Holy Home

In “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano” the Bible was used frequently by Equiano and besides his religious convictions, it served a much more powerful purpose. While he was in the Ætna, Daniel Queen,

            He taught me to shave and dress hair a little, and also to read in the Bible,                    explaining  many passages to me, which I did not comprehend. I was                              wonderfully surprised to see the  laws and rules of my country written                         almost exactly here; a circumstance which I believe tended to impress our                    manners and customs more deeply on my memory. (Chap. IV)

While I know this is not a direct reference to content within the Bible, the two different times of his life, he bonds through the Bible. This is a huge step within his narrative, and he does so various times, Equiano wanted to depict his life before slavery in terms that everyone would understand. Merely mentioning his past, could have led to misconceptions about how his life in slavery was better off. By recalling his country through the laws and rules of the Bible he is clearly stating that neither his people or him lived without purpose. They (his people) much like slaveholders followed similar life ideals just in different ways.

He also presented this idea after stating the kindness of Queen, trying to make the connection as amicable as possible. Somehow saying that a father figure of sorts, taught him the likeness between his home and the Biblical ideas. Besides that, there are many ways that one could interpret this connection, but I choose to believe that in some way Equiano alluded to his home being holy. While in one place they read holy scripture, at home they lived they practiced it within their laws and rules. Therefore, stating that since he had been ingrained with these ideals before having read them, he himself was able to live a holier life.

-Sabrina Vazquez

Addendums

The Interesting Narrative does not solely serve as Equiano’s autobiography, but as a carefully planned rhetoric to indict the atrocities of slavery. To this end, he references the bible and various English texts for a dual purpose. He first wants to distinguish that he is not dissimilar from Europeans so that the reader is more inclined to listen to what he has to say. Secondly, after establishing himself as worthy of basic humanity, he establishes himself as honest and intelligent so that his words are accepted more readily as truth.

To this end, Equiano describes his home before slavery and likens his country men and their customs to the Jews before they reached the Promised Land. This reference specifically, is not only an attempt to humanize his oppressed people, but in likening his people to the Jews before reaching the land promised to them by God, he not only humanizes himself, but takes a stab at the hypocrisy of European religiosity. Despite emphasizing morality based on the bible, they themselves are oppressing the equivalent of the Jews. In doing this, Aquino is attempting to make himself a Moses like figure trying to guide his people out of the desert of slavery.

-Kevin Martinez

The Good Christian

This captivity narrative is a true inside look into the horrors of slavery. In this narrative, Olaudah Equiano integrates quotes from many famous English works and the Bible. When he quotes a famous English work, he picks a certain section of that work that was meant to be applied to all men equally, but is not being taken seriously by society. In the first chapter, he uses this quote from the bible:

“who hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth[K]; and whose wisdom is not our wisdom, neither are our ways his ways”

This quotation is referencing when God created man. When God created humanity, he created them ALL in his image. This quote says that even though he did that, he left humans on this earth trusting them to act morally in his image. However, Equiano is using this quote to point out that humanity is failing at that right now. He is using the faith of his targeted readers to garner their sympathy and force them to open their eyes and take a look into their faulted societies. He knows that during this time period, a lot of laws and the structure of society itself are based on the moral teachings of their religion. In this passage, he points out an area of the Bible and basically says “what about this teaching?” This teaching of the Bible is very important because God gave his children the freedom of will and he expects them to act in his image. Equiano points out that God would never partake or support such a cruel practice as slavery. So, why are the people who pride themselves on their good Christian values participating in a practice that is basically the devil’s work.

-Oliver Briggs

Appeal and Challenge: The Fight for Agency and Critique

The Interesting Narrative by Olaudah Equiano provides an alternative take on captivity narratives through the detailing of his own story as a former slave and the agency he assigns himself and continues to thrive upon. On page 92, Equiano writes:

“Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can rarely dwell. Hope never comes
That come to all, but torture without end
Still urges.” (92)

Milton’s Paradise Lost is known for satirizing the corruption, wickedness, and evils of society through a lense of exaggeration that calls upon the ridiculous nature of certain systems we have historically lived by. One might consider Milton’s attempts to portray these evils as epic, overwhelming, and unrealistic. However, with Equiano pointing to this passage that greatly reflects the essence of Paradise Lost, he is not only appealing to specific European intellectuals, but he is also finding a gateway to critique them. He introduces experiences of “sorrow,” and restlessness, setting up a clear divide between the speaker and “all”- that is the “all” that is commonly acknowledged. He describes a “torture without end,” even for an intellectual who is extremely devoted to the Christian faith and teachings.

In his text, Equiano is not a figure in another person’s narrative. Rather, he is the entire narrative. He weaves his storyline in a way that acknowledges his audience’s readership and still challenges the hypocrisy in which lies in the hearts, minds, and life sytles of white Christians. In this specific quote, Equiano is nothing short of brave and everything that’s courageous. Borrowing from Milton’s Paradise Lost, he questions how individuals can speak of hell as if it is a grave, distant concept, when in fact, the fate he faces and the reality he lives, is far much more worse than any hell to be thought of.

-Angelica Costilla-Mancha

“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

How to Advertise your Book

“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano” is undoubtedly filled with several biblical references. His main purpose in doing so was to get his book published. At the time when his narrative came out, he was one of the first African writers to have a book published. How else could a former slave have gotten their work published? Equiano needed others to hear his story, therefore he knew that by referencing not only the Bible, but also many authors of that time, he would catch the interest of the public. 

Aside from needing to get his book to be read, he needed to prove that his book was worth reading. Similar to how Mary Rowlandson heavily used Biblical references in her book in order to get published because she was a woman, Equiano relied on references to get his narrative published because of the color of his skin. By referencing authors such as Denham, Milton, Cibber, Day, and several others, he establishes his authority as a reader and writer. To have been a former slave and have read the works of such great authors must be quite an accomplishment. Not only that, but he didn’t just want his audience to be former slaves or colored people; he wanted whites to read his work, too. He knew that if he referenced works that white people at the time read, they would be more inclined to pick up his narrative.

Equiano was smart in how he advertised his book. Without the help of the Biblical and literary references, his narrative never would have reached such a wide audience. Fortunately, he was successful in his campaign and was able to spread his story worldwide. 

By Charise Cating

Knowledge and Truth in Writings

“That he who cannot stem his anger’s tide, Doth a wild horse without a bridle ride” (Act 2, Scene 7, Cibber). This is a quote Olaudah Equiano uses in his autobiography (pg. 186) and he is quoting Colley Cibber from his play Love’s Last Shift. Equiano decides to incorporate this quote into the last few pages of chapter six which was a chapter that had a lot of misfortunes for Equiano as he was going from ship to ship being mistreated by captains before he sets off once again for England.

This scene is set right after a violent attack by his captain in which Equiano realized that when pushed to a certain limit, he would not resist in killing a man. Equiano then proceeds to ask God for forgiveness and quotes Isaiah I from the bible as well. The quote from Cibber is used in a way to remind Equiano to control his anger. The quote, in my opinion, represents how someone who drives their actions based on anger and rage is reckless and will lose themselves. While Equiano is using this quote to show the readers how he keeps his anger in control, he is as well as criticizing the captain for not being able to control his anger and subside it sooner. Had the captain controlled his anger, Equiano would not have been nearly killed and Equiano would not have had thoughts of killing.

Love’s Last Shift, the play from which the quote comes from, is an English Restoration comedy which deals with a woman named Amanda who finds her husband. who has been away for 10 years, going from brothel to bottle constantly. She tricks him into thinking she is a prostitute and when he realizes her faithfulness, decides to change his ways.

Now, one may question Equiano’s reference to a play that was both comedic but promiscuous. I myself even questioned it. But when you look back at how Equiano’s life was filled with mistreatment and abuse, you would assume that Equiano tried to “escape” his reality by reading these different works of literature, poetry, drama, and theological works. It’s not a surprise that Equiano would do this, but what is questionable is using a quote about controlling anger from a comedy in his narrative. It would imply how Equiano would try to find knowledge in almost everything he read. That would answer the question about why he obsessed over different works of writing and thought. He wanted and almost needed to find answers in whatever he read.

Equiano’s use of different literary works in his narrative shows both the intellectualness and awareness that Equiano possessed. He was determined to find light and answers in what he could get his hands on or learn about. He used these works to remind him about important lessons and to be resourceful. This is why he writes the quotes in his narrative, to pass on what he has learned to the readers in hopes that they too find answers and to control their emotions as well as actions.

-Abe Alvarez

In God’s Eyes, We are the Same

Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative definitely has many references to biblical scripture throughout his narrative as a form of relative content that could be presented to his intended audience. I think he decides to use this type of language because at the time that he was writing this, religion—specifically Christianity was at its forefront. Almost everything people did revolved around religion and faith. And because Equiano wanted people to read his book in order to understand what was so bad about slavery, religion became one easy way to have access to a specific audience. Even the idea of him having theological textual references in his narrative meant that he wanted the world to know that he was educated and that he wanted himself to be considered an equal to the white man. One of the many quotes that caught my attention was:

“Oh Jove! O father! if it be thy will

That we must perish, we thy will obey,

But let us perish by the light of day.”

This quote definitely reminds me of the Luke 23:34 verse in the bible where Jesus is being crucified and he says in exasperation, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  They both cry out to a father who is not physically present to them but is there spiritually. And I think through this quote, Equiano’s intended audience would have definitely been able to relate to him and be more sympathetic to the wrongdoings that had been committed not only against him but his entire race. Equiano uses religion as a tool to emphasis that he is the same as the white man—he is well educated, he is well travelled (regardless of how he has travelled), and also well mannered. To use these kinds of references in his narrative I’m sure encouraged people who read his narrative adapt his point of view regarding his people’s enslavement.

-Laura Mateo Gallegos

Appealing to, Not Entertaining a Sympathetic Audience

In Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, the choice to reference Colley Cibber’s widely produced play Love’s Last Shift shows the influence of a drama piece, or theatrical play, using messages behind its genre in order to add morality into Equiano’s audience; seeing it as something they lack. He chooses to parallel Colley’s character of Sir William Wisewoud to not only take from a sympathetic characterization and apply it to his own situation, but to use this in such a way to highlight the disparities and abuse and incite a “good, moral, Christian” audience to feel incredulous for his own situation.

Love’s Last Shift is a sentimental comedy play, where in which the main characters  include “middle-class protagonists triumphantly overcom[ing] a series of moral trials.” A large focus of sentimental comedy is promoting morals over vices, appealing to “noble sentiments” by preaching a sort of moralistic behavior through a tragic, pitying type of comedy. Many of these sentimental comedy works show how men are able to be “reformed and set back on the path of virtue” through good deeds and esteemed morals (britannica.com).

In one particular scene, a short scene plays out where a conceited rake, Sir Novelty Fashion, receives a letter from a woman he has been flirting with, Narcissa, right in front of her father, Sir William Wisewoud. These caricatures are a side story of the main plot, where essentially, Sir Novelty Fashion is attempting to woo Narcissa while he already has a mistress (scandalous!!), all while mocking Narcissa’s father, who’s trying to play matchmaker for his daughter to marry an actual gentleman, Elder Worthy. When courting Narcissa, he only truly decided to go meet her and potentially engaging in promiscuous behavior to exact revenge on Sir William, to “have the pleasure of making” the relationship and his “exploits” public (page 41). He even goes on, inciting a provocation by taunting, “Hark you! wou’d not it nettle you damnably to hear my Son call you Grandfather?” (page 41). This kind of tone and attitude shows not only how childish and comedically immature Sir Novelty is, but to a sympathetic audience, pitying how Sir William has to grovel in submission, even oblige Sir Novelty as to not show a crack in his demeanor when his pride has been shattered. Sir William comes to the conclusion that in order to keep his patience (and have good morals), preaching that keeping a cool head is worthwhile by stating:

“How near are men to Brutes, when their unruly Passions break the Bounds of Reason? And of all Passions, Anger is the most violent, which often puts me in mind of that admirable

Saying,

He that strives not to Stem his Angers Tide,

Does a Mad Horse without a Bridle ride.” – page 42

This is seen referenced in Equiano’s work in order to parallel his and Sir William’s situations in order to garner sympathy. A large focus of this stems from Equiano praying for a sort of noble sentiments, where “resignation, that his will might be done; and the following two portions of his holy word” could lift his “born again Evangelical” spirit, and keep him from “taking the life of this wicked man” (Chapter XI). This, while notably tying into how sentimental comedy attempts to moralize noble sentiments and good deeds, when he references Love’s Last Shift, stating, “That he who cannot stem his anger’s tide/Doth a wild horse without a bridle ride” (Chapter XI). The physical abuse Equiano continues to endure throughout his journey, seen in this instance as Baker “[striking him] often, still keeping the fire in his hand for this wicked purpose” (Chapter XI). His hands, as once tied as he was “hung, without any crime committed…merely because [he] was a free man, and could not by the law get any redress from a white person” due to the degradation of African slaves and inherent racism linked to it, were tied again – his testimony and account of Baker’s exploitation and abuse “could not be admitted against a white” (Chapter XI). These two elements are used as parallels to Sir William’s ideals that one should be a master of their own temper, in that a “Fools power to provoke [one] beyond that Serenity of Temper” shouldn’t be stronger than one’s own belief in a personal moral compass (page 42). This is inherently tied to Equiano’s biblical allusions and his belief in providence and the “the good hand of God” to guide him and in a sense, save him when he’s unable to save himself (Chapter XI).

Interesting References in Olaudah’s Narrative

The selective quotations that Equiano chose to insert into his narrative suggest that he is trying to come off a certain way in order to gain readers attention as well as any others. With his many references and quotations, he comes off both as religious and intellectual, as he chose to reference and quote both biblical pieces and other texts. Equiano does this in order to be taken more seriously and because at the time the antislavery movement was being pushed by many religious people and groups, as mentioned in the introduction of the narrative that named Quakers, Methodists, Baptists and many others. Beyond this point, I chose to turn my attention towards the excerpt of the poem, The Dying Negro, and upon looking further into the poem, I found that Equiano had chosen to use select pieces of the poem and rewrite it when inserting it into his narrative.

The line in his narrative reads, “where slaves are free, and men oppress no more,” and the other reads, “where all is peace, and men are slaves no more,” in the poem. Though the change may come off as quite minimal, the fact that there is a change remains. Equiano makes this change as a way to give the line a different perspective other than slaves being, “no more,” they are being free and set in a world where men no longer oppress. In this way, it can be interpreted that it’s become something broader and in a sense, covers more ground because of the “men oppress no more,” which allows others to connect to it as well in comparison to the line that just reads, “where all is peace.” The rest that Equiano chooses to quote in his narrative are pieces in the poem as well, and some I chose to show here:

Capture.PNG

left side is from the poem and right side is what Equiano had in his narrative

The poem, of course, is much longer in length and much more than Equiano could have been able to quote for his narrative though as before, the changes he made were minimal as well though remain just as impactful. In one of the sets of the highlighted terms that I found differentiated from the poem, we get, “endure,” turned into, “pursue,” with Equiano. With the term, “pursue,” it reads off almost as if its something they’re actively chasing after, compared to how the term, “endure” reads as something more of what they’re going through. It gives the lines different meanings and allows for different interpretations as well.

– Lou Flores