Freedom Through Knowledge

Through his usage of quotes from famous English authors and the Bible, Equiano is able to establish himself as a voice of authority on the subject of slavery given his own knowledge and experiences. In chapter five, uses a quote from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, to attack the poor treatment of slaves, writing,

“—No peace is given

To us enslav’d, but custody severe;

And stripes and arbitrary punishment

Inflicted – What peace can we return?

But to our power, hostility and hate;

Untam’d reluctance, and revenge, through slow,

Yet ever plotting how the conqueror least

May reap his conquest, and may least rejoice

In doing what we most in suffering feel.”

I find that this chosen quote stands apart from many of the other quotes Equiano chose in his book, as unlike many of the other quotes that convey his personal knowledge, strength, and struggles to the reader, this one comes across more as a warning. Previously, many of his arguments have been based upon presenting slavery as immoral and not in line with prevailing enlightenment ideals, but this argument made by him using this quote presents slavery as a danger to society due to the risk of revolt and insurrection. Through his own personal experience, Equiano has shown that even a slave can become an individual that embodies the ideas of the enlightenment and this is not a result of being naturally inferior, but because what he sees as an effort being made to keep slaves ignorant. Seemingly, Equiano appears to present education as a means of ending slavery by showing that slaves are capable individuals when given opportunities from better treatment and that with better treatment, there will be no risk of a revolt or insurrection. But if the slaves are kept in ignorance and continue to be treated poorly, Equiano presents it as only a matter of time before the slaves see resistance as their only option like the fallen angels of Paradise Lost.

-Ryan Bucher

“Sympathy for the Devil”: The Most Underrated Rolling Stones Song of All Time

[Okay, let’s all just pretend that first blog post never happened because I definitely was looking at the wrong prompt. Sorry Zakir, it won’t happen again. On a different note, I highly recommend listening to the Rolling Stones song that this post was so lovingly named after, because it’s really good, and the odds suggest that I’ll never get the chance to write about it ever again.]

The Interesting Life and Narrative of Olaudah Equiano is a showcasing of the transformation of man through his endurance in slavery. This narrative is an example of how education and cunning allowed one man to purchase his liberty, while also achieving spiritual enlightenment and literary stamina. However, this text is filled with quotations from a plethora of other authors and works, including one of the most controversial pieces of the time: John Milton’s Paradise Lost. By including work such as this one, Olaudah Equiano is suggesting that perhaps sympathy or grace upon those cast away as damned is necessary, literally making him a sympathizer of the Devil.

Some context is necessary if one is to make a claim such as this. Paradise Lost is a religious work of prose which describes the downfall of Lucifer. The poem is written from the perspective of the Devil, staging Lucifer as the story’s protagonist and God as the antagonist. As the work was published in 1667, this piece was one of the most controversial publications of its time; for Equiano to sympathize with it, as well as relay it in his own narrative only complicates the matter. To claim that Equiano is sympathizing with Lucifer by quoting various passages wherein he bemoans the maltreatment he has, in his opinion, been undeservingly delivered, is not an over-exaggeration of religious affiliation. It is a claim that, as Olaudah Equiano is clearly an intelligent individual who understands the piece enough to stitch it into his own narrative, he knows exactly what sort of claim he is making. By reestablishing God as an antagonist, he is not so much stunting his own religious journey as he is placing European or White individuals in the outline of his place, giving a vivid example of how others played God with the lives of slaves.

In The Interesting Life and Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, one of the boldest passages quoting Paradise Lost is seen near the conclusion of Volume one. It states:

“——— No peace is given

To us enslav’d, but custody severe;

And stripes and arbitrary punishment

Inflicted— What peace can we return?

But to our power, hostility and hate;

Untam’d reluctance, and revenge, though slow.

Yet ever plotting how the conqueror least

May reap his conquest, and may least rejoice

In doing what we most suffering feel”

(Milton, Paradise Lost, 2.232-40)

Imagine being so bold as to claim God a figure of conquest over all he already created? Imagine arguing that God was the root of all suffering through punishment of his own design in such a religiously warred time? Imagine making the claim that God enjoys reaping the benefits of others’ suffering? The boldness of Milton’s piece speaks for itself, but by choosing this passage in his narrative Olaudah Equiano is also stating that the justification of the conquest of people cannot be founded upon religious affiliation unless some sort of response is expected. Sympathizing with Lucifer, his narrative is claiming that revenge and hostility are only natural responses to such unwarranted treatment. Not only is he flaunting his literary ability to read and understand a text, but he is also advertising his ability to make loaded statements under the guise of “not aspiring praise” while comparing himself figuratively and literally to Lucifer in Milton’s piece (Equiano, The Interesting Life and Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, 35).

This is why, at the start of his narrative, Equiano states: “I regard myself as a particular favourite of Heaven” (Equiano, The Interesting Life and Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, 35). Lucifer, for those unaware, was cast from Heaven for having loved God too deeply, as he was God’s favorite angel until the creation of mankind. Equiano is then regarding himself as a greatly wronged figure in his own story, using Milton’s poem to justify his feelings of necessary revenge and hostility on the matter, while also illuminating the actions of man as they parallel the antagonist of Paradise Lost: God.

-Savie Luce

We are all Lost

“That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed, / In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth / Rose out of Chaos” (Milton 1. 8-10). What Milton is describing, the shepherd, Moses, teaching the Jewish people the beginnings of their land, their earth because pious Moses has had the life of God breathed into his sight. This is the line, the very text Olaudah Equiano would have read when reading Milton’s Paradise Lost. In his narrative, Equiano quotes Milton on page 84. “Wing’d with red lightning and impetuous rage” (Milton 1.175) is the line Equiano brings attention to. The full scene, which I believe to be relevant to Equiano’s full point reads:

Back to the gates of Heav’n: the sulphurous hail, /

Shot after us in storm, o’erblown has laid /

The fiery surge that from the precipice /

Of Heav’n received us falling; and the thunder, /

Winged with red lightning and impetuous rage, /

Perhaps hath spent his shafts, and ceases now /

To bellow through the vast and boundless deep. (Milton 1. 171-177)

From the words of Satan, this is describing his fall from heaven, the attacks from heaven barely missing them; the careless rage of the fiery thunderous hail that was meant for his evil spirt. I found it curious that Equiano would use this line from this scene to describe his circumstance with another boy during a battle against the French. One bullet in particular is “Winged with red lightning and impetuous rage”. But, if you look back previously, before this scene described by Equiano, you would have learned that he is a religious man. On page 74, he states, “…I could not go to heaven unless I was baptized. This made me very uneasy; for I now had some faint idea of a future state”. He expresses a desire to be baptized because the goodness that is heaven is enticing, but also, consequentially, the threat of hell is damning. This is not a baseless desire, as he does believe in the intervention of God. He writes, “…my belief of the interposition of Heaven, and which might not otherwise have found a place here, from their insignificance” (82). This proclamation of divine intervention is substantiated by accounts of moments where he and others miraculously survived deadly incidents unharmed. He ends his thought with, “…and to implant the seeds of piety in me, even one of the meanest of his creatures” (83). This is the line I find most intriguing that relates to Milton’s Paradise Lost, specifically the line Equiano chose. It is in this moment that he also confesses his lack of fear in man, but places all of his fear in God. Therefore, the moment where the bullet comes particularly close to ending his life, he rightfully compares this to the scene in Paradise Lost. Equiano is man, of God’s most evil of creatures. He is not in heaven, neither is Satan. But, just as what happened to Satan according to Milton, a fiery hail misses him, just as what happened to Equiano. A fiery hail also just misses him. To him, this is a sign from God. Satan, being the adversary of God, Equiano, comparing himself to this, being in hell because he is not in heaven.

—Joseph Rojas

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.


Leaps of Fate

The following quote from Paradise Lost, which Equiano includes The Interesting Narrative (99), is from when Satan and his legion of fallen angels are thrown into Hell and are astounded by its conditions, which they now must live in.

With shudd’ring horror pale, and eyes aghast
They view their lamentable lot, and find
No rest!

Milton, Paradise Lost, 2.616-18

This quote is inserted into Equiano’s text during an instance where Equiano recounts the mistreatment, from from whippings and branding, he saw slaves endure. He also mentions how many slaves preferred to commit suicide than live and be slaves. Thus, Equiano uses the quote as a parallel to the usual life of African slaves. This also demonstrates the only manner in which these individuals can get the upper hand, although fatal.

The “lamentable lot” of Africans foresee their, and are understandably fearful, of the grueling labor and living conditions with “[n]o rest” that lies ahead of them as slaves. A similar miserable fate awaits Satan and his fellow demons as they are thrown into the depths of Hell. However, the Satan decided to seek revenge on God for reducing them to this life, by tainting the human world with sin and sending them to damnation. If they couldn’t live in paradise, the demons would make the lives harder on their counterparts and gain some control of their situations. Similarly, the slaves seek to undermine the power of the traders and owners who decided the fates of these Africans, as if they were God. Although suicide means ending their lives, and was more than likely a difficult decision for these slaves to come to, they don’t give their captors the satisfaction of abusing their bodies and utilizing them as money-making machines. They at least get to decide their future and achieve rest.

Equiano’s inclusion of quotes from Paradise Lost, among other English works and the Bible, demonstrates his comprehension of the English language, not just his ability to read or write it, but also in his understanding and application of literary techniques, like the use of intertextual references. By incorporating the quote from Milton’s piece, Equiano demonstrates the complexities of English language and literature and adds layers of meaning to his own work. In doing so, Equiano demonstrates to English readers he is as much of an authority on their language as they are—and shows he has the power to control it for his own text and life experiences just as them.

– Wendy Gutierrez

-No peace is given

—— No peace is given

To us enslav’d, but custody severe;

And stripes and aribtary punishment

Inflicted– What peace can we return?

But to our power, hostility and hate;

Untam’d reluctance, and revenge, though slow.

Yet ever plotting how the conqueror least

May reap his conquest, and may least rejoice

In doing what we most in suffering feel                     – Milton, Paradise Lost, 2.232-40

Olaudah Equiano published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, which included this quotation, among many other great English works. After buying his freedom, Equiano dedicated his life to the abolitionist movement in-order to stop the horrors he once faced. His autobiography is littered with references to great works, here is one.

Prior to quoting Milton, Equiano talks about the grave nature of torturing slaves. His mind can’t come to bear what kind of mindset it takes to punish another human like that. “And are ye not struck with shame and mortification, to see the partakers of your nature reduced so low? “ (103). Here in this, Equiano is hoping to reach his audience (in particular potential slave owners) and hoping to strike a chord. To plead with rationality, to not give into humans primordial instinct, but to be better than that. Equiano quotes Milton in order to communicate this feeling, of toxicity that the enslaved receive, and the slaver rejoices.

Equiano quotes many great works in his Narrative to give himself credibility, in-order to place him among the great works. Anyone that is enlightened to read a former-slaves autobiography, most likely knows about Homer, Milton, etc. Equiano hopes to captivate his audience, and wants them to extend an olive branch and cease all slavery oppression. As Thomas de Quincey talked about Literature of Power, Equiano wanted his work to be powerful as well. Now a powerful historic piece, The Interesting Narrative was in-depth look into the life of a former slave that English literature needed

-Robert Morales


Using John Milton

Tania De LiraMiranda

Olaudah Equiano’s, or how he was also known as Gustavus Vassa, autobiography where he talks about his life, his enslavement, and his work for his own freedom. In the autobiography, Equiano makes many references to other pieces of literature in order to help give evidence or support what he is trying to convey in his book. An example of a reference would be when he quotes “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” which is not an exact quotation of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. 

Equiano uses the Paradise Lost quote to describe how he feels when he sees Montserrat. And while most of Equiano quote of Milton is mostly correct, the change he makes can be seen as a big one. Paradise Lost says “Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace And rest can never dwell” while The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano has it written as “Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace And rest can rarely dwell.” The change from ‘can never dwell’ to ‘can rarely dwell’ is meaningful because Equiano is implying that there is less hope for him than there was for Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost. For Adam and Eve, peace and rest never rest for them so they are still able to experience those emotions at times but for Equiano, peace and rest pauses for him at times which goes to show how horrible enslavement was for him. Adam and Eve something wrong, they did the one thing they were explicitly told not to do, eat the forbidden fruit, the fruit of knowledge of good and evil while all Equiano did was be born with the ‘wrong skin tone’ which isn’t something that is technically wrong.

Equiano’s reference to Adam and Eve, which is a part of the Christian mythology since it comes from the Bible, shows how important theology was in literature. Religion plays a big part in why most people do things; they use it as an explanation on why they do the things they do. So by using it in his autobiography, Equiano is trying to appeal to people’s religious sense in order to get them to sympathsize and relate more to his writing and experiences.

The Fall of Men

An important part of Equiano’s narrative, and his abolitionist agenda, is depicting the slave trade as horrid and inhumane. A key moment in which he does this is his arrival at Montserrat. “At the sight of this land of bondage, a fresh horror ran through all my frame, and chilled me to the heart” (Chapter 5). The sight of a very land bound and enslaved, coupled with Equiano’s dread is a painted image full of horror. This horror is given further context when Equiano quotes from Paradise Lost.

“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” (Paradise Lost).

Paradise Lost is an epic poem by John Milton that centers around the “fall of man”, a biblical story of Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. I believe the application of this quote can be seen in different ways. Firstly, it can be seen as a depiction of the world of sin. Within the “fall of man” Adam and Eve are given everything within the Garden of Eden, peace, hope, rest, and happiness. Once they give way into the temptation of sin, this is stripped from them and they are exiled into the dessert. By association, the rest of humanity is stripped from this paradise. We must now work endlessly to merely eat and survive. The lands are dry and cruel, filled with sorrow unlike the lush land of the garden. Sin becomes integral to the human being, and we are subsequentially tortured by it with no end possible. Montserrat is the embodiment of this new-found wasteland. The sins of man represented through this land, a wasteland of toil and torture compared to the freedom of the garden.

Alternatively, this quote and what I imagined Montserrat to look like, is hell itself. Within the biblical hell souls are eternally tortured within its “doleful shades” of darkness. Hope is always lost in its victims and there is no end to the torture. Often hell is depicted in illustrations as victims spread throughout the brimstone land, bound and tortured in horrendous ways. Instantly I recollect illustrations of the slave trade and how closely they resemble those of hell in the case of their victims. I believe a similar message can be derived in this interpretation. Montserrat as hell, by proxy slavery as hell. And what was lost, freedom as heaven.

Equiano’s sentiment of dread and horror is very strongly captured within his use of this Paradise Lost excerpt. By quoting Milton, multiple times, not only is Equiano showing his literacy and understanding of Christianity, but he is showing the universality of literature and the English language. A majority of his intended audience were most likely to be Christian who could understand the allusions being used. If they themselves can understand and empathize with the same literature, then how much different are they from Equiano? if they are similarly literate in this language they share, how much different are they?

– Daniel Rodriguez


Religious Support

Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace

And rest can never dwell, hope never comes

That comes to all; but torture without end

Still urges. pg . 92

In The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Equiano seems to quote a lot of John Milton, among other authors. John Milton wrote Paradise Lost which deals with God and Satan where Satan’s followers were punished by God after trying to over power him.

Although Equiano uses biblical verses and other authors that reference religious situations one may wonder why Equiano quotes the parts that deal with Satan. It could be interpreted as him using this specific quote as a way of saying that they were all in their own form of punishment or ‘hell’. They had potential, they had something special but it was ruined, they were thrown into a world they did not want. As slaves they can never rest or have hope of something greater, all that their life consists of is “sorrow” and “torture”. At the time he was worried about being sent somewhere else and that caused him to feel “sorrow”.

Olaudah uses this to let his readers know he is religious, is very literate and aware of the famous writers at the time. He knows how influential they are and can also use it to help his argument by strengthening it. He includes religion into his autobiography when he can and uses it as a way to explain that himself and the people he was with have gone through so much just like those in the bible and others in religious situations. It shows he is a Christian just like his readers which makes him more likable.

-Sandy Morelos

Conversion for a second

In Phebe Gibbes Hartly House, Calcutta we encounter the repetition of great English writers that influence the transition of the English language in their own time; they are presented by Sophia who is herself presented at a transition point in her life; entering adulthood at age 16. While at the same time explores far outside the horizon of her English cultural world. She sets foot in a forbidden world, being a part of a family that owned the East India company; she was able to travel outside of England. Letter XXVI, Sophia begins to complain to Arabella about religion “ashamed of the manners of modern Christianity… I am become a convert to the Gentoo faith” (190-1). This seems all in attempt to persuade Arabella that she is in fact learning something about the Indian people, such as their religion and how they seem to be more humble than those that are in the Christian believe. Although she is somewhat of a hypocrite, and ignorantly uses the word Gentoo, which is somewhat of a slang at this time period. But does a sudden shift in a talk about going to a theater and expressing the fact that she wished to be back in England.

English is a powerful tool, in one instance it seems that Sophia attacks the Christian faith but as soon as politics kick in (which was seem to be influenced by the theater as talked about in lecture) she reverted back to her state of national pride which proofs to be stronger than her religious beliefs “politics again!…in a country where so large a number of its inhabitants dare to deny her soul… o how I at this moment wish my self in England!” (195). Because it seems that the Indian people don’t seem to appreciate the or enjoy the theater the way she does.

In letter XXVII, Sofia continues to express how privileged she is to be attending the theater and vainly say’s it “will be honoured with [her] presence” (195). She holds herself in a high pedalstone This alone is She continues to add that the theater and how the whole event will be present with European culture, exhausting the English culture after the admiration parade she threw for the Indian religious beliefs.

Sophia is blinded by the England culture of the English language, that just like she holds herself high, she holds the English language at a high standard vaguely references John Milton’s Paradise Lost “Not of themselves the gay beauties can please/ We only can taste, when the heart is at ease” (196). It is ironic that Sophia uses the works of John Milton who was an elitist and promoting the English language to be sacred, not only to knowledge but to religion. Sophia is blinded by her arrogance to be right on both sides of the cultural spectrums baffles the reader but also makes her comical yet in a paradoxical way, sophisticated as she proofs to have knowledge of the greats writer John Milton, who made his own contribution to the English language. In this letter she is showing her true colors. Although she wants to show sympathy for the people of India and their culture, she is taken a bite out of the apple of sin.

Enrique Ramos