The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings Themes

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Equiano's Spiritual Life

Equiano filters many of his experiences through the lens of his religious convictions. Even in his worst moments, when Equiano faces death after a ship wreck or becomes enslaved after glimpsing freedom, Equiano believes that God has a guiding hand on the events in his life. In the debate between free will and determinism (which Equiano explicitly struggles with in later chapters when he is trying to find a formal religion), Equiano ameliorates his situations by coming down on the side of determinism. Thus, every hardship is perceived as a test, administered by God, to build character or reaffirm Equiano's faith.

God is very present in Equiano's life. When he "damns" the ship out of frustration when pumping water, he ascribes the subsequent near-wreck of the ship to his curse. God is even more in the foreground when Equiano is born again and converts to Protestantism. Equiano reports that he feels a great peace due to his intimate relationship with God, and that he no longer fears but in fact welcomes death, so that he might become closer to Him. Equiano can hardly stand to be around his shipmates because they take the Lord's name in vain, and a similar unease compels him to abandon Dr. Irving's plantation on the Musquito Coast, with its population of godless heathens.

Arguments Against Slavery

In several instances, Equiano uses his experiences (either first-hand, or as a spectator) with slavery to argue against the institution. In these instances, Equiano will temporarily abandon the current plot to offer different types of arguments denouncing slavery and calling for its abolition.

A large portion of arguments are made on moral grounds. In describing butcheries and mutilations of slaves—like an escaped slave's leg being chopped off or another being castrated, as well as in describing the inhumane indifference towards Africans, Equiano is appealing to a deep, instinctual part of the reader. Equiano additionally describes the pestilential, cramped conditions on slave ships to further this appeal to a kind of "gag reflex" in the reader, who Equiano hopes, will react with disgust and join the abolitionist cause.

Equiano also argues against slavery on religious grounds. He points out passages in the Bible detailing Christ's compassion or similar traits, and then describes cruel slave owners' behavior as contrast. Equiano's argues that no Christian person could find slavery permissible, as the institution contradicts several concepts at the core of Christian thought and teaching.

Equiano also attempts to find comparisons between Africans and whites. He claims that his tribe practices circumcision and other rituals similar to Jews in the Old Testament, and that Africans and whites are related, according to the Bible, through Abraham. The difference in skin color is ascribed to differences in environments only. By making a case that Africans and whites are not so dissimilar, Equiano is trying to combat the proslavery notion that Africans are innately inferior to whites.

Finally, Equiano tries to use economic arguments. He claims in Chapter 12 that the British would benefit from ceasing the slave trade, as abolishing slavery would increase the population of Africa, and a well-populated Africa would require British goods and services, causing Britain to thrive economically.

Freedom

It becomes increasingly apparent as the narrative moves along that Equiano chiefly values and seeks freedom, above all else. Slavery is the obvious impediment to freedom, and Equiano makes clear that no amount of "kind" masters or decent treatment changes the basic oppression and denigration of the master-slave relationship. However, it is interesting to note that, while Equiano will never mentally succumb to a master, no matter how kind, he does have a sense of duty and emotional attachment to his kind masters, most especially Robert King. Equiano makes it clear that, while he will perform the physical slave labor demanded by his masters as a pure survival tactic, mentally he will never be a slave or adopt the defeated slave mentality. So, in an important way, Equiano retains a kernel of freedom, even through the darkest days.

Equiano survives his various ordeals because of his commitment to freedom. His shrewd business transactions as he sells goods around the Caribbean for profit are not simply financial opportunism; they are an expression of freedom, not only because the money might buy his freedom, but because free men should have to right to conduct trade.

One of the ironies of freedom Equiano frequently points out is the "freed black man." Equiano receives his manumission and is thereafter emancipated as a slave. However, Equiano questions what this emancipation really means, and how truly free the freed black man is. Equiano is frequently cheated in business and other arenas because, by law, a black man has no legal rights versus a white man. The black man is not able to bring any legal action against a white man for perceived wrongs. Naturally, this legal reality is the direct result of the prevalent racism of the era. By calling into question the freedom of the free black man, Equiano demonstrates that equality is clearly not the same as the abolition of slavery, and so even the emancipated black man is not truly free.

This section contains 861 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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