesse but who appear jovial, as do the slaves dancing in the background. The iterations of these families in the picture is to show that slaves, if given the chance of freedom, have the ability to build a happy family and be successful, more so than their owners who despair at the prospect of having to work for themselves. Equiano goes further than this cartoon by actively challenging the stereotype of the unlettered African, instead of only depicting that it exists as Image #2 does. On page 135, Equiano describes an instance in Savannah in which he was visiting a friend with a light on past nine o’clock and the patrol enters, shares drinks with them, then arrests the narrator. This story shows the abuse of African people by the law enforcers when it state that “these ruffians” beat two others they had in custody, and intended to beat Equiano, but he was saved by one who was more humane than the rest. This memory also shows how easy it was for white men with power to abuse the hospitality of Equiano and his friend, then turn against them immediately afterwards. Such a law as one that targets blacks for simply having a light on at night goes along with what the cartoon’s main speaker is saying about slaves knowing nothing of the trifling things of life. They are not permitted to relax for a moment with all of the laws pinned against them in these places. Not only does this memory present the ways in which discrimination of free and slave African takes place, it shows how ridiculous such actions are. Equiano and his companion did nothing to disrupt anyone else, and they even shared drinks and limes with the patrol, but in return they were threatened and Equiano taken away. In the same way, Image #2 shows the purest of familial relationships in the African family, but that is still degraded by the stereotype of unintelligent language.

-Meredith Leonardo

Equiano: The Allusionist

Using allusions to other literary works is very common in literature, and can even be traced back to the Anglo Saxon period when Beowulf was written. Throughout his biography Olaudah Equiano alludes to other literary works to explain what is happening to him. He alludes to Homer’s The Iliad in the lines:

“Oh Jove! Oh Father! If it be thy will

That we must perish, we thy will obey

But let us perish by the light of day” (78).

Despite it being a mere three sentences of the entire work, these lines help the reader visualize the setting. The story about the Trojan War is known by the majority of scholars of the time, and by using these lines he can perfectly illustrate the setting of his ship heading into the unknown, without having to dedicate a page or two to description.

More importantly however, his allusion to The Iliad  isn’t just useful for description. Because, without these allusion he could still easily recount his experiences, but rather he uses these allusions to highlight the importance of literature, to his audience and to himself. It also seems to me that he is using these allusions as a way to prove himself to intelligence and ability to the audience. As an eighteenth century slave, he wants to be considered an English man and not a slave. He must’ve thought that if he referenced the ame works they read, and used the same words they did they would be more accepting of him. And as his autobiography goes on, and he makes more allusions, he demonstrates that literature can belong to everybody, not just the higher class.

Arturo Raudales

How do You do, Fellow Intellectuals?

“In short, he was like a father to me; and some even used to call me after his name; they also style me the black Christian.” (86)

Throughout his works, Equiano directly references the bible. It is very clear that he prides himself as being seen as a religious man, even in the beginning stages of his identity. Because at the time of this writing, Christianity defined a man’s worth and well-being, it was very important, especially for a black man, to become accepted by peers. The amount of English slave ownership no doubt influenced Equiano’s decision to pander to British crowds in order to bring his injustice to light. By showing that he is intelligent, well-written and a viable contributor to the human race in his own right, Equiano was able to reach otherwise unstoppable forces. The audience at the time, or rather the main influences of literature were English. The Europeans, especially, had the rather bad habit of thinking themselves greater than all others. Thanks to the delicate yet steadily inflating egos of English literates, it is easier for Equiano to persuade the domineering forces that slavery was a problem. Instead of rowdy protests, he simply demonstrates his intelligence, impressing many important figure to help raise an issue for his cause. Equiano’s writing is very similar to Pope’s satirical responses to bullying (which was a parody of this exact style of writing). While these other writers and poets criticized new and modern takes on literature, it was harder to explain how a man, especially a black man, could be treated so poorly without being discredited with whining or seen as self-victimizing. By using such clearly ineligible vocabulary and style, the work was comparable to a game show where people were forced to pick blindly on validity verses virtue. Equiano does a great job finding the balance of epic writing and hard-hitting, real, literature. While the book is riddled with side quests and unfortunate events, you can still clearly make out Equiano’s purpose of starting the end of the transatlantic slave trade.

-Asia Reyna

Knowledge is Power

In “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano” by Olaudah Equiano, the author alludes to many literary pieces throughout the telling of his narrative as his story rocks back and forth between extreme pendulum swings. Swings between doing good and then doing intensely awful. But throughout his entire journey, his intellect and wisdom are key components of his persona and overall way of being. He’s well educated and was fortunate enough to have former slave masters pay for an education. He picked up “tolerable English” by the middle of the narrative and shared a story where he communicated directly with the books he came across. He says he’d put the book to his ear and wait for a response. I find sharing this story to be significant to the overall love of literature he upholds. His love for literature may be directly correlated to the sum of his literary references. By Ch. V, the author finds himself once again in a bad pendulum swing dealing with a serious state of hopelessness and desperation. He recites the poem by Thomas Day “The Dying Negro” that fantasizes about death as a way of leaving suffering behind permanently. Reciting this poem was a form of grieving or purging the emotional baggage Equiano has carried up to this point. Up to this point, he has been in and out of many different situations and experiences. He has also met and lost many people along the way. But the only thing within him that remains fixed is his mind, his intellect and his attachment to learning. He’s able to reference so many literary pieces because he’s spent a lot of time dedicated to his studies, he even mentions learning languages other than English. He doesn’t “obsess” over English literature, it just might be all that he has.

Growing pride in learning the English language and English customs stems into a new form of self-empowerment for Equaino. He mentions how English is different and also a difficult language to pick up, but he managed to do so. Equaino managed to pick up English manners and customs to not be like the English but more to have a form a self-empowerment when engaging with the English. In simpler terms, Equiano was a soul that understood the power of knowledge and wisdom. Later in the narrative we are able to note how knowledge of the English language serves him well along his journey.


Brianna Barajas

British Devils

By: Amber Loper

Equiano lives a life unlike any European could comprehend. The labor and struggles that he suffers through are so beyond comprehension that the best way for Equiano to gain his readers trust, is to use something they already know. Milton’s Paradise Lost, says it best:

“Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace And rest can rarely dwell. Hope never comes That comes to all, but torture without end Still urges.”(Chapter 5)

Image result for Paradise lost
Everyone reading Equiano’s narrative would know, this place is Hell. This excerpt is used to describe what Equiano see’s when arriving at a new island, Montserrat. This place is more than just a spot for slave trade, it is as close to Hell as anyone could ever be. Using Milton’s words to say this is important because by doing this Equiano isn’t just saying why this place is terrifying to him, he’s saying that these people managing the slave trade are equals to the fallen angels of Hell. It’s obvious that Equiano’s frequent use of quotes from English literature is to show that African’s can be just as educated and intelligent as Europeans (it’s a slap in the face to anyone who thinks otherwise), but more importantly, he’s using the English texts to show Europeans as antagonists (instead of hero’s) without outright saying so. He is illuminating a truth that they ignore: for people who are supposedly God fearing, and superior, why are they imitating sinful, hellish behavior that only Hell’s rejects demonstrate? The readers of his narrative can pass the blame, but these subtle hints will force them to look inward to their society.


Genre to Conquer

Equiano’s implicates known English writers and abolitionists in an effort to restore and defend his claims to strengthen his own validity. Equiano appropriated the English language as a whole by containing the ability to present his literary status, even beside his troubling childhood. He was then able to coherently express the timeline of his life and individual reflection into a much more dense frame, that often seemed to contend with other various writers. Through reading and paying close attention to his autobiography, I found that he was often known to primarily expose the approach behind the English Language. Towards the end of the eighteenth century and beyond, the English language tended to be honored as the imperious move that essentially brought the world together as one. The English Language in and of itself came along with very well articulated phrases that compellingly illustrated Equiano’s timeline.

Later into the autobiography, we are shown his views on the subject of slavery. It is important to point out that Equijano’s narrative showcased and eventually helped establish the genre of the slave autobiography that soon enough encouraged Fredrick Douglas. Truth be told, those who were often persecuted within the English Language, were the main groups (particularly people of color) who grasped and apprehended the many attacks written during The Enlightenment. English was a language that was becoming more and more comprehensible to outside countries as well, which later became a somewhat popular and universal language of literature. Expressing the intimidating stature that is English Language, it often upheld and led to being conquered by those who were often exposed to its prejudice.

-Rosalinda Flores

Oh NO, Not The Night

Throughout his narrative, titles as The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Equiano is forced to endure many hardships, which he reflects upon through many forms of writings by quoting parts of book that he had read, including but not limited to; the Bible, John Milton, and Colley Cibber. The one part in Equiano’s narrative that caught my attention instantly while reading it can be found on page 51 in the writing, with a quote from John Denham’s novel Cooper’s Hill, as he says;

“Thus I was like a hunted deer:

‘Ev’ry leaf and ev’ry whisp’ring breath

Convey’d a foe, and ev’ry foe a death.'”

In this part of the narrative, the reader is able to envision Equiano fearing his master and the punishment to come once he is to be found after “running back home” from them. This unbridled terror can be found as he explains in detail how every sound made him still, and “abandoned [him]self to despair” as night began to approach. (Equiano 51). Equaino is using these words in order to draw a conclusion towards what may be his death; or, at least, his symbolic death from fear over his master. When Equiano returns, he is quickly treated to before sold once more, now not seeming to fear the ones who were free, but learning from them until he himself could receive that same human right.

The reason why Equiano uses so many different kinds of texts throughout his narrative is because he wants to show his audience that he is educated, and can be trusted by his fellow men as an intelligent man. By quoting from the Bible, Equiano convinces his audience that he is a devote Christian, meaning that he, a man so holy and devoted to the Bible, could do no wrong! Just as any other Christian! (Please, note my sarcasm. I’m begging you.)

– Jody Omlin

One of the Same

No eye to mark their suff’rings with a tear;

No friend to comfort, and no hope to cheer:

Then, like the dull unpity’d brutes, repair

To stalls as wretched, and as coarse a fare;

Thank heaven one day of mis’ry was o’er,

Then sink to sleep, and wish to wake no more. (The Dying Negro, 112)

Olaudah Equiano was an individual with treacherous endeavors that would progressively change his own perception in life as he grows throughout the years. He challenges through the enigma of what he once thought was never to be touched and manifests his perspective in daily remissions of his life. His own writing is detailing enough, yet Equiano manages to reference and implement fellow English writers in order to be able to have a different intuition to be added within his work. Equiano implements such work in order to signify the importance of either positive or negative insight that has dwelled with the past, and for what lies in the future.

“The turbulence of my emotions however naturally gave way to calmer thoughts, and I soon perceived what fate had decreed no mortal on earth could prevent. The convoy sailed on without any accident, with a pleasant gale and smooth sea, for six weeks, till February, when one morning the Oeolus ran down a brig, one of the convoy, and she instantly went down and was ingulfed in the dark recesses of the ocean.” (Equiano, 112)

Equiano manifests that what occurred to the individual within The Dying Negro poem is similar in sensation to what he currently felt in that moment in time of his life. He, at the moment, had no words to be able to convey his feeling to his suffering yet, time later he finds eloquent literature that is enabling to give him a voice. Now that his voice is now formally heard, he never has to worry about being able to apply a ‘credible’ source in order for his work to be taken seriously. Olaudah Equiano is not only righteous and humble when enabling his input but also manages to change the significance of what it truly means to be human in this world. He was never formally taught in what God truly was, but he’s able to convey that for him, God is one that created human imperfectly, different and arises to the notion that many see each other as enemies rather than fellow brethren of this world. The ability to write is the enablement to speak for Equiano; and his establishment of what truly signifies togetherness is righteous, to say the least.

– Stephen Muñoz

Equiano’s Literature of Christ

“Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can rarely dwell. Hope never comes

That comes to all, but torture without end

Still urges” (92).

“With shudd’ring horror pale, and eyes aghast,

They view their lamentable lot, and find

No rest!” (99)

In The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Equiano quotes many English works such as the quote above from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. One of the main themes in Paradise Lost is the importance of obedience to God. Equiano stated in his autobiography that, “In the first paroxysm of my grief, I called upon God’s thunder, and his avenging power, to direct the stroke of death to me, rather than permit me to become a slave, and be sold from lord to lord” (92). Being a slave, Equiano could never fully rest and always had to be left with the worry of being sold to another “lord” (master). I believe that Equiano uses these quotes to identify how he was a man of God, and how he is well educated for a slave. Equiano uses these religious references in order to allow his readers to know he is religious and to help them relate more to him. He is more likely to be related to and liked as he was baptized and religious like they are. By selecting these quotes Equiano relates how at the time the English language was accessible to him, even though he was a slave and used these quotes to describe his view on slavery. Equiano is demonstrating how the English language is easily understood and can be used by all who are able to understand it.  Equiano is proclaiming the salvation of Christ, and speaking the truth of how the English language is easily understood and completely full of confrontation. Using the words and phrases such as “sorrow,” “torture without end,” “horror,” and “No rest” help to shed light on the way the slaves were treated in Equiano’s time. Equiano would rather rely on God to find a way out of the “torture and sorrow” as a way to feel more connected to the Christian community reading his work.

-Alina Cantero

The Undying Equiano

The Undying Equiano

In his “Interesting Narrative,” Oladuah Equiano is constantly referencing and quoting texts by the English writers and prominent figures that were contemporary to him. He critiques and revises, agrees and disagrees, and he yet always maintains his narrative’s arc. The references are largely supplementary to the text; he uses them as a reflection for his own thoughts rather than simply summarizing their contents and he never seems to allow a quotation to supersede his narrative. That is, at least, until page 101. Equiano has been seized and forced aboard a ship bound for the West Indies. The enforced departure from those he considered “friends” and the unknown of his destination has made him feel as though he has “plunged, as I supposed, in a new form of slavery (98).” As the ships sail, Equiano is afforded the opportunity to reflect on this. It is here that, for the first time, Equiano allows a quotation to take over his narrative

            “…and I called on death to relieve me from the horrors I felt and dreaded, that I might be in that place

            Where slaves are free, and men oppress no more.

            Fool that I was, inur’d so long to pain,

            To trust to hope, or dream of joy again.”

            Almost as though it overtakes his thoughts in a quasi-stream-of-consciousness-fashion, Equiano has his writing jump immediately into a stanza from the 1773 poem, “The Dying Negro.” Inspired by the true tale of a black servant’s suicide over being separated from his white fiancé and published by John Bicknell and Thomas Day, the poem is considered “the first significant piece of verse propaganda directed explicitly against the English slave systems’ (Wood, Oxford University Press, 2003). It adopts the first-person perspective of the deceased black servant and so, as you can image, the section that Equiano quotes is a description of the poem’s protagonist yearning to be free. Equiano chose this section of the poem because he relates to the protagonist; it could even be said that Equiano is suggesting that their thoughts on were essentially the same. Though he is not being separated from a romantic love, his enforced voyage will separate him from those he considered “friends” – such as Daniel Queen – and the “comfort” – relative to his prior years as a slave – of his situation in the aftermath of the fleet’s successes. For Equiano, that time seemed to represent a calm, of sorts, in the middle of a storm. He had become inured to the pain of his slavery, just as the black servant was, and Equiano cannot help but be “ready to burst with sorrow and anguish” that his meager dreams of joy have been subverted.

            There is something else to be said about Equiano’s quotation and, more importantly, his incorporation of it into his writing. The way in which his writing “jumps” without formal transition into the poem’s mid-stanza is unusual – and, for Equiano, thus far unprecedented. It is clear that Equiano is writing in a stream of consciousness here. The poem’s next lines support this:

            “Now dragg’d once more beyond the western main,

            To groan beneath some dastard planter’s chain;

Where my poor countrymen in bondage wait

The long enfranchisement of ling’ring fate;

Hard ling’ring fate! While, ere the dawn of day;”

The poem goes on to describe the “burn” of “shame and anguish” and the “slow pac’d sun.” “Morn” is “unwelcome.” Somehow, the poem and Equiano’s thoughts – and his objective situation – are in sync. Equiano is going to the literal “West” Indies – where, incidentally, he will describe the “scorching West India sun” being “very painful (102).” It is important to note that Bicknell and Day, whose writing seems to so align with Equiano’s thoughts, are both white English-men. “The Dying Negro” is a poem written by two white men about the first-person perspective of an enslaved black men. What is also important to note is that – as far as I am able to tell based off google searches on the poem – Equiano has actually moved around lines in the poem and rewritten certain sections of the piece. Disclaimer: there might actually just be different variations of the poem, but I was not able to find another with the exact same line order of Equiano’s quotation.

I wonder, then, if Equiano’s choice of “The Dying Negro” was as much a stylistic choice to convey his thoughts as it was a back-handed gesture for the original white writers. His editing of the poem seems to suggest that he was not entirely satisfied with how the calamitous thoughts are originally portrayed. To me, it seems that Equiano’s editing is a subtle linguistic powerplay. By quoting the poem in his “own” way, Equiano has taken power over it and the language behind it; he has debased the notion of quotation by presenting his quotation in a revised way, and he has attacked the double-edged power behind language; that is, language’s ability to depict truths in untrue ways. For all of “The Dying Negro’s” commendable anti-abolition sentiments, it is still inherently untrue; Bicknell and Day thought of the poem based on a news story about the servant – which in itself is a second-hand portrayal. Bicknell and Day did not actually live through the black servant’s experiences – but Equiano lived through his. Equiano, for all his admissions to the forgetful flaws of memoir writing, is still subtly claiming that not only is his truth about his slavery more valid than a white Englishman’s, but his thoughts on slavery – and his interpretations of other slave’s thoughts – is more valid given that he himself was a slave.

-Ian Sterns