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Prince & Equiano Questions

(1) What distinctions do you see between Prince’s plight and Equiano’s?  What are the consequences of these distinctions on the emotional or physical state of Prince?

Prince’s plight involves much more physical suffering.  She focuses on the physical pain of her rheumatism and her boils while she’s forced to work and also the physical pain of the lashings.  For example, Prince states “owing to the boils in my feet, I was unable to wheel the barrow fast through the sand, which got into the sores, and made me stumble at every step; and my master, having no pity for my sufferings from this cause, rendered them far more intolerable, by chastising me for not being able to move so fast as he wished me” (16).   Equiano, on the other hand, focuses much more on the mental turmoil of being treated as inferior, of being denied the opportunity to assimilate, and of not having the same freedom to build a life and support himself.  For example, Equiano declares “But I have served him, said I, many years, and he has taken all my wages and prize money, for I only got one sixpence during the war; besides this I have been baptized; and by the laws of the land no man has a right to sell me: and I added, that I had heard a lawyer, and others at different times, tell my master so” (94).  The consequence of Prince’s physical suffering is emotional suffering and questioning.  As we see in the quote above, she talks about how her master’s lack of pity “rendered them [her physical sufferings] far more intolerable” (16).   She often wonders as well why the hearts of white people are so hard.  My favorite quote is “the stones and timbers were the best things in it; they were not so hard as the hearts of the owners” (9).

(2) How might we consider the issue of gender with regard to slavery? What jobs are open to all genders?  What jobs are deeply gendered in performance?

Slavery is gendered; the tasks are split up according to the gender of the slave.  The plantation work is open to both genders, while the work onboard a ship is dominated by males, as we see in Equiano, and females dominate housework and childcare.  Prince admits, for instance, “the next morning my mistress set about instructing me in my tasks.  She taught me to do all sorts of household work: to wash and bake, pick cotton and wool, and wash floors, and cook” (10).  She is also responsible for childcare as we see in the beginning and the laundry as we learn later.

(3) We have spent a great deal of time discussing the body in Equiano, how does the body figure into Prince’s tale? How is the body conceived of by the individual and/or the master and how does this differ from the ways the body functions in Equiano’s tale?

In Prince’s tale, the master perceives the slave body as being no different than an animal body. The most griping quote portraying the master’s perception of the slave body is:

“At length the vendue master, who was to offer us for sale like sheep or cattle, arrived, and asked my mother which was the eldest.  She said nothing, but pointed to me.  He took me by the hand, and led me out in the middle of the street, and, turning me slowly round, exposed me to the view of those who attended the vendue.  I was soon surrounded by strange men, who examined and handled me in the same manner that a butcher would a calf or lamb he was about to purchase, and who talked about my shape and size in like words—as if I could no more understand their meaning than the dumb beasts” (7).

            In Equiano’s tale, the master seems to conceive of the slave as savage and uncivilized, rather than animal-like.  For example, Equiano states that his master say “the black people are not good to eat, and would ask me if we did not eat people in my country” (65).  Much of Equiano’s narrative attempts to dispel the stereotypes that white folks used to justify slavery.

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