Equiano’s Rhetoric

Reading Equiano, I was impressed by his arguments against the prejudice that his race experiences. His intellect and rhetoric alone, in spite of spending his youth as a captive slave, speak volumes for his cause. Those who believed that slavery is justifiable because another race is inferior to theirs, and somehow less human, must eat their own words when they read such an eloquent argument from Equiano, a supposed African native.

As others have noted already, he does not attempt to vilify his captors in the way that other captivity narratives do. His approach is completely different and probably more effective than a narrative listing the gruesome details of life in captivity. In a very careful manner, Equiano points out that the slaves which his intended audience has taken from Africa are in fact just as human as said European readers:

 “Does not slavery itself depress the mind, and extinguish all its fire and every noble sentiment? But, above all, what advantages do not a refined people possess over those who are rude and uncultivated. Let the polished and haughty European recollect that his ancestors were once, like the Africans, uncivilized, and even barbarous. Did Nature make them inferior to their sons? and should they too have been made slaves? Every rational mind answers, No.” (I don’t have a page number for that, since I’m using an online text)

In these few sentences, Equiano cogently expresses several very powerful ideas. Contrary to the belief of these Europeans, a primitive culture does not equate to an inferior race. Rather, it just means that race has had less time and resources, or more hardships, preventing their advancement. On the notion of hardships, he explains that the captors are in fact introducing these hardships by stealing people away from a society, harming the population, and further impeding the society’s progress.


2 thoughts on “Equiano’s Rhetoric

  1. You’re thoughts here I find very compelling! Do you suppose that this rhetorical choice is as much a strategy for positioning himself within a contentious debate as it is good prose? You state that “Contrary to the belief of these Europeans, a primitive culture does not equate to an inferior race” — do you suppose the text might reveal that there is a suppression of hate/vitriol/anger, in order to demonstrate the equality of his mind?

  2. This is really interesting! I agree with you in the sense that his writing and approach to being captured is not among the normal mindset most slaves found themselves in. He seems extremely accepting to the conditions of being captured. I was very confused while reading this because I went in with the approach that slaves would be extremely negative but in their approach but this is the exact opposite. There is definitely anger in some of the writing but recognizing it is very complicated.

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