Prince and Equiano: Differences and Similarities

In both The History of Mary Prince and Olaudah Equiano, we see the author refer to the condition of slavery as being no different than, or even worse than, the condition of animals.  Mary Prince, for example, asserts that she was offered for sale “like sheep or cattle” (7).  While she’s at the market to be sold, she claims that she was handled “in the same manner that a butcher would a calf or lamb” (7).  She admits, “we slept in a long shed, divided into narrow slips, like the stalls used for cattle” (15).  Equiano, for example, acknowledges that slaveholders “altogether treat them in every respect like brutes” (105).  What both these novels attempt to accomplish is the humanization of Africans.  Both novels attempt to show the reader that the people they are enslaving are no different than the reader.  Both main characters, for example, are Christians—pious Christians at that.  Both main characters desire literacy, although Mary Prince is not given the same opportunities as Equiano.  Both main characters desire to make a living for themselves.  And, we see both characters feel the whole spectrum of human emotions.  In short, the reader sees that they share the same humanity as the slave, and the narrative thus puts the reader in the position of the slave.  The purpose, possibly, is to sympathetically convince the reader that Africans should not be enslaved.

One major difference between the two accounts, however, is how the author appeals to the audience.  In Mary Prince’s case, she emotionally appeals to the audience, while Equiano appeals to the audience rationally.  Equiano’s narrative seems more aloof from the constant brutality than Prince’s because the argument seems to take precedence over the emotion that such brutality would invoke in the reader.  We see Equiano’s appeal to rationality, for instance, when he argues that the slave-trade “violates the first natural right of mankind, equality and independency, and gives one man a dominion over his fellows which God could never intend!” (111).  Prince’s goal, on the other hand, is emotionally relate the horrors of slavery to the English, so that they will abolish it.  She claims “I have felt what a slave feels, and I know what a slave knows, and I would have all the good people in England to know it too, that they may break our chains, and set us free” (17).    



4 thoughts on “Prince and Equiano: Differences and Similarities

  1. When you were talking about the way the slaves are treated no better than animals, it called to mind a line from Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”:

    “I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine;”

    The fact that Swift’s OBVIOUSLY satirical suggestion that human beings and animals can be held to the same standards actually mirrors the way slaves were treated shed another light on the horrors they had to endure… For Christ’s sake, the reason Swift’s suggestion is so humorous is because it is so outlandish and obviously human beings are not on the same plane as cattle and are not meant to be treated like livestock. But, the awful reality is that they once were, considered no better than animals, and treated as such.

  2. What has always amazed me, are humans violating other humans for almost no other reason than to be in control of or consume one another, especially on the basis that they are different, through race, culture, class, gender, sex, ethnicity. That they are other. Mary Prince’s account definitely is more emotional than Equiano’s. I am curious as to the reasons behind that. They were both for the abolishment of the slavery and the slave trade. Obviously each method has pros and cons. But I wonder why each went with the route they chose.

    • As Mary Prince admits “I tell it to let the English people know the truth” (34). It seems as if Prince thought that the English simply didn’t understand the true extent of slavery abroad in the colonies and that slavery would be abolished if they only knew. Slavery is emotional and so I think this just reflected in her writing. Equiano, on the other hand, seems to want not only freedom but assimilation, so I think his appeal to a more rational discourse was a means of demonstrating his gentlemanly character. We don’t see an emotional appeal in Equiano because he purposefully suppresses or omits his emotions in his writing–and we all thought it odd.

    • I like where you’re going with the control aspect here. Lauren mentioned it in her post, how frustrating it was that Mr. Wood refused to sell Prince her freedom. It shed some light on the fact that there is a definite power trip involved with owning slaves. It seems as if for some masters, it is not the physical and tangible benefits of owning slaves (labour, servants, etc.) that holds the appeal, but the desire to be in complete control of another human being.

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