The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, is a book that was written by Equiano himself and it tells of his biography and his life after being kidnapped together with his sister. Equiano was a famous African who participated in the British movement to abolish slave trade where slaves were taken from Africa to go and work for Americans. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano is a story that recounts a story of a child born in West Africa and was kidnapped into slavery at a very tender age of 11 years. This narrative explains Equiano’s journey to slavery and from slavery to his freedom. The author explains the torture and brutality Africans went through in the hands of their masters who were white. In the narrative, he also compares the slavery he knew back in his village and the type of slavery he experienced and also observed his fellow slaves go through. Furthermore, he explains his personal journey on slavery and how he wants it to be ended. When Equiano became a Christian, he learnt that all people are equal and thus slaves should be treated just like any other person because all people are equal before God. Equiano searches for his true self and identity throughout the book.
Originally, Equiano came from an upper class family in their village where they had slaves and through his experience with the slaves, he saw it to be very different from the slavery he and his fellow Africans were in. In his village, slaves were treated equally with the people they worked for (Equiano 19). They ate the same food and wore the same clothes as their masters and were even housed but the slavery Equiano was in was very brutal. He criticized this slavery because slaves were brutally tortured and mistreated and were never considered as fellow human beings by their master. Equiano critisizes the American slavery because they do not value their slaves yet they work for them and without them, they are not able to prosper. He never liked the way African slaves were treated as just a material item, they were items where their masters used to gain from them without even valuing their lives, and all they valued was what they will get from the work they do.
Equiano’s personal experience was very different compared to the other slaves because he received a better treatment compared to them. He was treated well and this can be seen where we see his first owner allowing him to sit at the table and eat with them the other slaves were mistreated and even sometimes went without food. In addition, he is given a supervisors position to supervise his fellow slaves (Equiano 60). As we read this narrative, we see so many slaves being beaten and even to death but there is no place where we encounter Equiano being beaten and mistreated like them. Equiano never suffered the way his fellow slaves did, in his slavery, he travelled a lot and met knew people and also he was even given a chance to study which no other slave could have been given. His personal experience was not harsh like the experiences of others.
Equiano never experienced very harsh conditions like the other slaves did. Even though he was sometimes mistreated he says in his narrative that he never felt any anger towards his masters no matter how bad he was mistreated. He knew deep down his heart that all that cruelty was going to end someday.
Through his narrative, Olaudah Equiano does not criticize the practice of slavery that much but he criticizes the slavery institution. Equiano had had previous experiences with slaves and he viewed slaves as fellow human beings who are there to work for their masters and so because of class difference, he believed that slaves were needed to work for the people of the upper class. Equiano criticized the slavery institution because he had gone through all single events of slavery and the experience he got, he blamed it on the institution because it needed to change on how slaves are treated. Equiano never liked the American slavery institution, he was trying to compose himself because he knew he was of a different class compared to the other slaves who even used to eat without washing their hands. In addition, Equiano was also against the slave owners and how they treated his fellow Africans. He even went ahead of planning to escape so as to go to the outside world and expose how these slave owners mistreated slaves and the cruelty they had encountered in their slaver (Equiano 196).
According to Equiano slaves were to be there due to class difference but the white slavery institution was very harsh on them. He hated the way the women slaves were treated. He was very horrified on how the women slaves who had been put under his supervision were raped in cages by the white clerks yet he could not do anything because he was still a slave like them and had to submit to his masters. The slaves were under his supervision and so even though he never went through the cruelties they went through he truly hated how the institution was very brutal on the slaves. Equiano was against the peculiar slavery institution and his plea in his narrative was that slaves should be treated in a good way or slavery should be ended completely (Nussbaum 59).
Equiano was very familiar with slavery at a tender age because he was from an upper class in their village but the slavery in his village was decent compared to the American slavery which was detestable. He was not against all types of slavery because he knew slaves were needed to work for those in the upper class but was against the cruelty and torture the slaves went through in the hands of the white people. He hated the slavery institution for not changing the treatment slaves should be given and this led to his plea to end slavery. According to Equiano, in his village, class status was an excuse why people needed slaves because they needed workers but on the other side where he happened to be a slave, Africans were despised and that is why they were taken as slaves to work for the whites. They were mistreated because they were blacks and were only considered as material items.
Olaudah Equiano criticized and condemned the slavery institution especially with the texts form the bible ” do to others as you would them do to you ” he never liked the way the slaves were mistreated and he wondered what if their masters were treated the same way? (Equiano 178). Equiano criticized the slavery institution in a Christian view saying that it is an unbending institution that can only be overcome through hope in Christianity and people adopting the bible, he was against the slavery institution and wanted it to end so that Africans can be set free.
Olaudah, Equiano. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Yassa, Written by Himself. New York: St.Martin’s Press, 1995.Print.
Nussbaum, Felicity A. “Being a Man: Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho.” Genius In
Bondage: Literature of the Early Black Atlantic. Ed. Vincent Carretta and Philip Gould, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001. 52-59. Print.