The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, is a narrative written from the point of view of a slave. Equiano, who is the main character, wrote about his experience from the very beginning of being entered into slavery until even after he bought his freedom. His tale starts at eleven years old and is carried over a span of ten years. Equiano never saw the positive of slavery and while reading we can see why he was against it based on his previous and recently acquired social class, his new found religion, and how he was able to acquire many skills needed to thrive in the New World.
From reading the text it is evident that Equiano has come from a family of high regards. He says, “My father was one of those elders or chiefs I have spoken of, and was styled Embrenche; a term, as I remember, importing the highest distinction…” (Equiano 3). His father held a very high position in his village so Equiano experienced life at a slightly higher caliber than most. As an elite member of society, Equiano had been exposed to slavery at an early stage. His family were slave owners but the definition of slaves varied from the version we see largely represented in this book.
One of his first experiences with slavery, he is baffled by the way they acted noting that they “ate without washing their hands” (Equiano 16). He is horrified by what he is seeing and is confused as to why they are doing such vulgar things. Another thing that seems odd to him is that “Their women were not so modest as ours, for they ate, and drank, and slept, with their men” (Equiano 16). Through his writing, you can tell that there is a certain level of disgust when he is watching and hanging around them. Equiano is used to seeing and living his life in a higher class where they are held to different and more “traditional” standards rather than living so freely and without cares. To Equiano, this is not the way he should be living his life and wants to revert back to his old ways.
Equiano’s view of slavery changed when he first met the white men. One of his first encounters with them he asks, “if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces, and loose hair” (Equiano 17). All Equiano knew about these white men is what people around him have said. While these white men treated all slaves horribly and treated them like dirt, the way Equiano thought about them was not any better. After he had settled down, he realized that they were not out to harm him in any way.
A tool Equiano picked up while on his journey was his use of learning and expanding his mind beyond just where he will be sailing next. He used his time to better educate himself, but more importantly he found himself edging towards learning about religion. Equiano throughout the book was traded and sent many ways on ships. One prime example is when he is sold to a new master that he is not in favor of and he writes, “I felt that the Lord was able to disappoint me in all things” “… I thought God might perhaps have permitted this in order to teach me wisdom and resignation…” (Equiano 40). He is thinking that he is being punished for misbehaving with past owners and for being dismissive when it comes to being open about his new owner. Equiano does not make his stance clear in whether or not he believed that slavery is looked down upon in the Bible. He doesn’t think that slavery is right but he then says that God punishes those who go against their owners; he makes it seem that his relationship with God and how he is treated among slave owners are similar and that if he goes along with what the slave owners want, then God will help him and not punish him for his wrong doings.
Even though he promised God he would no longer seek to upset his masters he still is planning on escaping and is speaking harshly about them. Equiano states, “He tells us the oppressor and the oppressed are both in his hands; and if these are not the poor, the broken-hearted, the blind, the captive, the bruised, which our Saviour speaks of, who are they?” (47). God is saying that both the captive and the masters are at his mercy. Both the oppressed and the oppressors come from the same two people, so who are they to say who is more worthy or who gets a higher title if they are all held in the same hand? This also shows that the Bible speaks of freedom from captivation and compares it a story that runs parallel to slavery.
Lastly, Equiano was able to acquire multiple skills while traveling the world. He was able to meet many different types of people and then pick up on their crafts to better his skills for when he would finally be able to be free. While working for a man, he asked what skills Equiano had to offer because he did not want to treat him like an ordinary slave, Equiano claims, “I told him I knew something of seamanship, and could shave and dress hair pretty well; and I could refine wines, which I had learned on shipboard… and that I could write and understood arithmetic tolerably well as far as the Rule of Three” (43). Being able to pick up these skills he thought was fundamental to helping with his life post-slavery.
During his many voyages, a shift might possibly be seen in which he goes from slavery is wrong and trying to prove that to him just trying to survive and buy his way out so he can start his real life. He also tries to bring the economy into his argument about abolishing slavery. “As the inhuman traffic of slavery is to be taken into the consideration of the British legislature, I doubt bot, if a system of commerce was established in Africa, the demand for manufacturers would most rapidly augment…” (118). He thinks that if they secure land in Africa then they will be able to thrive more as a country because of the good that are native to Africa. Another key point he made was how eager the British were to stay first in discoveries and with that drive they could be open of the first to step foot on uncharted territory when it came to the trade game and finding new things to bring back to Europe.
Equiano’s narrative was an eye-opening story that told the life of a slave from start to end. He once was part of a family of slave owners but then, once entered into the slave population, he saw how corrupt and mistreated they actually were. Using his experience from his previous social class and his then his new one when he entered slavery, his new found religion, and his new skills he picked up while in the slave trade, Equiano was able to see how and why slavery was so corrupt and why it needed to end. Unlike many Equiano came from a family or great wealth and popularity but unfortunately fell into poverty, but came up victorious and that is why this book is so important to read. Just like Equiano stated, we all come from the same hands, so what makes one person better than the nex