The Life and Opinions of Equiano the African

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Olaudah Equiano: The Author

Olaudah Equiano is the author of the book of The Life of Olaudah Equiano that was printed and published in 1989 by S. Mason. The 194 pages book is an autobiography of Olaudah Equiano that focuses on his life journey from captivity to freedom. The book revolved around the issue of slavery and had a significant impact on turning around the world perception of the slave trade. In the book, the author defends his identity and uses his life history to fight for the freedom of his fellow Africans who have been adversely affected by the effects of the slave trade and encourages his readers to support the agenda of the abolition of slave trade.

Summary

This book is based on the first-hand information where the author writes about his life experiences and the things he witnessed. Since the autobiography does not rely on secondary sources, it can be categorized as a primary source. The author chose a memoir to bring forth an argument that will be able to convince the audience of his humanity effectively. The book makes use of personal experiences of Olaudah efficiently in a way that compels the readers to develop a sense of compassion for the oppressed black slaves who continue to suffer as a result of the horrors of the slave trade and make them acknowledge the necessity of abolition.

Defending Identity and Reputation

The book begins with letters that seek to justify the validity and reality of Olaudah's narrative where he defends the baseless claim that he was born in the West Indies. He includes testimonies of other people in this edition with the aim of protecting his reputation as well as "put a speedy end to traffic both cruel and unjust" (Equiano 1). He made it clear to his readers that the testimonies would have been of no need if the defaming article by the oracle would not have been released to tarnish his name and silence his effort to speak for the oppressed African slaves.

Life in Captivity

In the book, the author uses his life history to give the readers an insight into what African slaves go through in the hands of their masters. Olaudah is an African born in Eboe Province in 1745, and at the age of 11 years he was kidnapped together with his sister and sold to slave traders who took him to West Indies via the horrendous middle passage. Pascal, the Royal Navy Lieutenant, bought him with the intention of giving him as a gift to his friend but later decided to keep Olaudah as an aid in the naval ship during the seven years war. During this time Olaudah learned to read and write as well as about the Christian religion while maintaining hope that one day he will be free. Upon learning of Olaudah's ambitions of freedom, Pascal sold him against his will to Captain Dorah who in turn sold him to Robert King a wealthy Quaker trader. King was a kind master, and Olaudah worked for him diligently and even though he always wanted to be free one day his moral codes barred him from running away unless his master mistreated him.

Witnessing Inhumane Treatment

King traveled on many occasions to West Indies and America taking Olaudah with him, and this made Olaudah witness the hardships that his fellow African slaves were going through on the plantations of their masters where they were subjected to inhumane treatment and severe punishments. Similarly, he realized that the Africans with freedom were worse than the slaves because they had no one to protect them and no right to justice. King also allowed Olaudah to accompany his friend Captain Farmer as a sailor on several occasions. At one point King and Farmer accused Olaudah of planning to run away, but when he proved he was indeed loyal to his master, King felt guilty and promised to lend him money to buy his freedom if he could raise 47 pounds.

The Path to Freedom

With the help of Captain Farmer Olaudah managed to raise an adequate amount of money to buy his manumission in 1766, and due to this long-awaited freedom, the author describes this day as the happiest day of his life (Equiano 7). Despite the freedom, Olaudah continued sailing with King and Farmer due to their kindness but this time not as a slave but as a paid steward. Olaudah travel brought him to many different parts of the world, and in all these voyages he proved that he was intelligent and a capable man because he knew how to read and write and he had also mastered navigation.

Fighting for Abolition

After encountering several shipwrecks that resulted in near-death experiences, Olaudah decided to pursue the knowledge of Christianity, and it is while on this quest that he met an elderly Methodist man who helped him to convert and join the Methodist church. Later he stopped working as a steward and a sailor and joined his friend Dr. Irving in Jamaica where he worked as an Overseer on a new plantation. After a short time in Jamaica, he got tired of life there and traveled back to England where he was offered a job by Governor McNamara working on a government slave relocation program in Sierra Leone. Due to mismanagement and poor planning, the mission did not succeed, and Olaudah was blamed for the failure. However, he was granted the opportunity to present a petition to the queen that called for attention to the criminal activities of the slave trade and requested for its abolition. In 1791 he got married to Susanna Cullen. In chapter twelve Olaudah gives a comprehensive explanation of why slave trade should be abolished (Equiano 12).

Analysis

The author portrays the hardship the African slaves faced while trying to tell their stories. Many slaves who might be interested in writing a book to narrate his life experiences and the experiences of other slaves found it very difficult at supporting the authenticity of their claims. However, since individuals could only give this proof by using testimonies from people with a high reputation such as Alexander Tollock and Reverend Baker, it implies that there was no respect for the blacks and no one was willing to buy their story because they are not considered trustworthy. The story of Olaudah is clear evidence of how the blacks and other minority groups were discriminated to the extent of being falsely accused to stop them from pursuing their agenda.

The book effectively uses the real-life history of Olaudah to show the reader the effects of slavery and how destructive it was to humanity. In the book, the author narrates about his life as a servant in the naval ship and the scenario where Captain Pascal sold him against his will. He also uses an example of the inhumane treatment that the Africans were subjected to on the plantations in the West Indies. These scenarios portray how slavery violates human rights and denies individuals chances of self-development. The masters did not view a slave as a human being with rights, but instead, they treated them as properties. Olaudah aims at instilling a sense of compassion and respect for human rights. In the letter to the British parliament, he stated that the primary objective of his book is to invoke a sense of compassion amongst the members of the august assemblies for the hostility that his countrymen face due to the slave trade (Equiano 1). This is an indication that Olaudah values freedom and is ready to do what it takes to fight for the abolishment of the slave trade that will, in turn, grant freedom to the oppressed African slaves. Therefore, from the autobiography, the readers can notice that Olaudah values freedom and he is fighting for the end of the slave trade that is causing more harm to the Africans.

By reading the book, the audience realizes that Olaudah has a dual identity. In the letter to the parliament, he is addressing two types of countrymen: the British, whom he shares the religion and culture, and the Africans, whom he relates to by birth and by blood (Equiano 1). The narrative portrays the author as a person with a split identity who has embraced the Caucasian religion, culture, politics, language, and morals and, at the same time, struggling to maintain his African identity.

Conclusion

The book of The Life of Olaudah Equiano is based on the real-life experience of the author as a slave and as an advocate of abolition. The author aimed at using his autobiography to advocate for the rights of the slaves by encouraging people to support the concept of abolition. I would recommend this book for history students and those seeking information on what transpired during the era of the slave trade and how slavery affected the Africans. The author has effectively used his life history to help the readers understand the importance of freedom and respect for human rights.

Work Cited

Equiano O. The Life of Olaudah Equiano. S. Mason.  1989, p1-194

November 13, 2023
Category:

Life Literature

Subcategory:

Books

Subject area:

Literature Review

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6

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1503

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