Equiano: Humanizing the Slaves

Olaudah Equiano offers a very well written humanization of slaves.  I say humanization because the English saw African culture as being primitive and its inhabitants as brutes.  The African was uncivilized to the Englishman and, as Equiano notes a few times, treated no differently than animals.  This novel attempts to shatter those false assumptions in three ways: (1) by giving examples of how African and English culture are similar and share characteristics, (2) by showing how Africans can be culturally assimilated into England, and (3) by showing how slavery is religiously unjustified. 

We see examples of method (1) almost immediately into the book.  Equiano argues, for instance, that “Dr. Gill, who, in his commentary of Genesis, very ably deduces the pedigree of the Africans from Afer and Afra, the descendants of Abraham” (44).  What this means is that Africans and English share a common ancestor, that they both spring from the same religion, and that Africans are no more or less human than the English.  We see another example of page 92 when Equiano remarks, in regard to the passages in the Bible, “I was wonderfully surprised to see the laws and rules of my country written almost exactly here.”  By admitting that the two cultures share the same laws and rules, Equiano is not only linking the two cultures again but is implicitly admitting that Africans are just as civilized as the English and that they could be easily assimilated into English culture. 

An example of method (2) is Equiano’s willingness to convert to Christianity through baptism and all of the examples of his being a good Christian: his willingness to recognize his transgressions, to surrender to his fate to the will of God, to fear God more than man, and to be pious.  We see Equiano fight for England, wanting to improve himself through education, and wanting to support and work for himself.  We see him work hard and we see him handle responsibility well. We see Equiano, in short, not only wanting the same things as the English but also being able to accomplish some of those things.   

An example of method (3) occurs when Equiano wonders of Mr. Drummond, who sold 41,000 slaves, “How he, as a Christian, could answer for the horrid act before God?” (104).  This is an interesting example because it poses the question to the reader, after which he goes on to list all of the horrid acts that have been committed to slaves by Christians.


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