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Olaudah Equiano: Creating An Identity Through Christianity

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Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography, The interesting life of Olaudah Equiano, is a complex, historical piece of literature that enables the reader to see Equiano’s own personal experiences. Apart from being a historical piece of literature, Equiano’s narrative serves as a spiritual autobiography illustrating his conversions to Christianity. Religion may arguably be viewed as one of the major themes of Equiano’s fascinating journey. Upon arriving to England, Equiano became fascinated with Christianity, describing himself as “determined to be a first-rate Christian” (Equiano 74).

Moreover, many of the White Englishmen who constantly oppressed Equiano also identified themselves as Christians. However, through his own experiences, the reader reveals just how much of a massive role religion played in his narrative and in his own life. More specifically, the reader discovers how his religious conversion to Christianity signified a type of freedom that allowed Equiano to create a sense of individuality and self identity. This form of freedom could arguably be more important to him than his own freedom from slavery. Equiano presents his audience with an extremely thoughtful view on the role of faith and take a and how it very well may be utilized as a device to overcome even the most despearing situations.

Equiano is one of the most remarkable authors of his time because he was able to take the religion of his oppressors, make it his own, and use it against them to establish his own identity apart from the one that was taken from him.

Those who disagree claim that “[Equiano] knowing what his British and American audiences need in order to accept him as a credible narrator, uses religion as a mask for social critique” (Elrod 409). In other words, they make the argument that Equiano is simply using religion to manipulate his readers to accept him as a credible narrator. However, in a time period where most African Americans could not read or write, there were people who constantly sought out to discredit his narrative. Considering this, one can understand that it was vital for Equiano to use something that his American and British readers can connect with for his work to even be considered a serious body of work.

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In addition, others who oppose also question Equiano’s devotion to Christianity as a whole. They question rather he really sought out to tell the story of his spiritual journey, and if he truly believed that God would set him free. On the contrary, I disagree. Equiano does not use religion as manipulation for credibility, instead he uses it to enable his readers to familiarize themselves with him. Equiano’s Christianity is raw, deep, and very personal. Thus, emphasizing it throughout his narrative allows the reader to connect with him on a more personal level. Equiano’s move towards Christianity played a very strong part in forming his own identity against those same oppressors who stripped his identity away from him.

In the early stages of Equiano’s religious life, he identifies himself as being apart of the Igbo religion. According to Equiano, the Igbo religion were descended from ancient Jews and their religion was a modern survival of ancient biblical religion (Johnson 1003). However, he does not have conception of eternity. His religion spoke more to the thoughts of goodness and innate solidarity than to any thought of individual salvation. Certainly, there was no scriptural form of his tribal faith. As a result, he frequently thought of death as desirable over the contracted and resented the life he was living. Without direct contact to English dialect, reading and writing skills, and education, his future appeared to be disheartening. In some points of his narrative, he speaks of “an anxious wish for death” (Equaiano 37) and asks God to “direct the stroke of death” (Equiano 127) upon him.

However, after arriving in Britain, Equiano soon learned about Christianity and started to gain an appreciation for life. Equiano began praying to God and looked to God for guidance. Equiano states, “…I thought I could plainly trace the hand of God, without whose permission a sparrow cannot fall. I began to raise my fear from man to him alone, and to call daily on his holy name with fear and reverence…” (Equiano 113). Equiano uncovers the profundity of his spirituality, and the degree to which he traits the conditions of life to this divinity. Although his original views of religion consisted of views from the Igbo religion, which customs and manners are similar to Jewish people, it is clear that Christianity has a more powerful role in his life. It also shows that Equiano has evolved from the Igbo belief system of sun worship and magicians to that of grace through Christianity. Equiano takes the religion of his oppressors as his own, and uses it heavily throughout his writing to express his new identity and freedom from his oppressors. This is what makes Equiano one of the most remarkable artist of his time.

Furthermore, Equiano not only takes the religion of his oppressor as his own to form a new identity, he also uses religion as a weapon against his oppressors. In various parts of his narrative, Equiano makes an effort to shed light on the cruel slave masters who identified themselves as Christians. By doing this, Equiano displays how much dishonor white Christian slave masters brought upon the religion and how they misrepresented it. In his narrative, he exposes these “religious” slave masters as being devilish human beings. When describing an account where another slave tried to escape, Equiano recalls, “This Christian master immediately pinned the wretch to the ground, at each wrist and ankle, and then took some ticks of sealing wax, lighted them, and then dropped it all over his back” (Equiano 46). Equiano emphasizes that the slave master was Christian to show the reader that slave masters who identified as Christian, were not holy because they performed terrible acts like this, which is considered to be a sin. Exposing these “Christian” slave masters in his writings later paved the way for other Black writers to do the same. For example, half a century later in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Douglass expresses his frustrations towards corrupt Christians. Douglass states, “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason but the most deceitful one for calling the religion of this land Christianity…” (Douglass 118). More black influential writers help shed light on just how crooked these “Christian” slave masters were and this was all because Equiano tuned their own religion against and exposed them for who they really are in his writings.

Olaudah Equiano is one of the best authors of his time because he was able to take his oppressors religion as his own and use it against them in his efforts to abolish slavery. By emphasizing the development of his sense of self over time through Christianity, and arguing that white “Christian” slave masters were uncharitable and misrepresent what it meant to be Christian, Equiano establishes credibility and furthers his argument on why slavery is wrong and should be abolished. Equiano is a symbol of how a strong belief in salvation can help get through unbearable situations like slavery.

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Olaudah Equiano: Creating An Identity Through Christianity. (2021, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/olaudah-equiano-creating-an-identity-through-christianity/
“Olaudah Equiano: Creating An Identity Through Christianity.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/olaudah-equiano-creating-an-identity-through-christianity/
Olaudah Equiano: Creating An Identity Through Christianity. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/olaudah-equiano-creating-an-identity-through-christianity/> [Accessed 5 Dec. 2022].
Olaudah Equiano: Creating An Identity Through Christianity [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 15 [cited 2022 Dec 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/olaudah-equiano-creating-an-identity-through-christianity/
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