The Life of Olaudah Equiano

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

The Life of Olaudah Equiano Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Since 1777, Equiano notes, his life has been more regular: he asks his reader to have patience as he draws to a conclusion. He was rather disgusted with his unfair treatment while sailing, so vowed not to return to it for a time. In London he saw one remarkable occurrence: a light-skinned black woman had married a white man, and their sons were mulattoes and had fine light hair.
While Equiano is glad to be back in a place where he (now) feels himself at home, the anecdote he relates suggests that he continues to think through the implications of racial difference in an unequal society, wondering if black identity might be mutable through generations.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
In 1777 Equiano was employed as a servant by Governor Macnamara. Equiano often asked other servants to join in prayer, though he was mocked for it. Then Macnamara told him he might have some success as a missionary to Africa. At first Equiano was wary, given his treatment during his last voyage to Jamaica. But Macnamara said he’d apply to the Bishop of London to get Equiano ordained, to which Equiano agreed. Equiano reproduces the letter of application written from “Gustavus Vassa” to the Bishop of London, accompanied by two letters of reference. But the Bishop declined to ordain him.
Even in England, where Equiano feels more at home than he did in Jamaica, his newfound identity as a pious, reborn Christian makes him somewhat of a pariah among the other people of his class. Still, Equiano is beginning to take on a new identity as a leader and as a potential intermediary between England and Africa.
Themes
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
In 1783 Equiano visited Wales and saw a coal-pit, but while he was there the coals fell in and he nearly lost his life. The next spring he decided to go to sea again, and he set sail for New York. The ship returned to London in 1785 and then shipped off again for Philadelphia; during this voyage the crew slammed into another ship, but managed to repair the ship in time to make it safely to America. Equiano was glad to see the Quakers, who treated the Africans so much better than other white men. He attended a Quaker wedding and marveled at its powerful simplicity.
Although Equiano has begun to settle down more and more, he cannot bring himself to entirely end his world travels, and he continues to embark on voyages throughout the Atlantic. Equiano is also gratified to learn more about the Quakers, who seem, like the Christians he met in Turkey, to share Equiano’s values.
Themes
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
After another trip to and from London and Philadelphia, Equiano learned that the British government had decided to send some Africans back to their native land, which he found an excellent plan. Equiano was chosen to be in charge, and while he first objected, saying that he would have to oppose any slave dealers he found on the way, he finally agreed to take the job. During his preparation for the voyage, he was struck by the corruption: already paid-for supplies disappeared, for instance, and many of the men lacked basic necessities or bedding. He informed the Commissioners of the Navy of these affairs, but to no avail. They undertook the voyage but arrived at Sierra Leone just at the start of the rains, meaning that they couldn’t establish themselves in farming. This expedition, he concludes, was theoretically sound, but was mismanaged.
Equiano is eager to be part of a mission that seems to have the best interests of Africans at heart (unlike so many commercial and political activities undertaken by British government), but the voyage is in many ways doomed from the start. This is, in part, due to the ways in which the trip’s organizers are so eager to use it for their own advantage. As a result of incompetence, corruption, and pure apathy regarding the destinies of the people involved, the mission fails. Equiano, though, concludes that in different circumstances, it may well be a good idea to send Africans back to their home.
Themes
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
Get the entire The Life of Olaudah Equiano LitChart as a printable PDF.
The life of olaudah equiano.pdf.medium
Since then, Equiano states, he’s attempted to help the cause of his countrymen. He hopes that the British government will restore liberty and justice to the slaves, and he asks that God give the British senators the light and liberty necessary to make such a decision. He argues that, without the inhuman slave trade, a system of commerce could be adopted in Africa so as to increase demand for British goods and promote assimilation to British manners and customs. Abolishing slavery would be thus a universal good.
The failed voyage has another effect, acquainting Equiano better with the situations of those of his “countrymen” who have not, like him, been able to establish themselves as self-sufficient commercial subjects in a society that values both independence and trade. Equiano uses his knowledge of such values in order to argue for abolition.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
Equiano argues that torture, murder, and other barbarities are performed against the slaves with impunity. It’s in the interest of all to abolish slavery, except those engaged in manufacturing chains, handcuffs, muzzles, and other instruments of torture. But if each African were to spend five pounds a head per year, the potential for wealth would be enormous.
While Equiano does insist on the humanitarian arguments against slavery, he also knows his audience and thus he recognizes that morality is not enough: he has to appeal to the potential for former slaves to participate in a burgeoning international economy instead.
Themes
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
In May 1791 Equiano sailed to Dublin and traveled around Ireland. After returning to London, he learned that editions of his Narrative had been published in Holland, Germany, and New York. In April of that year, he married a woman named Susannah Cullen in Cambridgeshire. He concludes that while he isn’t so vain as to think there’s merit in his narrative, he hopes people will consider that it was written by someone unwilling to adorn truth with imaginative coloring. If any incident seems uninteresting, his excuse is that it made an impression on his own mind, and affected his conduct. He has learned to look for the hand of God in all affairs, even the most trifling.
As he concludes, Equiano underlines the significance of the very fact that his writing is not “imaginative” or even interesting, precisely because he is eager to insist on its authenticity. He also highlights the ways in which every experience, no matter how unexciting, worked to make him into the person he has become, a person whose very character, he hopes, will be another argument against the perpetuation of the slave trade.
Themes
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon