He wrote his narrative in order to teach his readers about the horrors and atrocities that took place every day to people just like him in the hopes that he could advance the movement against the slave trade. In order to do this, Equiano focused not only on the physical journey he took, but the spiritual journey as well. His expedition, from Africa to enslavement to freedom, closely corresponds to his spiritual journey, from ignorance to conversion to religious completion.
This allowed his readers to understand his struggles in a way that was more familiar to them, which tied a closer bond between the reader and the author. Since his readers could relate to the two separate but intertwined journeys, Equiano could now enlighten his readers on the revulsion of the slave trade just as he was enlightened through Christianity. Colonial North America was a brand new world, where the opportunities for wealth were plentiful, ever-present, and over-powering and the slave trade was a direct result of man’s greedy drive for wealth.
It took over one hundred years for slavery to be abolished, but Equiano’s journey, both physical and spiritual, presented to the world the true dreadfulness behind the slave trade, a paramount mistake on mankind. Equiano opens his narrative with a description of his native African culture, including the customs of clothing, family, food, war, and religious practices. Equiano describes Africans as “rude and uncultivated” (43) and that all are “ignorant of their language, religion, manners and customs. (44) His time in Africa ties into his religious ignorance as he suggests that Africans could be the indirect relatives of Christian Europeans. Although this could be considered accurate from today’s standpoints, in the colonial era, this would be taken as an ignorant, blasphemous statement. The African customs and traditions were foreign to most of the world during this time and Equiano presents his former customs, particularly his pagan religious practices, as not necessarily a result of sin, but rather a result of ignorance.
Although Equiano acknowledges the coarse rituals of the African continent, he also notes the unfairness of this situation. “Are any pains taken to teach them these? Are they treated as men? … Did nature make them inferior to their sons? ” (45) While Equiano concedes the savageness of the African people, he still argues that slavery is as an affront to humanity, “Does not slavery itself depress the mind, and extinguish all its fire” (45) Here, slavery is simply shown as an imbalanced product of European greed and the opportunity of wealth the New World provided.
Next, Equiano describes his grim voyage through the Middle Passage and his eventual enslavement on a merchant ship for a British captain. After the ship’s arrival in England, Equiano is exposed to Christianity for the first time, “a great man in the heavens, called God: but here again I was to all intents and purposes at a loss to understand him. ” (67) As Equiano becomes more assimilated to European culture, he develops a deeper understanding of Christianity and is eventually educated and baptized.
Equiano’s entire enslavement is closely connected to his religious developments; as more time progresses as a slave he becomes a more erudite follower of Christianity. His religious conversion reaches its precipice when Captain Pascal betrays him and turns him over to be enslaved in the West Indies. “with contrition of heart, acknowledged my transgression to God, and poured out my soul before him with unfeigned repentance. ” (95) In that instant, Equiano gave his life to God and became as Christian as any of his readers.
Consequently, it is at this moment his life begins to turn around as he is sold to a kindly Quaker merchant who gives him the opportunity to make his own money in order to purchase his freedom. Equiano’s enslavement is filled with hardships and poor treatment, but is emphasized by his religious transformation. He shows his readers that even as an educated Christian, his life as a slave is meager and dangerous and he questions how Christians could treat others so grotesquely, “How he, as a Christian, could answer for the horrid act before God? (104) Once again, Equiano shows there are no boundaries that man, when blinded by greed, will not cross. After some time, Equiano acquires enough money to purchase his freedom and completes his long excursion to becoming free. Just as his physical journey becomes complete, his spiritual journey reaches an endpoint. Equiano now bases his life around God and “Now the Bible was my only companion and comfort. ” (191) When his ship picks up some men stranded at sea, Equiano takes the most impactful step in Christianity as he starts to spread the word of God. and took great delight in him, and used much supplication to God for his conversion. ” (203) Equiano links his freedom from slavery to his religious completion in order to help his readers fully grasp his journeys completion. Both are immense accomplishments, but the reader can more adeptly understand the end to a spiritual journey rather than the journey from a slave to freedman. Although Equiano is no longer a slave, he hopes his story enlightens readers of the terrors of the slave trade, just as Christianity had enlightened him to leading a life for God.
Olaudah Equiano’s slave narrative was one of the first published works of a firsthand account of the American slave trade. Equiano introduced the world to how slaves, such as himself, were treated on a daily basis. However, what makes his narrative so effective is the way he connects his physical and spiritual journeys together. Anyone who was to read his narrative would have a hard time relating to his physical struggles beyond his descriptions, so he effectively connects them with his spiritual voyage and struggles.
This allows the reader to connect to Equiano in a more relatable way and helps strengthen his case against the slave trade. Today, we can use his narrative to find out about what colonial North America was like during this time. The New World was, simply enough, a vast farmland with an unlimited crop yield and in order to harvest these crops, sufficient labor was needed. The quest for wealth helped formulate the slave trade, but man’s greed turned it into a business.
Colonial North America was a time full of growth and opportunities, all tried to take advantage as much as possible. Equiano was one of the luckier slaves and his life fits into the popular American success story of patience, hard-work, and endurance as important qualities. Equiano was enlightened through Christianity and he hoped the story he shared would enlighten the world about affront to humanity that slavery was. Over two hundred years later, we are still reading his narrative.