Term Paper: Classic Slave Narrative, the Interesting

Pages: 5 (1752 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … classic slave narrative, "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African" by Olaudah Equiano. Specifically it will answer the questions: "In what way is Equiano writing a conversion narrative? What does that conversion entail?" Equiano's classic work was one of the first slave narratives ever written and published. Throughout it, his spiritual conversion is evident, and is one of the strongest aspects of the narrative. Equiano's work brought the horrors of slavery to the public eye, and showed how a spiritual conversion can alter the course of a man's life. Methodist founder John Wesley urged his followers to write their own autobiographies as "means to moral self-evaluation and spiritual improvement" (Taylor 31), and Wesley read Equiano's autobiography shortly before he died. This narrative also clearly illustrates how language and how a writer uses language have a major effect on the lasting power and effect of the work.

Author Equiano had many experiences to share with his readers when he wrote his narrative. He had served as a young boy on board ship for his English master. He fought in the French & Indian War alongside his master. He saw slaves mistreated in the West Indies, and was cheated out of the freedom he worked for by a dishonest master. He became a businessperson, traveled the world including the North Pole, helped resettle slaves to their native Africa, traveled and spoke out loudly against slavery, and wrote a narrative describing his many experiences that brought the horrors of slavery home to many. In the end, publishers (including himself) published twenty-two editions of his book, and it remained popular literary material even after his death in 1797.

Equiano's work contains many aspects of the conversion narrative. By the end of the narrative, it is certainly apparent Equiano feels he has attained grace in the eyes of the Lord, and that he does the Lord's work. From humble beginnings, he has risen to be a powerful voice against slavery, and more than that, he has become a Christian rather than a "heathen." He has learned more about himself in the process, and shown others how to save themselves and attain grace. All of these aspects of his work add up to a sensational story and a spiritual journey through life to attain ultimate grace. His narrative also follows the accepted stages of the conversion narrative, which include humiliation, vocation, exaltation, and possession. For example, he opens his narrative with the quote, "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid, for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation" (Equiano 34). He also writes, "[B]ut when I compare my lot with that of most of my countrymen, I regard myself as a particular favourite of Heaven, and acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life" (Equiano 41). These passages help illustrate both his exaltation at his redemption, and his possession of the knowledge that he has attained grace. This knowledge builds throughout the narrative until the reader understands the author's progression, too.

Later, Equiano exhibits humility and contrition when his master, who seems kind and loving, abruptly sells him to a West Indies slaver and departs from his life. He writes, "I wept very bitterly for some time: and began to think that I must have done something to displease the Lord, that he thus punished me so severely. This filled me with painful reflections on my past conduct" (Equiano 82). Here, he is ready to redeem himself in the eyes of the Lord by finding out what he has done to displease him. He does not blame others for his fate, which is an important part of self-discovery and eventual self-actualization. Equiano is on the road to salvation, but also to success. This part of the narrative shows how he begins to take charge of his life, never give up his beliefs, and begin to mold himself into the man he will become. However, he does not undergo full conversion until the tenth chapter of his book, when he shares all of his doubts, his education, and his final full conversion to Christianity and Jesus Christ. He writes, "I saw the blessed Redeemer to be the fountain of life, and the well of salvation. I experienced him all in all; he had brought me by a way that I knew not, and he had made crooked paths straight" (Equiano 145). When his conversion is complete, he throws himself into his work and his convictions with even more energy, and becomes a speaker, an abolitionist, and a representative of his faith.

The author describes his first service, and how it affected him, and this shows his contrition and humility. He writes, "After this I went to church; and having never been at such a place before, I was again amazed at seeing and hearing the service. I asked all I could about it; and they gave me to understand it was worshipping God, who made us and all things" (Equiano 65). This is the very beginning of his conversion, and ultimately leads to his greater understanding of himself and others that occurs throughout this work. He was baptized in England in 1759 when he was still a boy, and remained a devout Christian for the rest of his life. This guided his behavior and his convictions, and came through in his narrative, making it a true conversion narrative of the finest sort.

Equiano's work has always been considered one of the classic slave narratives, and that is one reason it is included in so many classic slave collections. Reading his work not only gives the reader a sense of what life was like for a slave of the eighteenth century, it gives a sense of the potential of so many of these men and women that was lost forever because of their dire circumstances. How many other slaves just like Equiano had the same potential and never had the chance to reach it? That is only one of the questions this narrative raises in the mind of the reader. How many slaves died cruel and unusual deaths and never had the chance to tell their own harrowing and enlightening tales? Millions, no doubt. It is a sad testament to a miserable time in world history, and that is another reason narratives live on in literature and the minds of readers. They raise moral, ethical, and spiritual questions that have no answers.

In addition, this narrative may have also been one of the first "rags to riches" stories that became so popular in the nineteenth century and beyond. Equiano, born in Africa and raised as a slave became a wealthy and influential businessperson and speaker. He fought throughout his life to end slavery, and left a legacy of wealth to his surviving daughter. His is a true rags to riches story of a man who made himself into a legend in his time. His task was doubly difficult because he was black, and had to fight racial inequities as well as his social status. He became an English citizen and traveled the world. He became a tireless representative for freeing the slaves, and even worked for the English government. His work was important, but so was his sheer ability to survive and thrive in difficult and sometimes insurmountable circumstances. His life proves that anyone can rise to the top with hard work, spiritual beliefs, and an industrious and inventive spirit.

Language and how Equiano uses it in the book plays an all-important part of this narrative. Like his spirituality, the language of the work helps it live on in the minds of the readers. For example, he writes of one of the naval battles he helped fight. He states, "The engagement now commenced with great fury on both sides: the Ocean immediately returned our fire, and we continued engaged with each other for some time; during which I was frequently stunned with the thundering of the great guns, whose dreadful contents hurried many of my companions into awful eternity" (Equiano 74). The words help the reader picture the furor of the attack and the grisly results quite easily, and this is the mark of fine language and storytelling. While he sometimes changes voices from third person to first person and back again, the language and the storytelling remain clear and constant throughout, which helps keep the reader's attention while making the entire narrative more interesting and exciting.

Equiano's descriptions are especially vivid and compelling, especially when he visits foreign countries. His use of the language helps to create pictures in the reader's minds that live on after the book is finished. For example, he writes, "I have seen many caravans from India, with some hundreds of camels, laden with different goods. The people of these caravans are quite brown. Among other articles, they brought with them a great quantity of locusts, which are… [END OF PREVIEW]

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