Olaudah Equiano's The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, is the story of the eponymous real-life character, Olaudah Equiano, his life, trials, tribulations and journey from slavery at an early age to freedom. For Equiano, it seems that slavery is almost a metaphysical phenomenon. His entire life is essentially characterized by the different experiences relating slavery, from Africa to the Middle Passage to plantation life in the West Indies and United States. Equiano’s views on slavery are tough to articulate and truly complex. Throughout the novel he makes reference to different ‘degrees of slavery,’ at times condemning the practice, and at other times contradicting himself and seemingly lauding it. I believe that his conflicting views are products of his first hand experience with nearly all aspects of the practice, and near the end of the novel it is clear that he is in favor of ending slavery.
Although he was kidnapped at the age of eleven, Equiano’s familiarity with slavery actually begins long before that. Born in a region that is today known as Nigeria. His father a chief, (and ironically himself would eventually reach the same status if not for his kidnapping years later), Equiano’s family was considered ‘upper-class,’ and thus owned their own number of slaves. I believe that this is the beginning and serves as the basis of which he compares the slavery he experiences later in his lifetime to, and also what may serve as the beginning of his conflicting emotion towards the practice in general. He makes note that slaves in this community, while under the direction of a master and with clear distinction of a ‘lesser importance,’ are still treated in a humane way. On his own account, these slaves do a comparable amount of work to that of other members of the community. When put into perspective, with no knowledge of what’s to come (in regards to subsequent experiences in different...
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