Slavery and freedom in historical America examine the challenge that slavery posed to a nation that was founded on values of freedom and equality. By the mid-19th century, America had become like "a house divided against itself" as once quoted by Abraham Lincoln (Mack n.p). The nation was entangled in a domestic brawl over slavery that developed irresoluble tensions among the North, the South, and the West (Mack n.p). The paper will compare the key messages in Douglass's narrative of life and Equiano's Autobiography excerpt.
Excerpt from the Autobiography of Olaudah Equiano
Equiano was born in Nigeria and was kidnapped by African slave merchants at the age of eleven. He was sold to a European slave trader who was heading towards the Caribbean. Equiano stayed for a decade in the Caribbean and English colonies. He was later sold to a "Quaker" trader for whom he labored as a book-keeper on a slave ship (Equiano 12). Equiano started transporting slaves between the Caribbean and English colonies and was able to save up enough funds to purchase his freedom in 1766 (Equiano 35). The main theme in Equiano's autobiography excerpt is to react against slavery, and prejudice that many African-Americans slaves were forced to endure. Many opponents of the slave trade termed slavery acts by their slave masters as immoral, however, they did not view slaves from African origin in the same way as native Americans.
Equiano's autobiography gives an account of his African culture; on marriage, both spouses are normally betrothed during their young years by their parents (Equiano 47). A feast is prepared, and the two parties are enjoined together among their friends and families. Before they are married off, the groom is required to take dowry to the parent's bride in the form of cattle, land, slabs or farm proceeds (Equiano 49).
Equiano progresses with her studies and religious development autonomously, however, his visits to England are temporary, as he returns to the sea with his Captain, they begin the new voyage. The journeys are fraught with danger, and he outlines several skirmishes, and sieges throughout the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and West Indies Oceans (Equiano 20). He diligently serves Pascal for many years, with the notion that his master's kindness would liberate him (Equiano 12). When things fail to turn out as expected, Equiano starts to develop a notion that his new situation is as a result of God's punishment for his generations' sins. He also described the shocking experience of seeing slaves opt to kill themselves by jumping off a ship instead of continuing to live a life of slavery (Equiano 74-75). He states that enslavement in some cases can be worse than death. On the plantations, he is forced to endure beatings and lashings (Equiano 111). Even after he is liberated, he continues to participate in the slave trade by carrying slaves to different plantations around the world. This is different from Fredrick, who after being freed, becomes a strong activist against slavery and oppression of the black population.
The narrative on the Life of Fredrick Douglass Fredrick Douglass was one of the most intellectual African American thinkers of his time, notwithstanding his humble beginnings. He was born into a slavery family, and his parents worked on a plantation in Maryland (Du Bois, Frederick Douglass and Booker T 416). He spent his formative years working on the plantation, afterward, he was sent to work as a slave in the Auld household in Baltimore. Just like Equiano who was helped by a Quaker slave trader to secure a job and keep some savings which he later used to advance her studies and religious development autonomously (Equiano 12). Also, Auld helped Douglass to learn how to read and write. However, after spending several years working for Auld's family, he was sent back to the plantation, where he soon gained a status for fight and rebelliousness (Du Bois et al. 372).
In an attempt to tame his rebellious nature, the slave master of Douglass sent him to Edward Covey "a slave breaker" remunerated to instill discipline on disobedient slaves (Du Bois et al. 393). The interaction of Douglass with Edward Covey even strengthened his resolve to obtain his freedom (Du Bois et al. 397). He was finally sent back to Baltimore, where he learned the trade of ship caulking and attained partial freedom by employing himself out for work and reimbursing a weekly fee to his owner (Du Bois et al. 343). This aspect to similar to Equiano, who began transporting goods between the Caribbean and English colonies and was able to save up enough funds to purchase his freedom in 1766 (Equiano 35).
Douglass was able to seek asylum in the north with the monetary and emotional support he obtained from Anna Murray (a free black woman) (Du Bois et al. 415). While, there he was able to purchase his first copy, titled The Liberator by William Lloyd. He later participated in Lloyd's abolitionist circle and developed as an eloquent speaker for the black rights, addressing citizens across the nation with moving accounts of his encounters as a slave (Du Bois et al. 139).In 1845, he published a book titled Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass to spread his interesting story to a wider audience, and prove to them that he was once a slave (Du Bois et al. 335).
In a nutshell, Douglass's accomplishment of literacy was a crucial step in his struggle for freedom. One of the main readings he uses to teach himself is The Columbian Orator, a collection of texts selected for their elicitation of American values. The autobiography texts of Fredrick Douglass give an account of his early encounters of oppression, his rebellion, and eventually his heroic accomplishment of a fully freed sense of self-identity (Du Bois et al. 35). Accentuating the significance of literacy and active rebellion against slavery, he implements the American myth of the "self-made man" to bring the inclusivity of African Americans living in America.
In conclusion, both Olaudah Equiano and Fredrick Douglass had key messages that centered on slavery and freedom. The essay of Fredrick Douglass showcases his early experiences of slavery, how he rebelled against his slave masters, and finally the heroic achievement of becoming a stirring activist for the black rights. On the other hand, the autobiography excerpt from Olaudah Equiano displays his encounters of slavery, gives a brief account of his African culture and the prejudice they endured in antebellum America aside from oppression by the slave masters.
Du Bois, W. E. B., Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington. Three African-American Classics: Up from Slavery, The Souls of Black Folk and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Courier Corporation, 2012.
Equiano, Olaudah. The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano. Broadview Press, 2001. Broadview Press.
Mack, M. (1979). The Norton anthology of world masterpieces (Vol. 96). B. M. Knox, & J. C. McGalliard (Eds.). Norton.
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