Captivity & Slavery in American Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

It is evident that in his case, he tried to improve his condition by looking at his captors as providing him with guidance, and it is in this perception that Equiano's journey becomes meaningful, both literally and symbolically, as he eventually improved his status in life by educating himself after being a free man.

Bozeman (2003) considered Equiano's experience as beneficial and resulted to Equiano's changed worldview at how he looked at slavery and British society (his 'captors). Bozeman argued that Equiano's worldview became "fluid," wherein

…he is exceptional among his contemporary British brethren: not only is he able to stand both on the inside and outside of the window of British society, Equiano can move efficiently between the two…Accepting the essence of who Equiano is, in the end, is to acknowledge the reality he was a living oxymoron perpetuating a simply complex life (62).

It is this "fluid" worldview that Equiano was able to remain resilient despite the worse conditions he experienced after being transferred from one slave owner to another. It is also notable that Equiano's trust in both his people and his captors remained even though he was betrayed by both, and again, it was his Christian faith that allowed him to carry on with his life without holding any grudge against his captors. For Equiano, he is on a journey, and for him, it is critical for him to reach the end, whatever the means he needs to go through to reach this end. As Bozeman attested, "Equiano's conditions are the exception, not the rule" (61).

Achieving Freedom of Mind: Rowlandson's 'Orthodoxic' versus Equiano's Fluid Worldviews

Rowlandson and Equiano's journeys highlighted how they prevailed in the face of a difficult undertaking, being held captive and experiencing both physical hardships and psychological trauma along the way. But their journeys are similar only to the point when they both remained resilient because of their Christian faith. Going beyond Christian faith, however, differences between the two emerged. In the previous section, it was mentioned that Equiano had a more fluid worldview of his experience with his captors, being a slave more than once, and eventually becoming a free man. Rowlandson was known for her consistent belief that the native Americans are savage people, and that her condition during and after capture was only attributable to God. Her 'orthodoxic' view of her captivity puts her in direct contrast to Equiano.

Rowlandson's 'orthodoxic' worldview 'paralyzed' her, in effect, from understanding, or at least observing, her captors objectively. Extant literature analyzing her narrative provided a more in-depth look into her seemingly strong subsistence to orthodoxy and depiction of native Americans as 'savage people.' According to Burnham (1993), analyses of Rowlandson's text showed that her "rhetorical treatment of the Indians as devilish instruments of Satan becomes more and more conventional and pro-forma…her awareness that her captors…are not personally especially malevolent, becomes increasingly evident" (Slotkin & Folson, as cited in Burnham, 62). This demonstrates that Rowlandson's orthodoxic worldview is a deliberate choice in order to further reinforce her Puritan identity to her audience (readers). Rowlandson's choice to remain orthodoxic in her views even if her accounts indicate otherwise is the reason why she was not able to achieve her journey to freedom of mind. This refusal to have a free mind in dealing with her captors perpetuated the popular notion that indeed, native Americans are savages, as most Puritans in her time believed.

Through his fluid worldview, Equiano is able to achieve the freedom of mind and body -- becoming a free man with a free mind. Looking at his experiences of captivity and bondage, Equiano developed the goal to abolish the slave trade, completing his evolution from being a slave to being a Christian, then free man, to educated man, and ultimately, an abolitionist. Carrigan (2006) looked at Equiano's evolution to being a free man with a free mind as a result of his 'involvement' "in the mercantile economy of early capitalist oppression" that "entangles him in a system of complicity from which no straightforward teleological accomplishment will allow him to escape, save abolition" (46). Equiano's recognition of his experiences freed him from society's limited expectations of him as an individual, eventually motivating him to advocate for a cause that is truly meaningful and significant to him, which is the abolition of the slave trade system.

References

Bozeman, T. (2003). "Interstices, hybridity, and identity: Olaudah Equiano and the discourse of the African slave trade." Studies in Literary Imagination, Vol. 36, No. 2.

Burnham, M. (1993). "The journey between: liminality and dialogism in Mary White Rowlandson's captivity narrative." Early American Literature, Vol. 28.

Carrigan, a. (2006). "Negotiating personal identity and cultural memory in Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative." Wasafiri, Vol. 21, No. 2.

Derounian, K. (1987). "Puritan orthodoxy and the "survivor syndrome" in Mary Rowlandson's Indian captivity narrative." Early American Literature, Vol. 22.

Equiano, O. (1789). E-book, "The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African." Nuvision Publications. 2007.

Rowlandson, M. (1682). E-text of "The narrative of the captivity and the restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson." Available at: http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/rownarr.html.

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