Equiano, the Free Man Essay
Black Trans-Atlantic writers tend to be placed into three categories such as American, British or African. Many of these authors fit nicely into such categories, and would believe that Equiano is just another African author. There in lies a problem, his writings do not reflect an African mentality, Equiano has made a category for himself, authors of the “free” category. In his autobiography, as do many other black Trans-Atlantic authors, he writes about the trouble and troubles faced in slavery. This is not the central motif of his autobiography, but rather a record of his work to earn his freedom.
Through Equiano’s narrative The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, this essay will illustrate Equiano’s desire to be in a category all his own. His curiosity with the “white magic,” helps him forge relationships with men aboard the ship and aids in his persual of education. Another aspect that gains Equiano freedom is his education which makes him a viable person in the “European world.” His ability to trade and be trusted, gains him the money to buy his freedom.
His inclusion of the letter of manumission at the end of his narrative, symbolizes his idea of earned freedom. Finally the title alone speaks for itself. These instances through interpretation, argue that Equiano does not fit in any of these categories, although an African, he is writing as a “free man,” wanting nothing but to be noted as free and to escape the persona of a slave.Equiano was very intrigued by the daily life of the Europeans.
Equiano’s curiosity with the ways of the Europeans aided him in gaining his freedom. On the ship of his middle passage Equiano notes, “I was exceedingly amazed at this account… I therefore wished to be from amongst them,” (Equiano, 55). Here Equiano is speaking about the anchor of the ship.
This curiosity was a driving force to learn more and to become one of the “freemen”. Another example of an account of Equiano’s curiosity and his favor among the ship’s men is quoted as followed: “I also now first saw the use of the quadrant; …They took notice of my surprise; and one of them, willing to increase it, as well as to gratify my curiosity, made me one day look through it,” (Equiano, 57).
This passage is important because it signifies two important elements in Equiano’s narrative. First, that Equiano is curious and purposely makes his curiosity known to others, “They took notice.” Second, is that these ship’s men, find Equiano’s mannerism pleasing enough to indulge his curiosity and let him use their instrument. Equiano seemingly uses his curiosity to his advantage in a way which the Europeans are able to appreciate. In regards to the first element, Equiano feels no fear of showing his curiosity to the white men, this lack of fear shows a quality of Equiano that may signify his personal feelings of freedom, which will in return lead to the physical freedom he is craving.
He feels free to show his curiosity, in an almost bare all to these strangers. This openness is what gives these sailors a sense of Equiano’s personality which helps to take down the barriers associated with white men and their slaves. This gives him a place in their brotherhood that encourages them to obtain positive feeling towards him. In Angelo Costanzo’s essay, he too sees Equiano as transcending barriers, ” defining himself as a bicultural man, he found the means to imagine his relationship to the world in terms that did not require his becoming either co-opted by or totally alienated from the Western socio-cultural order,” (Costanzo, 46). With the second element, these sailors have found Equiano to be a “younger brother” type, which sheds Equiano’s slave status. The mental shedding of Equiano’s slave status does several things.
First, he is now looked upon as a person who is entitled to learn, not a black man trying to become free, hence the reasoning behind these men appeasing the curiosity of Equiano. Second, it sheds Equiano’s ignorance of the white mans world. This last note is one of the most important. Equiano gains more by being curious than being afraid like the other kidnapped men aboard the ship. What he gains is knowledge that will in turn set him free.
By understanding the European’s way he is able to adapt and take advantage of the knowledge that he has gained. This mental freedom of Equiano is a building block for the rest of Equiano’s life. This is shown by his ability to illustrate to the reader his curiosity in the narrative. By this Equiano starts untying the boundaries of the genre of black Trans-Atlantic writers and focusing more on his need for achievement of freedom.
While Equiano was on the ship he had curiosity to teach him some basic things about the life in the European world. His formal education is one of the key elements to Equiano’s belief in being free and putting himself in another category than the others brought by the ship.. The formal education of Equaino is important in two very ways. First, in the most obvious sense, it provides Equaino with the ability to read and comprehend the European world he has been placed in. “Let the Europeans recollect that his ancestors were once, like the African, uncivilized, and even barbarous.
..Understanding is not confined to feature or color,”(Equiano, 46). This statement that Equiano makes demonstrates that he too can evolve from the perception of the barbarous man and become “free” and cultured, and become part of the world of the Europeans. This in turn helps him feel more comfortable in the sense that he is now able to capture a better understanding of where he is, and is not a complete stranger to the new society he has been sent to.
This is a key element in the narrative. This education will supply the backbone for all his endeavors. “A chief element of this pattern is the developing character’s search for freedom, but the manner in which he seeks it is important to his education as human being,” ( Costanzo, 3) Once he has a better understanding of his new surroundings and is able to endeavor all, he will feel more secure with himself which puts him at an advantage for concurring his freedom and feeling more human. It will lead to him to become fully free. His mental freedom gives him advantages to becoming and feeling physically free.
The second way in which education is important to Equiano’s freedom is that it allows people to see him as an open canvass. This idea of Equiano being an open canvass encourages Europeans to teach him, due to the fact that they want to be the first brush stroke on Equiano. He encourages this learning by being so eager and obliging, which makes his strive for learning a focus of the Europeans.Equiano’s ability to gain trust was another important aspect in the narrative. This ability gave him the opportunity to trade which in turn earned him money. Being able to have his own money put him in a situation in which he did not have to rely on anyone else for finical security, therefore, making him free of dependence.
Trust also helped procure an agreement with his master to gain his manumission paper. These two aspects are important for many reasons to Equiano’s. First with the ability to trade on the side, Equaino has established himself as a reputable tradesman. Meaning, even though he was a slave, he was not regarded as such with the people he traded with.
This notes Equiano’s mentality, he is confident with himself as a man not as a slave. Trustworthiness was what helped Equiano gain the agreement with his master to obtain his freedom. If his master did not trust him Equiano would never be considered man enough to be free. He would not be considered human. The agreement alone and his master’s opinion of him signifies to Equiano’s readers that Equiano is in a category all his own. The passage in which this idea/ agreement is of utmost importance because it shows the master’s esteem of Equiano:To my no small surprise, and very great joy, the captainconfirmed every syllable that I had said.
..on hearing mymaster immediately say that I was a sensible fellow, andhe never did intend to use me as a common slave…
That healso intended to encourage me…by crediting me with halfa puncheon of rum and half a hogshead of sugar.
..I mighthave money enough, in some time, to purchase my freedom..
.he would let me have it for forty pound sterling money,which was only the same price he gave for me.(Equiano 110)The reason this passage is so important is due to the idea that Equiano’s master is in a sense sticking up for Equiano to another white man. This shows that Equiano is held in a different light, he is not like a “common slave.
” Equiano has always felt that his freedom was essential and here his master views this opinion as well. In Adam Potkay and Sandra Burr’s Black Atlantic writers of the 18th Century, there is a parallel relationship with the runaway slave Onesimus and his master Philemon, “No longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother,” (14). This relationship appears to make Equiano’s relationship less unique, but with Onesimus relationship no freedom or plan of action to obtain freedom is ever given, making Equiano’s relationship far superior.The next aspect that shows Equiano’s category as a free author is his inclusion of his manumission statement. “As the form of my manumission has something peculiar in it, and expresses the absolute power and dominion one man claims over his fellow, I shall beg to leave to present it before my readers at full length,” (Equiano 120).
This is by far one of the most important aspects to Equiano’s writing in countless ways. To point out a few, at first look, this inclusion demonstrates to the readers how important it was to Equaino to gain his freedom in an honest and documented way. It would have been easy for Equiano to just run away and attain freedom in that manner, but Equiano, knowing already in his own mind that he was free wanted to obtain legal document that could be shown to anyone that he, Olaudah Equiano, was a free man. This in turn gives validity to the new category Equiano has placed himself in. By including this statement Equiano differentiates himself from other black Trans-Atlantic authors, they, like John Marrant, or Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, do not include such statement and make no reference to a manumission document.
Whether this paper was provided or not the very idea of including a document like this was unique to Equiano.Another way to take the inclusion of the manumission document is as a letter to his black readers, that this narration is a how to become free manual. In Angelo Costanzo’s “Methods, Elements, and Effects of Black Autobiography,” he conquers that Equiano addresses his audience in such a manner, “Because white readers might be skeptical of the black narrator and therefore suspect that the facts of the personal story were misrepresented, the autobiographer was compelled to use all the resources…
frequent use of stock convention…an occasional direct address,” ( Allison, 17). “Equiano emerged himself in 18th-century western literary culture and resorted too many of its traditions when he wrote his narrative,” (Costanzo, 46) This can be supported by Equiano’s detailed description of his trading, his ability to trade slaves in order to obtain freedom, “While I was thus employed by my master.
..I used frequently to have different cargo of new Negroes in my care for sale,” (Equiano, 93).Equiano’s confront his master on “July 11, 1776 in which Equiano buys his freedom,” (Aaboe, 198), “When I went in I made my obeisance to my master and with my money in my hand, and many fears in my heart,” ( Equiano 118).
This act of bravery shows his true goal in this narration was not to become a great author but to prove freedom and gain freedom. “This reduced me to great perplexity; for if I should be compelled to submit to this degrading necessity…
of advertising himself like a slave, when he leaves a island, and which I thought a gross imposition upon any freeman, (Equiano, 137). This reasoning came about when Equiano was trying to go to Montserrat, but had to show a pass. His proof of pass is now in his narration, he no longer has to go through the degradation. With this proof, this documentation of freedom, Equiano has given his readers a sense that freedom is obtainable, and slavery is not an option. This defiantly signifies Equiano is a confident, motivated man on a mission that will not be concluded with out the obtained freedom.The last aspect of Equiano’s personal category comes from the title of his narration, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.
This is important in one distinctive way, he does not refer to himself as African, slave, British, American, or even Trans-Atlantic. This distinction, although small signifies that Equiano does not see himself in any of these categories. Some authors like Frederick Douglass Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, here Douglass is in corporation both the elements of slavery and location. Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, An African Prince, Ottabah Cugoano refers to himself as a “Native of Africa in his narration, these authors incorporate these titles into their narrations in order to distinguish themselves as slaves, or other descriptive terms. Equiano has nothing of the sort in his title, Equiano wants his readers to see himself as a man who “journeys all over the world, thereby gaining knowledge and education that make possible the great work of his life: the writing of his autobiography,” (Costanzo, 46).
Black Trans-Atlantic writers tend to be placed into three categories such as American, British or African. The problem with this is that Equiano does not fit into any category, his writings do not reflect an African mentality. Although his autobiography includes the problems of slavery it was not the central theme, but rather a record of his work to earn his freedom. His curiosity with the “white magic,” helps him forge relationships with men aboard the ship and aids in his persual of education. Another aspect that gains Equiano freedom is his education which makes him a viable person in the “European world.
” His ability to trade and be trusted, gains him the money to buy his freedom. His inclusion of the letter of manumission at the end of his narrative, symbolizes his idea of earned freedom. Finally the title alone speaks for itself. These instances through interpretation, argue that Equiano does not fit in any of these categories, although an African, he is writing as a “free man,” wanting nothing but to be noted as free and to escape the persona of a slave.