The Life of Olaudah Equiano

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The Life of Olaudah Equiano Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Equiano vowed never to return to Georgia, given the way he was treated there. He enjoyed Martinique, and he noticed that the slaves were treated better there. He wanted to go to Montserrat to say goodbye to Mr. King before returning to England with the July fleet, a periodic summer journey from Montserrat to England, but he was delayed because he had lent Phillips some money, which Phillips now refused to pay back. Throughout this area no black man’s testimony was admitted against a white person, so Equiano had no way to recover the money. He continued to argue with Phillips, and their relationship deteriorated.
Although Equiano had avoided Jamaica because he feared the way he’d be treated there, it turns out that Georgia has been even worse. He finally prepares to make his way back to England, but once again he is stymied by his lack of rights and opportunities as a black man. Even as a free man, Phillips can refuse to pay him without fearing retribution.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
Finally, that summer, Equiano got his money and he arrived in St. Kitt’s on July 19th. He wanted to take the next ship to Montserrat, but the captain refused to take him until he “advertised” himself, that is, gave notice he was leaving. This was something required of a slave, and it felt enormously degrading to Equiano. At the last minute, Equiano encountered a gentleman he knew from Montserrat, who interceded in his favor with the captain. They set sail and after six months he saw his friends and Mr. King once again. King expressed sorrow that Equiano was leaving for London, and he asked Equiano to stay; in awhile, he said, Equiano could have land and slaves himself. Equiano thanked King but declined, and asked him for a certificate of his behavior in his service, which King was happy to give. After expressing his sincere gratitude, Equiano prepared to leave on the 26th, bidding a happy farewell to Montserrat with its torturous treatment of prisoners, offenses against women, and stormy surf.
Part of the restriction placed on slaves is the inability to move around freely; slaves had to account for their location at all times. Having clawed his way into liberty himself by following the rules and the logic of the slave owners’ society, Equiano is eager to distance himself from any kind of association with his former bondage. Equiano has also learned that, given such entrenched racism and prejudice, it can often be in his best interest to rely on the help of white people, even if he has grown independent and self-sufficient himself. The certificate of good behavior he obtains is a similarly pragmatic achievement in a society that values the word of white people more than black people.
Themes
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
After seven weeks they arrived in London, where Equiano was stunned to immediately receive his wages. He went in search of the Miss Guerins, whom he regaled with tales of his travels, including the sorry role of their cousin, Pascal, who had betrayed Equiano and sold him to Doran. For his part, Pascal was taken aback when Equiano encountered him in London. However, Pascal seemed not at all repentant, and when Equiano accused him of treating him wrongly, Pascal turned and walked away. Equiano met Pascal once more at Miss Guerin’s house, where he asked for the prize money: Pascal refused to give it, daring Equiano to bring a lawsuit against him.
Equiano has grown so used to unequal treatment that being treated fairly comes as a shock to him. His relationship to the family that includes the Miss Guerins and Pascal is ambivalent: he continues to be loyal to the women and grateful for their role in his education, but their cousin continues to treat him poorly.
Themes
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
The Miss Guerins were curious to know what Equiano wanted to do in life, and he asked if they might know someone who could teach him a trade. They helped place him with a hair dresser in Coventry Court, where he spent close to six months learning how to dress hair. Equiano enjoyed it, and was happy not to be idle. In February 1768 Equiano was hired by Dr. Charles Irving, a kind master who allowed him to attend school in the evenings. But the wages were so small that Equiano decided to go to sea again for a time to make more money. Wanting to see Turkey for the first time, he met a man hiring a ship to go there, which was in need of a man who could dress hair: Equiano got the job.
Daniel Queen had taught Equiano to dress hair years earlier, and now Equiano’s strategic insistence on becoming independent and making a living for himself has paid off. As a free man, influenced by the culture around him, Equiano has embraced the values of commercial European society, including the high value it places on wealth attained through self-sufficient labor and trade. Equiano fits into this framework as an upwardly-mobile man of commerce.
Themes
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
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On a ship called the Delaware, they sailed first to France and Italy, and then to Smyrna, an ancient Turkish city rich in food and with a population generally kind to black people. Equiano was surprised to very rarely see women, and when he did they were covered head to toe with a veil. He also noticed that Greeks were kept in servitude to Turks, like blacks elsewhere were to whites.
For Equiano, voyages by sea are a chance for him to see the world and to make money. He has been sensitive to cultural difference ever since he was forcibly thrust from one culture into another: here he recognizes the different ways inequality can take shape.
Themes
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
After returning from Turkey to England, the group went to Portugal for Carnival, where Equiano saw a number of remarkable sights. They sailed afterwards to the Mediterranean, where Equiano was impressed by Genoa and Naples. In Italy, they happened to see an eruption of Mount Vesuvius—ashes fell on their deck—and they soon left for Smyrna again. In Smyrna, the plague broke out, so they didn’t load any more goods until it had passed. On the way back to England a cook overset the pan and accidentally started a fire, but they managed to put it out without too much trouble.
These pages again take on some of the tone and structure of a travel narrative, as Equiano relates the sights and sounds of the foreign places he visits, interspersed with interesting anecdotes. This chronicle, however, serves less the interest of describing such places and more to imply how much these experiences came to forge Equiano’s own identity.
Themes
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
In 1771 Equiano returned in another ship to the West Indies. There, a white man bought some of his goods but refused to pay him, threatening him instead. Equiano complained to a justice of the peace, but found that, as a black man, he had no recourse. However, this white man was also indebted to three white sailors, so together Equiano and the sailors went to the man’s house and threatened him. The man finally offered a paltry sum, which they accepted.
As soon as Equiano returns to the West Indies, he is subject once again to degrading injustice; here, though, as elsewhere, Equiano knows that it may be in his best interest to work within a prejudiced system in order to survive as best he can. He does this by allying with white sailors.
Themes
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
A month later they returned to England, but Equiano still felt eager to see the world, so he left again for Jamaica, where he found the blacks desperately subjugated. He saw some black men who were employed in flogging others, and he witnessed many cruel punishments. There, too, Equiano struggled to get payment from a white man for his goods. Upon his next return to England, he was sick of the sea so he worked for Dr. Irving, his old master, for at time.
Throughout his narrative, Equiano has noted internal differences within the slave trade, even as he’s sought to insist that conditions of enslavement are degrading throughout the world. Sometimes Equiano emphasizes the importance of universal abolition, and at other times he emphasizes working within the system.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
In May 1773, though, Equiano decided to travel again and he was hired as part of an expedition to seek a passage to India through the North Pole. Equiano was given a small room on the ship and one night while writing in his journal his candle lit a thread of tow lying nearby. Equiano was in the midst of flames and he was at the very edge of death when the others managed to put out the fire.
As a sailor throughout the world, Equiano has been in dangerous situations and has more than once come quite close to death. This variety of experience has in part led to his embrace of Christianity and of Providence in order to make sense of it.
Themes
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
On the ship Equiano began to use an apparatus invented by Dr. Irving to make saltwater fresh. On June 28th they arrived in Greenland, where the sun never set, and the weather grew frigid. Throughout this time they killed bears and other animals, including sea horses. By August, however, Equiano’s ship and its partner were nearly shut in by two huge sheets of ice, and they were in danger of being squeezed to pieces. The sailors sawed into some of the ice around them; at one point Equiano nearly fell in and drowned.
The expedition is meant to try to find a more efficient and productive trade route between England and India, but what the seamen assumed would be a commercial venture has now turned into one that is imperiling their lives. This is a classic example of nature (or what Equiano would call Providence) paying little heed to humans’ desires.
Themes
Selfhood Theme Icon
The sailors knew themselves to be constantly in danger of perishing, and Equiano spent a great deal of time thinking about eternity and fearing death. Even former blasphemers now began to call on God for help. Finally, after 11 days of being trapped by the ice, the wind shifted course, the weather grew milder, and the ice began to break on its own. The ship slowly made its way back into the open sea and away from the most desolate area of the world. Their Arctic voyage ended after four months; they had reached further north than any other sailors, but they had also proved the near impossibility of finding a northern passage to India.
The shift from a story of commerce and trade to one of existential dread can be mapped onto Equiano’s own trajectory, as he both embraces the goals of commercial success and wealth, and worries about the state of his soul and the potential punishment by God for his sins. For now, Equiano is still struggling to find a way to reconcile these two aspects of his identity and wondering if they are compatible.
Themes
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon