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The Life Of Olaudah Equiano: A Weapon Against Slavery

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The memoir The Life of Olaudah Equiano is a interesting and rare source for the Atlantic slave trade. When looking into the issues of the Slave trade it is rare to find any sources that are made by the people who were slaves themselves because they rarely had the chance to learn to write. Equiano is an uncommon example of a slave who bought his freedom and was able to learn how to write and in turn write a book about his experience as a slave. This unusual case led to Equiano’s memoir being used as a weapon against slavery. It was used to expose the awful conditions of the ships that transported slaves through the middle passage and appalling slave masters. It also was used to fight slavery with a very religious tone due to Equiano’s conversion to the Methodist faith. It challenges the idea that slavery does not align with virtue and makes himself, a slave, more relatable using religion, which in turn causes people to see slaves more as people. As this all is used as a weapon the whole book is a call to action that challenges slavery itself.

One of the most important ways that this source was able to battle Slavery was the inside view it gave to the experiences of slaves transported in the middle passage. These ships that transported slaves from Africa to the Americas were not regulated and therefore loaded to the max with as many slaves as the traders could fit. There were so many slaves on the ships that Equiano described them as “The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added tot he number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us” (18). This was part of the slave trade that many people did not see. The suffering and pain these people went through were brought to life in front of the readers eyes. Exposing these inhumane situations that slaves were being forced to live through brought to light just how bad the slave trade was and no doubt change many peoples opinions on slavery at the time, pushing the anti-slavery movement forward.

Another aspect of this memoir that is similar to the exposure of the terrible conditions of the slave trade was the information that Equiano provided that revealed the inhumane treatment of slaves by their owners. While he had owners who allowed him to buy his freedom he declared that, “repeated cruelties are the wretched first urged to despair, and then murdered” (42). This again gave readers an inside look on how slaves were treated and the inhumane conditions they were made to endure. Mentioning these insights about slavery also was used to demonize slave owners and attack them in the war against slavery. Equiano referred to the slave owner as tyrants and human butchers to describe them based on their terrible acts towards slaves. He also manages to recruit people to the anti-slavery movement by appealing to their ethos when he says, “They pay no regard to the situation of pregnant women, nor the least attention to the lodging of the field negroes” (42). As it is easy for people to feel more emotionally infested in the wellbeing of a pregnant women, the readers of this book would have been drawn into the anti-slavery movement.

A tactic that is also used to make this into a weapon against slavery is the act of attacking the definition of virtue and who that includes. Equiano, at one point compares a French family to a black family and asks the reader if they think there is a difference between the values of their lives (44). He also goes on to talk about human nature and how the natural believes of man and virtue conflict with slavery. To contrast between people virtue and how the slaves are treated “But is not the slave trade entirely a war with the heat of man?” (44). He challenges the idea that white men are superior to Africans because he doesn’t believe that they are unequal. This helps people see less of a dived between their races, which leads to many people leaning into the anti-slavery movement.

Another way to make people sei Africans and slaves as more than just a source of labor was through religion. Equiano because Methodist later in his life and he was very religious in writing this memoir. Many people at this time become to some kind of Christian church. This was a hard thing to work through for people who still supported slavery. However, when Equiano says, “I then requested the divine Creator that he would d gran the a small space of time to repent of my follies and vile iniquities” (78) and many other times he mentions God it make readers feel more equal to him because they belong to similar religions. This is also done by Equiano using and citing the scriptures in his memoir as well. It used to be that that slavery was justified by taking slaves from different religions but many slaves were being converted to christianity as well so people started judging off of the idea of race. However, doing this still helped people see Equiano as more of an equal which led to more people joining the anti-slavery movement.

Another way that Equiano was able to portray himself as more of an equal amongst white readers was that of his story to the Arctic. It may have seemed sort of random that he would have included his trip as a free man into the Arctic but I think that it was a way that he could show readers that Africans were just as capable as europeans to have a life of their own and explore life. I think it was also showing readers how Africans are capable of contributing positively to society as free men. This is shown when Equiano talks about the end of his travels in the Arctic were he claims that they explored more of the Arctic than anyone before them and they also found that there was no easy way to get to India (76). This gave an example of how slaves were just as capable of having lives as europeans and that they deserved to as well. This humanized slaves and pushed people to realize that slaves where people as well and that the system of slavery was flawed and inhumane.

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In analyzing all of these points it can be seen that the whole book itself can be seen as a promotion for resistance against slavery. It is a recruitment tool for the anti-slavery movement. It exposes the inhumane and unjust conditions that the slaves were put through. This memoir was largely used by people to make people realize the reality of what slavery was and just how bad it had become. I think that this belief is seen when Equiano says, “These are concerns which do not perhaps belong to any particular office: but, to speak more seriously to every man of sentiment” (103). This shows that Equiano knows that slavery is a problem that everyone should be concerned with. That is why he wrote this book, too make sure that people knew the details of how bad the slave trade was so each and every person could realize that they needed to do their part to end it.

In conclusion, this memoir was used to expose awful conditions the slaves had to endure on the ships and the inhumane treatment from slave masters. It also fought slavery with a very religious tone because of Equiano becoming converted to the Methodist faith. It challenges the idea that slavery does not align with virtue and makes himself, a slave, more relatable using religion, which in turn causes people to see slaves more as people. I think it was Equiano’s hope that this memoir would be a call to action for people to resist the slave trade.

Now there are people who believe that Equiano was not actually born in Africa but born in South Carolina. This changes a lot of aspects about his experience. First I would like to address that even if he didn’t experience being transported on a slave ship form Africa many of his experiences are still likely to have happened so I don’t think that they should be analyses with much difference. However, I do believe that if he had lied about that then there is the possibility that he could have lied about more. In this case I think that people should still take into account this narrative when looking at the Atlantic slave trade but just to approach it more hesitantly.

I think that it can also be taken into account that if he was born in South Carolina he probably heard many stories about slaves experiencing the trip from Africa to the Americas. In this way he could have written about it from his perspective when it was really from the perspective of a family member or friend. In this case it doesn’t make what happened any less true just seen from a different pair of eyes.

If he did lie about where he was born than maybe it was to make his memoir more of a propaganda piece to fight against slavery. Which I don’t feel the need to condone as something terrible because slavery was a bad institution that needed to change. I don’t think that this alone should change how we read his memoir because we know from other sources that a lot of what he described is decently accurate even if he wasn’t really there.

However, I do think that it should change the way we evaluate it. Maybe just reading this and analyzing it with the thought that he possible could have lied means that a reader would be hesitant to believe every word, which is what one should do in the first place. It is never a good idea to get all your information from one source, comparing sources and finding similarities also reveals the best conclusions.

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The Life Of Olaudah Equiano: A Weapon Against Slavery. (2021, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-life-of-olaudah-equiano-a-weapon-against-slavery/
“The Life Of Olaudah Equiano: A Weapon Against Slavery.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/the-life-of-olaudah-equiano-a-weapon-against-slavery/
The Life Of Olaudah Equiano: A Weapon Against Slavery. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-life-of-olaudah-equiano-a-weapon-against-slavery/> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2022].
The Life Of Olaudah Equiano: A Weapon Against Slavery [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 15 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-life-of-olaudah-equiano-a-weapon-against-slavery/
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