Amitav Ghosh the Hungry Tide and the Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano

Topics: Ocean, Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano Pages: 13 (5081 words) Published: May 10, 2012
Both The Hungry Tide and The Interesting Narrative Of Olaudah Equiano are tales of sociological hardships combined with a life bound to the sea. The ocean plays a significant role in the text offering disempowerment to some whilst empowering others. In The Interesting Narrative the slave trade was in full swing and a capitalist attitude heavily dominates the text, whilst in The Hungry Tide capitalism plays a smaller role and the humanitarian backdrop of the story is a more central theme. In this essay I will draw into focus the various ways in which the ocean is represented as empowering and disempowering to the lives of characters looking at them as they develop through the text and contrasting their empowerment against that of others. These themes will involve the effects of the ocean on traditional communities, the ocean as a tool for capitalist purposes and the empowerment of the ocean in relation to a spiritual life. Both of these texts were written with humanitarian objectives in mind and so I will also conclude on how the empowering or disempowering effects of the ocean are used towards such purposes. By exploring these themes I will come to a conclusion as to whether there is a pattern in the empowering or disempowering aspects of the ocean or whether there is something else at work. The African community finds the ocean heavily disempowering, as it is what separates them from their homeland and families. In his first experience at sea Equiano notes his despair ‘I now saw myself as deprived of all chance of returning to my native country, or even the least glimpse of hope of gaining the shore.’[1] Equiano uses the words ‘deprived’[2] and talks of the loss of hope which clearly express the disempowerment he experiences by the ocean. The ocean for him is an entirely unfamiliar territory, which leaves him very isolated and Equiano recognizes that it is at sea that all hope of being reunited with his family is lost, as on land there was at least the possibility to travel back home. The ocean therefore can be seen as disempowering to the traditional African people as it is the means by which African people are definitively removed from their homeland and families. Conversely the settlers in The Hungry Tide see the ocean as an empowering constitution to the traditional people’s lives. This is to the extent that when they are apart from it they feel highly disempowered. On talking of life on the mainland Kusum says ‘no matter how we tried, we just couldn’t settle there: rivers ran in our heads, the tides were in our blood.’[3] The ocean is part of their homeland and to be removed is disempowering. Nishi Pulugurtha supports this saying that ‘the people had always been a part of that environment.’[4] It is something that all the settlers felt and the healthy community that the sea offers them is seen in Kusums description; ‘These were my people […] they too had hankered for our tide country mud; they too had longed to watch the tide rise to full flood.’[5] The description here of mud and a tide at full flood connotes the healthy environment that the tide country offers the settlers. The ocean can therefore be seen as highly empowering to the settler’s community. To be separated from the ocean results in the same feelings of depravity experienced by Equiano when he is first at sea. However, whilst the ocean to the settlers is a place of freedom and empowerment to the community, the modern forces use the ocean to reverse this empowerment and make the sea a place of disempowerment in order to fit their objectives. The government used the ocean to imprison the settlers on the island by setting up a policed perimeter on the ocean, effectively keeping them captive. ‘Marichjhapi was now completely encircled by police boats; it was all but impossible to get in or out.’[6] Words like ‘completely encircled’[7] and ‘impossible to get in or out’[8] are highly disempowering words and...
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