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Social Isolation In The Interesting Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano

1339 words - 5 pages

Olaudah Equiano in his Interesting Narrative is taken from his African home and thrown into a Western world completely foreign to him. Equiano is a slave for a total of ten years and endeavors to take on certain traits and customs of Western thinking. He takes great pains to improve himself, learn religion, and adopt Western mercantilism. However, Equiano holds on to a great deal of his African heritage. Throughout the narrative, the author keeps his African innocence and purity of intent; two qualities he finds sorely lacking in the Europeans. This compromise leaves him in a volatile middle ground between his adapted West and his native Africa. Olaudah Equiano takes on Western ideals while keeping several of his African values; this makes him a man associated with two cultures but a member of neither.

Olaudah Equiano during his long journey is exposed to Western ideas and customs. Although he is initially frightened by them, writing "and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were go to kill me" (755), he eventually begins to see Europeans as "men superior to us" (762). In this change of perceptive Equiano begins to endeavor to emulate his more pale counterparts. To further this cause, he begins to improve himself through education. He embarks on a quest to read and write having already partially learned his adopted tongue some two to three years after he arrives in England. He is put into school by Miss Guerins while his master's ship is in port and while in her service Equiano is taught Western Christianity and baptized. He thus begins to take on the European religious character as well as the new Enlightenment ideal of self-improvement. During Equiano's service to Mr. King, he hears of a seer named Mrs. Davis. Upon first consideration of her talent, Equiano writes:

I put little faith in this story at first, as I could not conceive that any mortal could foresee the future disposals of Providence, nor did I believe in any other revelation than that of the Holy Scriptures. (777)

This view is very different from Equiano's own view when he had only recently been abducted from Africa when he perceived everything around him as magic. Lastly, Equiano absorbs the spirit of mercantilism around him while in the West Indies in servitude to Mr. King. For many years he buys and sells around the islands making steady profits until he is able to buy his freedom. His small commerce seems to be a microcosm of the larger commerce he is aiding with his services. He scarcely mentions any commerce before in his indigenous Africa.

Although Equiano makes a concerted attempt to become European, he retains his African innocence and purity of intent. Various cruel displays by whites on both Africans and their own people through out the narrative greatly disturb him because his vision of normality remains distinctly African. When Equiano is first taken by the Europeans he witnesses a...

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