The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Mohammed Alfassa, or Amadeus Matthias, the Syrian, Written by Himself.

This is an excerpt from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Mohammed Alfassa, or Amadeus Matthias, the Syrian, Written by Himself:

I walked beside my mother and sister in an alleyway that I grew beside playing ball, no longer familiar to my precious memories, by collapsed houses and overwhelming rubble accumulation. Today, I could no longer support the white-helmets, those who rushed urgently to the dire need of air-strike afflicted individuals, because I must attend to my mother and sister who grow increasingly frail in the absence of once copious street vendors bustling the streets endorsing a variety of vegetable and scrumptious meats. We search for a roaming trader, to disperse his valuable consumables, but we receive nothing but looks of consternation amongst waves of individuals in the city of Aleppo. I encounter a child not yet of five years who in an exchange of optic conversation, delivered to me a countenance of dejection and confusion. My soul continually grows weary, as I discover corpse after corpse of unidentified disfigured remains, bloodied and maimed by relentless ballistic destruction. We finally come across a luscious patch of grass and unravel a bundle of newspaper, boiling the conjunction into a warm porridge. The twilight shade engulfs the firmament, and we set our blankets on a bed of rock and pray for the sun to rise tomorrow.

The sun had yet to rise, but an incineration of foul venom suffocated me and terminated my slumber. I gasped for air and inhaled a deep dosage of the most painful breath I had ever experienced. I glanced to my side and witnessed a heart-wrenching scene of my sister grimacing in agony. I turned to my mother whose condition appeared far more dreadful as she winced an unconscious pain. I helped my sister up as she stumbled to keep her balance, and I carried my mother as we proceeded to a walk a path of chaos. Distant shrieks of agony and visible sights of convulsing children of a mixture of red, blue, and yellow complexion beside contorted figures in unimaginable presentation, the devil’s interpretation of yoga, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable. My mother shook her head and waved us ahead a mixture of white and yellow froth oozed from her mouth. My sister and I carried on, as tears began to befall my eyes incessantly before I came across a overpacked caravan of half-dead children and groaning parents. I began to hope for moments for an end to my miseries, but I glanced over at my sister and held on to my last bit of hope.

O, ye fanatic terrorists! Might as you would men should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friend to suffer for your lust of power? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your bloodlust? Why are children to lose their parents, parents their children, brothers their sisters or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of war.

To my dear readers,

I choose to emulate Oladauh Equiano’s captivity narrative in a contemporary manner of entirely different circumstances. I wanted to exemplify the situation of the Syrian civil war and specifically showcase the recent usage of sarin gas attacks by using Equiano’s  tale to relate notions of grievance and suffering. Honestly, I have not spent enough time keeping up with the crisis every day, and I often forget the disparity of our living situations in the U.S. and the horrific scene in Syria. I think about refugees in the past, and I feel intertwined with their fates, as I am practically a refugee product of a seemingly oppressive communist regime during the Vietnam War. The United States is a nation of immigrants and has offered a hand for those in critical need, but in the 21st century’s bloodiest conflict, the United States has hardly stepped up to the plate that they once have. In researching for this creative writing project, I saw some incredibly graphic images and unbelievable scenes of destruction. I can’t possibly imagine how people continue to exist in this current state of affairs, but I saw a good deal of footage of people persevering and aiding each other in such a disastrous scene. I used actual narratives of those experiencing the crisis to reinforce my writing. The images of children who were under ten made me ruminate of their lives, as all they have seen is death and destruction. I tried to emulate Oladauh Equiano’s style which is not as difficult as some of the other readings assigned in this class, but some of his vocabulary is intense and somewhat antiquated, nonetheless, I incorporated some of this older vocabulary.  The last paragraph is very identical, and nearly a quotation of from Oladauh Equiano’s novel, that seems to be a call to those who possess the power, questioning their ethics. Although slavery and the situation of war in Syria are completely different scenarios, I felt that Oladauh Equiano best captured emotion-invoking imagery, and I felt it would be the best representation of the current state of affairs. I thought heavily about the prospects of journalism after working on this creative project, something I’ve considered since I was young. Thanks for reading.

Thomas Pham


Cruikshank pro Slavery

The 1826 satirical cartoon from Robert Cruikshank is seen as a pro slavery and anti abolitionist piece of artwork.  The image appears to be pro slavery because of the subtle clues and details of the cartoon. For example these anti slavery theme is seen in the placement and actions of europeans in the scene, the liveliness of the tide and the natives in the background. Most of the prominent europeans in the cartoon are satirical depictions of abolitionist. These depictions are displayed as corrupt and they appear to be distorting how slavery appears to others. The abolitionist with his back to the viewer has a sign in one hand and a buy off check in his back pocket. Having one of the abolitionist be displayed as corrupt shows how Cruikshank made this piece to be clearly pro slavery. In Cruikshank’s cartoon one of the abolistinst is holding a picture of a slave being flogged by a white man in front of a telescope pointed at peaceful natives waiting on the shore for the slave ships. Also, The abolitionist holding up the picture appears to be cursing god, i see this because his facial expression and how he holds his palms face up to the sky.

This picture is in direct contrast with the ideas and views in The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano. This narrative discuss  the grim and downright inhumane reality of the west indies slave trade.  The purpose of creating this narrative was to show the british the reality of the slave trade, in hopes that parliament will abolish it. Equiano show these motives when he writes, “But is not the slave trade entirely a war with the heart of man? And surely that which is begun by breaking down the barriers of virtue involves in its continuance destruction to every principle, and buries all sentiments in ruin!” (Equiano 110). This perspective from equation shows how wrong Cruikshank’s pro slavery image is. Cruikshank’s pro slavery perspective stems from the economic advancement and prosperity that the slave trade creates. Equiano rejects this idea because he feels that the white man should not profit off the backs of African people.

-Conor Morgan

“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 Truth

In Robert Cruikshank image we can see a lot of things going on that can suggest either a pro or anti slavery message. As we get closer into the image we can see a lot of little scenes that illustrate what Cruikshank is trying to say. In the right side of the picture we can see what appears to be an island full of natives who seem to be minding their own business. On the other island or boat we can see what appears to be the europeans discussing and making assumptions about the natives from far away. The island is full of auctions, petitions and images all dealing with the natives while they are primarily concerned with themselves on their own island. I believe the  image isn’t pro or anti slavery rather anti-abolotionism as Cruickshank pokes fun at their ideals as they show illustrations of slaves being whipped and tortured on the walls of the building asking for signatures on a petition to abolish slavery. They are also using these images to obstruct the view from the telescope looking onto the island suggesting that these images are not the truth and the abolitionist are simply obstructing the facts.

Even if the illustration was suggesting that the abolotionist strenchted the truth, there’s enough evidence in Equiano’s narrative to justify abolitionism. People like Cruickshank can argue that conditions are not as bad as they are portrayed to be and claiming that abolotionism is still favoring white abolitionist is absurd. Equiano writes in his narrative about the time he was seperated from his sister:

“It was in vain that we besought them not to part us; she was torn from me, and immediately carried away, while I was left in a state of distraction not to be described. I cried and grieved continually; and for several days I did not eat any thing but what they forced into my mouth.”

No argument made by anti-abolitionist can justify the cruelty that was endured by the slaves. They were seen crying for their families and even committing or attempting suicide but the slave owners continued the practice for their own economic advancement. The illustration critiques abolitionist for their hypocrisy but in people but what the is saying more than that as the illustrator is demonstrating how slave owners were still being incredibly cruel to the natives by stripping them of their families and the land they knew and grew up on. If the argument the illustration is making is simply that torture is not occurring and its a front to abolish slavery, it wouldn’t justify the capture and taking of innocent people from their homeland and the separation and destruction of their families. Equiano’s narrative tells us what actually happened and how someone who went through it actually felt which makes it a much more power primary source  when compared to this illustration from the same period that lacks specific information and solid evidence.

-Noel Nevarez

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

Paint the View for Everyone

The photograph is showing the horrible and tragic decision of slave owners; this is evident by the children who are signing papers. It is obvious that the children are not 18 there fore they are not considered adults (at least in the US). The man holding the telescope is locking the view from others. He is blocking the view of the bright water, and the people in the island. There are also people on the floor their clothes looks very dirty and toen however, they are not being used as slaves. I believe the picture is sending the message to others that says something along the live son how different and beautiful the world would be if everyone was free. I believe this is due to the fact that the illustrated imagine shows a not so pretty side therefore it makes the viewer imagine what the world would be like if it were the opposite way.

This can be a reason why some agree it is anti slavery and others agree that it is pro-slavery. It can make many aware of the situations that are happening, not just adult suffer but also children. If they see someone older doing something then they will do the same thing even if it is a bad decision. In this picture we see different kinds of people and they are all either in the boat or outside of it. Similar  to howl people have the same options of accomplishing things but not all of them can due to the lack of resources.

In Equiano’s narritve he rferres to his slaves as “poor slaves”  (193) this is very horrible for him to say as he should support them not degrade them.

-Luz Zepeda

Slavery of Mankind

The political picture shown above by an unknown artist appears to be an anti-slavery depiction at first glance. However, through further examination of the picture it becomes clear that the picture is more of a campaign for that white man deserve all of the freedom that unowned Africans have. The cartoon depicts happy Africans sitting under a tree happily with their families. Their only cares seem to come from what they will eat that day and how they are living. This cartoon portrays the laws and rules of a developed society as a type of oppressing subjugation. Therefore, the artist makes it seem as if white men who are privileged over other races are still slaves to the documents such as the Bill of Rights and Magna Carta which are put in place to prevent societal chaos. This picture shows the life pf an American man as oppressed and unfair because they are slaves to an authority that is greater than them.

Without intention, the only thing that this picture made me think of is white privilege. It is interesting how those in a position of power are still able to find something to complain about. This attitude results in those in a position of power only focussing on their own troubles and strife. Thus, they become ignorant to the plight of others. Perhaps the artists intention was to call attention to this phenomenon and help us to understand that everyone suffers, it is ignorance and selfishness that makes us blind to the plight of others. As the man in the cartoon suffers there is an outside point of view that sees the Africans having fun. Thus, from this perspective it seems like the white man is being punished for working hard and essentially slaving away, while the Africans live a care free life without doing anything to ultimately help advance their society. This is a seriously twisted and radical point of view, especially because it takes one of the worst aspects of a life of the privileged and one of the best from the life of the less fortunate, or so it seems. In my perspective, this cartoon expresses some major insight into the mindset of colonialist white males. This picture provides justification for slavery in the sense that it advocates against slavery of white men because they work so hard to provide for their nation and help them prosper. Thus, in this interpretation of the cartoon it becomes a way to justify the enslavement of Africans because, for one, they are jealous of the care free life that the Americans ignorantly presume they are living. As well as, because they believe that the Africans do not deserve to love this life because they haven`t earned it. This is a puritanical mindset that encourages the idea that hard work deserves reward. This mindset carries over into the justification of slavery without proper evidence that supports that the Africans don`t work hard, a notion that Americans only assumed because of the lack of technological presence in there society.

Unfortunately, Equiano is subjected to assimilation and is compelled to comply with this perspective of American idealism, as written in Olaudah Equiano’s narrative

“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.”

In this statement Equiano describes the process in which he is being assimilated into white culture. Although he is not official accepted as on of them, he is physically and mentally prepped in order to encourage better treatment. Even his idea of morality is explained through a cultural lens. Although he is able to identify with the laws and rules of what were written in relevance to his cultural customs, he is still viewed as different. Despite them abiding by the same beliefs and internal moral codes, he is still treated as lesser by the white people. It is because of these snap judgements that these colonialists make based on appearance and without any understanding of  the slaves lifestyle, beliefs and ethical values they are able to treat them bad. Thus, the result of ignorance is ultimately dehumanization.

-Kamani Morrow

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



The Bad Middle Route: Equiano’s Grave Mistake

“Slavery is bad”, is something one is tempted to slap onto a work regarding the exposure of the cruelties of the slave trade and its participants. With a grand chunk of the text focused on depicting this unjust treatment, something slips by the text uneasily, perhaps by the conscious effort of Equiano. The freeman turns out to have owned slaves, but there is a bigger argument to be discussed rather than the simple labeling of Equiano as a hypocrite. Looking deeper, one must analyze particularly why the writer who clearly wrote his story to criticize slavery chose to include his own partaking of the same sin. It could be his simple desire to be honest, but clearly he defends his act using the same rhetoric as his white counterparts, this idea that he treats them well enough for them not to be just slaves but rather like family. There are definite holes in his argument here, especially when he selects the best slaves of “[his] own countrymen” (PDF, 138). It shows a bias for certain men, even hinting that he classifies men at different levels, just as the European owners would. But why is this relevant then? The idea can be expanded upon through the given political cartoon—

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 12.35.09 PM

Here one can slowly see that this work is one not blatantly screeching that slavery is good, but rather taking a stance that the abolitionist movement is exaggerating their arguments. This is specifically highlighted by the man covering the telescope with what seems to be inhumane treatment of slaves, from the happy, peaceful sight of seemingly lazy foreigners across the sea. Sadly, this is fed via the same rhetoric that Equiano is supporting by buying slaves and further by being selective with them. The suggestion that there is a right way to be slaves is the exact argument the picture is making: the ideal that if slaves are being treated ok there is no reason to worry. Equiano’s argument is problematic, specifically due to this. If he had simply said this was out of compassion, out of direct empathy, this would have been taken a different way; however, it is the fact that he declares these men above the others and the fact that he tries to defend his purchase by saying he’ll treat them right gives the impression that he wouldn’t be concerned with slavery if it was practiced in the manner of his country or through his methods. Quite the problem there, Equiano, quite the problem. It’s not mere hypocrisy at work here, rather a whole new spectrum: defining what is slavery then. What if men worked as indentured servants? Workers? Interns? Where would Equiano draw the line for black men of today’s age?

One can assume then, Equiano is speaking against slavery to a certain degree – hinting at a justification in a certain case under the right circumstances. One cannot thus merely state that he is completely for abolition, nor can one simply state that he is a complete hypocrite because this entire work is aimed to call an action against the widely practiced injustices. It is important to listen to these in-between arguments, and sometimes indeed it’s a bit questionable to take a neutral route. What to take from Equiano, is that if you wish to take a side, you have to stay firm to it, otherwise you will receive harsh criticism, as seen by the heavy amount of backlash he has received from my fellow classmates.


-William Fernandez