Equiano, the Free Man Essay Example
Equiano, the Free Man Essay Example

Equiano, the Free Man Essay Example

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  • Pages: 8 (2086 words)
  • Published: August 7, 2017
  • Type: Analysis
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Black Trans-Atlantic writers are typically categorized based on their nationality, whether American, British, or African. While many authors fit within these categories, Equiano stands out as a writer who does not reflect an African mentality and has created a separate category for himself: he is considered an author of the "free" category. In his autobiography, like many other black Trans-Atlantic authors, Equiano discusses the difficulties and hardships of slavery. However, this is not his primary focus, but rather a record of his journey towards gaining freedom.

This essay will use Equiano's The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano to demonstrate his aspiration to be unique. Equiano's fascination with "white magic" assists him in making connections with his shipmates and achieving his educational objectives. Additionally, his education empowers him to fit in


with the "European world" and helps him gain freedom by being a reliable trader. As a result, he is able to make enough money to buy his independence.

Equiano's narrative includes the letter of manumission to symbolize his belief in earned freedom. He writes as a "free man" and wants to be recognized as such, rejecting the identity of a slave despite being African. Equiano was fascinated by European daily life, as evidenced in his writing. The title of his narrative reinforces this rejection of labels and desire for freedom.

Equiano's desire to learn about European ways helped him secure his freedom. During his middle passage, he was astonished by the anchor of the ship and said, "I was exceedingly amazed at this account... I therefore wished to be from amongst them," (Equiano, 55).

This inquisitiveness motivated Equiano to become a "freeman" and is further highlighted

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by his popularity amongst the ship's crew. To illustrate, Equiano describes his fascination with the quadrant and how the sailors noticed it and even indulged his curiosity by allowing him to look through it (Equiano, 57).

The passage highlights two significant aspects of Equiano's narrative. Firstly, Equiano expresses his inquisitive nature openly, and the ship's crew takes notice of it. Secondly, they appreciate Equiano's behavior enough to grant him access to their equipment. Equiano uses his curiosity to his advantage, a quality that Europeans appreciate. Equiano's fearlessness in expressing his curiosity to white men indicates a sense of personal freedom, which may eventually lead him to physical freedom, the ultimate goal he desires.

Equiano's willingness to openly display his curiosity to strangers allows them to see his true personality and dismantle the barriers typically associated with white men and their slaves. This creates a sense of brotherhood among the sailors and encourages positive feelings towards Equiano. Angelo Costanzo also recognizes Equiano's ability to transcend cultural barriers, stating that he was able to imagine his relationship with the world in a way that did not require him to conform to Western cultural norms. By treating Equiano as a younger brother, the sailors were able to view him as more than just a slave, which helped Equiano shed his slave identity both mentally and socially.

Equiano is no longer seen as just a black man striving for freedom, but rather as someone deserving of an education. This is why these men accommodate Equiano's inquisitiveness. Equiano's understanding of the world of the white men improves, thus highlighting his lack of knowledge before. This detail is extremely significant as Equiano's curiosity allows

him to gain knowledge that ultimately leads to his freedom.

Equiano's mental freedom, acquired through his understanding of European culture, becomes a foundation for his future endeavors. His curiosity and desire for freedom are evident in his writing, as he breaks away from the limitations of black Trans-Atlantic literature and strives for achievement.

Equiano gained insight into European life during his time on the ship, and his formal education played a significant role in his desire for freedom and sense of superiority over other enslaved individuals. Equiano's education was essential in two distinct ways. Initially, it allowed him to read and understand the European world in which he found himself. Additionally, his education served as a reminder to European individuals that their ancestors were once uncivilized and barbarous, just like Africans.

Equiano's statement, "Understanding is not confined to feature or color" (Equiano, 46), shows his ability to break free from the perception of being a barbarous man and become cultured like the Europeans. This helps him feel more comfortable and allows him to gain a better understanding of the new society he has been sent to.

The narrative places great importance on education as it provides a foundation for all future endeavors. According to Costanzo (3), a pivotal aspect of this foundation is the protagonist's pursuit of freedom. The manner in which he strives for this freedom is crucial to his growth as a human being. Once he gains a deeper understanding of his environment and becomes capable of taking on challenges, he will feel more self-assured, giving him an advantage in achieving freedom and feeling more human. Mental freedom is a precursor to physical freedom, making it an

essential component of the protagonist's journey towards complete liberation.

Education plays an important role in Equiano's attainment of freedom in two ways. Firstly, it allows people to perceive him as a blank slate or open canvas, which motivates Europeans to educate him and leave their mark on him. Equiano's eagerness and willingness to learn further encourages this, making his thirst for education a focal point for the Europeans. Equally significant was Equiano's trustworthiness, which enabled him to engage in profitable trade and earn his own income. As a result, he gained financial stability and independence, freeing himself from dependence on others.

Equiano placed great significance on two key factors: Trust, which played a role in securing his agreement with his master for the acquisition of his manumission paper. These two aspects were of great importance for Equiano, as they helped establish him as a credible and trustworthy tradesman. Despite being a slave, his reputation transcended this label among those he traded with.

This passage highlights Equiano's self-assurance as a man, rather than as a slave, and reveals how his trustworthiness played a crucial role in gaining his freedom. Equiano recognizes that without his master's trust, he would never be seen as equal, or even human. The agreement between Equiano and his master not only symbolizes Equiano's unique position, but also reflects his master's high opinion of him. The importance of this agreement is evident in the following passage, where the captain confirms every word that Equiano had spoken, much to his delight and surprise.

The content within the HTML tag indicates that the speaker was praised by their master for being intelligent and not used as a typical slave.


also planned to boost my morale by giving me credit for fifty gallons of rum and fifty-four gallons of sugar.

At some point in the future, I may be able to accumulate sufficient funds to buy my freedom.

According to Equiano (110), his master offered to sell him for forty pounds sterling, the same amount he had initially bought him for. This passage is significant because it suggests that Equiano's master values him more than a typical slave, as he is willing to defend him to another white man.

In the book Black Atlantic writers of the 18th Century by Adam Potkay and Sandra Burr, Equiano's belief in the importance of his freedom is recognized by his master. This is similar to the relationship between Onesimus, a runaway slave, and his master Philemon, who declared him a "beloved brother." However, unlike Onesimus, Equiano actively sought and obtained his freedom. Equiano's inclusion of his manumission statement further emphasizes his status as a free author. He shares the unique form of his manumission to show the absolute power one person can have over another. This solidifies Equiano's position as a superior example of a free author.

Equiano's inclusion of his legal document of manumission is a crucial element in his writing for several reasons. Notably, it highlights Equiano's determination to achieve his freedom in an honest and documented way. Though he could have easily just fled to obtain his freedom, Equiano wanted to ensure that he had official proof to demonstrate his status as a free man. This differentiation from other black Trans-Atlantic authors, such as John Marrant and Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, who do not reference a manumission document, lends validity to

Equiano's unique category as an author.

Equiano's inclusion of a manumission document was a unique idea, whether or not the document was provided. It can also be viewed as a letter to his black readers, serving as a manual on how to become free. In Angelo Costanzo's "Methods, Elements, and Effects of Black Autobiography," it is suggested that Equiano addresses his audience in this way because white readers may be skeptical of a black narrator and question the accuracy of their personal story. Therefore, the autobiographer must utilize all available resources to convey their message.

According to Allison (17), Equiano incorporated many conventions from 18th-century western literary culture, but also included occasional direct address. Costanzo (46) agrees, stating that Equiano relied heavily on traditional techniques when writing his narrative, as evidenced by his detailed depiction of trading and ability to trade slaves for his own freedom. Equiano described this experience, saying "While I was thus employed by my master."

Equiano was responsible for the sale of new slaves and had frequent cargos of them. In a confrontation with his master on July 11, 1776, Equiano used his own money to buy his freedom. He went to his master with money in hand and fears in his heart. These events are recounted in Equiano's book, with the quote "I used frequently to have different cargo of new Negroes in my care for sale," (Equiano, 93) and "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) further detailing the situation.

Demonstrating courage, the narrator's aim in this story was not to

establish himself as a renowned writer, but to assert his freedom and secure it. "This left me in considerable confusion because if I had to comply with this humiliating obligation...

Equiano expressed his disdain for the practice of advertising oneself like a slave when leaving an island, seeing it as a violation of the rights of any free person (Equiano, 137). This belief was formed when Equiano attempted to travel to Montserrat and was required to present a pass. The proof of his pass is now included in his narrative, sparing him from the degradation of proving his freedom. Equiano's documentation of his freedom serves to convey to his readers that freedom is achievable, and slavery is not an option. It is clear from this that Equiano is a confident and determined man dedicated to achieving his freedom. The title of his narrative, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, further underscores this personal perspective.

Equiano's unique perspective sets him apart from other authors who incorporate descriptive terms into their narrations. Instead of identifying as African, slave, British, American, or Trans-Atlantic, Equiano only sees himself as a man who gains knowledge and education throughout his travels. In contrast, authors like Frederick Douglass and Ukawsaw Gronniosaw incorporate their titles to differentiate themselves as slaves or African princes in their narrations. Equiano's intention is for readers to view him as a man who gains knowledge through his travels, which make his autobiography possible. (Costanzo, 46).

The categorization of Black Trans-Atlantic writers is often limited to three categories: American, British, and African. However, this approach proves problematic as Equiano's writings do not reflect an African mentality

and defy categorization. While his autobiography touches on the issue of slavery, it serves primarily as a recording of his journey towards emancipation. Equiano's fascination with "white magic" fosters relationships with his male shipmates and furthers his pursuit of education - a key factor in securing his freedom and viability in the "European world."

According to the text, Equiano's trading skills and reliability helped him earn money to purchase his freedom. His emphasis on the letter of manumission in his account signifies his belief in earning one's freedom. Overall, Equiano identifies as a "free man" and wants to distance himself from being perceived solely as a slave despite being African.

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