If You Give the Metaphorical Christian Mouse a Slave Cookie

There was a point in time where religion was valued over science, that the beliefs of the great unknown were much more believable than the theories being presented and proven that debunked aspects of religion. It really takes to the phrase ignorance is bliss to believe it that it is still reflected today with advancements of modern technology showing not only the curvature of the earth but what it looks like from outer space (the earth isn’t flat guys and if you still believe this then I would suggest going back to your designated time period). The point being made however is that with religion (for the ones who identify with one) it seems as if there are two sides: one that obeys it blindly and ones who pick and choose which parts of it they wish to follow. For the ones that obey it blindly, especially Christianity, as they attend church and hear the interpretations given to them by another, they become the sheep and influenced by the opinions of the preacher. To be able to read the Bible on their own gives power to the reader to create their own interpretations which makes Equiano’s narrative impactful. While he is taught the Bible before he begins to read or write, the idea is that Equiano is more intrigued with halving more of a conversation with the books, an accurate representation of his frustration as more of a longing for knowledge. The Bible’s role serves more as a representation of the culture, not for the beliefs that those who preach it make it out to be.

 

 

“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 own country written almost exactly here; a circumstance which, I believe, tended to impress our manners and customs more deeply on my memory.” (Chapter 4)

 

Based on the quote, he is attracted to the more universal themes that the Bible conveys, the parts that are not preaching for the white man to have slaves. While he is enslaved, the Bible which became one of the biggest motivators for slaves to persevere and hold on to the hope of salvation. Thus, with the abilities that Equiano possesses in reading and writing allows for him to create his own interpretations, even if certain points he was in need of assistance. This is where the Bible served as useful to Equiano, but not as much for other slaves. Christianity is often synonymous with European civilization meaning that he was appropriated in the way all the other slaves are if their teachings of the Bible are coming from the white man. In having the freedom to make the interpretations he is thus drawn to the deeper teachings and not what is surface level which the Christians would use to justify the need for slavery. They can eat up all the cookies they want, try to paint it as a basic human right, but not all cookies taste good dipped in milk meaning that Equiano’s assimilation only gave him a sense of pursing his own freedom and destiny but also establishing the foundation for the slave autobiography/ narrative.

 

-Xotchitl Garibay

Because I said so

 

Equiano obsessively quotes books and theological works because he is able to establish a real foundation from the problem. The problem in this case is the egotistical educated men that are mercilessly enslaving his people. He quotes their words, to keep them attached to the facts of persuasive essay. In the U.S court case Standing Bear ex real. Vs Crook, Standing bear during his closing statement holds up his hand to the court and states “ if this hand was to bleed it would bleed that same color as yours would”. During this time he is trying to make a connection with the judge trying to give them physical that aligns their perspective with his own. Olaudah is doing the same in an attempt to form connection with his readers in hope to gain a common meeting ground. Using their words he is able to at least draw their attention to facts they already understand, but just not in that particular understanding.

 

-ashley jackson

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

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

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

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

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

Quoting Literary History

Within his own autobiographical narrative, Olaudah Equiano occasionally emulates the style of (and quotes) famed authors such as Homer, Milton, or Cibber, often using these quotations during particularly influential sections of his narrative.

Equiano does not limit himself to quoting one genre, author, or style of work, and inserts literary allusions from every form of literature in his day. This is likely a symbolic choice, as Equiano invokes the words of well-respected (or at least well-known) writers and politicians as a way to appeal to the readers of his own work. He likely incites their wisdom and displays his knowledge of these powerful works of literature in order to gain credibility with his audience, while at the same time suggesting that the knowledge, insight, and wisdom of the art form of literature – of any kind – can be applied to the struggles of anyone and everyone.

The selection of these quotations may be Equiano’s way of subtly suggesting that language and literature has somewhat stagnated during this time; he intentionally quotes some of the most influential (and controversial) authors in order to highlight the lack of new ideas and perspectives during the time of his writing his narrative. Equiano bombards the reader with quote after quote, showing his audience the brilliance of past literature and subtly calling for a resurgence in the literary arts.

Olaudah Equiano has crafted a carefully-constructed piece of literature that has had the impact on modern literature that he urged his contemporaries to make.

-Shawn Pintor-Day

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

Peter and Elijah in Equiano’s Narrative

In Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative, the Bible is used as an intertext to bolster his own credibility and posit himself as an equal amongst the predominately white European Christian population that would be critical of his narrative. In addition to this, Equiano utilizes architextual elements from the captivity narrative to parallel himself with other notable biblical figures, showing his readership who would have been familiar with these critical characters to hone in not only religious sentiments, but political propaganda as well. The passage in which Equiano describes his freedom exemplifies this acutely:

‘I glorified God in my heart, in whom I trusted.’ These words had been impressed on my mind from the very day I was forced from Deptford to the present hour, and I now saw them, as I thought, fulfilled and verified. My imagination was all rapture as I flew to the Register Office, and, in this respect, like the apostle Peter,[ U] (whose deliverance from prison was so sudden and extraordinary, that he thought he was in a vision) I could scarcely believe I was awake. Heavens! who could do justice to my feelings at this moment… My feet scarcely touched the ground, for they were winged with joy, and, like Elijah, as he rose to Heaven, they ‘were with lightning sped as I went on.’ (Kindle Locations 1860-1868).

If we are to juxtapose this with the book of Peter and that of Elijah, the parallelisms are conspicuous not only on the visible level, but indeed below that as well. Peter, the apostle was imprisoned by Herod and sentenced to death, but was able to escape by a miracle (an act of divine and purposeful intervention by God). Given a cursory glance, it may appear that the parallelism does not go so far: Equiano was also imprisoned by slavery and released; however, given a close reading, readers understand there is more to this allusion to Peter. Peter, like Equiano, endured many hardships and as a Christian, was persecuted for his beliefs of introducing the Gentiles and Jews to Christianity. This is important, because Equiano similarly was thrown into oppression because of racial prejudice and like Peter, advocated the blending of groups, albeit racial groups (as opposed to Peter’s advocacy of mixing religious groups). This serves as a defense against slavery: Equiano recognizes himself not only as Peter the unfairly imprisoned and God delivered, but also as Peter, the merging of groups and champion of eliminating prejudice. Elijah similarly serves a purpose within this passage. Although Elijah was not imprisoned like Peter, Elijah is taken up into heaven by God as a reward for being a devout follower. However, Elijah’s story goes deeper than this. The story of Elijah is a confrontation against oppression from the evil king Ahab, whom worships Baal (a false god) and is defeated with Elijah’s prayer. His steadfast faith is enough to convince the people of Israel to turn away from the king and Baal, and faith in the Jewish God is restored. Equiano’s narrative follows similar progressions. Throughout the narrative, we witness several testaments of his faith and against the system of slavery and prejudice, which can be compared with Baal. Indeed, Ahab is only the vehicle by which Baal is able to lead the Israelites astray; the white slave owners are the palpable executors of this ideology of oppression. In defeating Baal and Ahab, Elijah’s story contextualized in Equiano’s narrative is the call to arms advocating for the defeat of slavery and slave owners as well.

To an audience that was familiar with biblical stories and themes, this ideology and parallelism would not go unnoticed. In fact, it would likely serve as efficient propaganda given the obvious similarities. In accordance with other English literature at this time, religious allusions and symbolism were popular and had served for a driving force for social and political change. Although Equiano humbles himself as the beginning of his narrative, the comparisons to great figures like Peter and Elijah go deeper than references to freedom. He is situating himself as an apostle who has conquered against the roots of tyranny and will inspire the people to discard their prejudices—their Gentile prejudice—their Baals.

 

-Sara Nuila-Chae