The Life of Olaudah Equiano

The Life of Olaudah Equiano Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
More than ever Equiano wanted to return to England, but in response to Mr. King’s entreaties, he resolved to go on another voyage to Georgia, since the mate was still ill. Under a new captain, William Phillips, they took slaves and set sail. Three nights in a row Equiano dreamed of a shipwreck in which he saved all on board; one of these evenings, when he was tired at the pump, he had cursed at the task. On the third night the navigator pointed out a grampus to Equiano, who realized that it was actually a rock. Equiano told Philips, who seemed unperturbed, but as the ship approached Equiano became alarmed and lost his patience: he finally got the captain above deck, but it was too late: the ship struck the rocks.
Although a free man, Equiano remains dependent on being hired by someone whom he can trust to pay him fairly and to treat him kindly. During this voyage, though, Equiano slips from his attempts to be holy, which include refraining from taking God’s name in vain. The rest of this anecdote is, Equiano suggests, Providence’s way of intervening as a warning to those who fail to be properly spiritual and reverent towards God.
Themes
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Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Suddenly, as the ship was dashed on all sides, Equiano felt that the wrath of God was at hand: he vowed that, if saved, he’d never swear again. With a small shred of hope that God would save them, he began frantically to think what might be done. Phillips ordered the hatches nailed down over the hold, where the slaves were kept: knowing they’d be killed, Equiano thought God would charge him with these people’s deaths. He fainted, and when he awoke everyone was preparing to nail the hatches. Equiano, unable to hold back his emotion, said that it was the captain who should be drowned for his failure to navigate. He managed to stop the others from nailing the hatches, and they all resolved to stay aboard until daylight to decide what to do.
Although he is a predestinarian—which one might think could lead him to be passive in the face of what he thinks is God’s will—Equiano cannot stop himself from using his ability to think quickly in a crisis and his instincts towards self-preservation that have saved him in the past. As a former slave himself, Equiano feels particularly implicated in the lives of the slaves aboard (though he is partly responsible for transporting them): to him they are humans, not property.
Themes
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Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
While the others began to drink in despair, Equiano started to mend certain parts of the ship. Finally the swells subsided and, as day broke, they saw an island a few miles off, but reefs prevented the boat from docking. They had to begin to load supplies and men onto a small boat, toiling all day until they’d made enough trips back and forth to bring all safe to shore.
Equiano and the others on the ship barely escape being killed, and here the narrative again takes on characteristics of the classic eighteenth-century adventure story, this one with the added plotline of the relationship between former and current slaves.
Themes
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Selfhood Theme Icon
Equiano’s thoughts returned to his dream, which had now come true, and he concluded that if anyone had died, God would have held Equiano responsible for their lives (perhaps why he’d worked so hard to save the slaves). The crew learned that this island was one of the Bahamas. They caught sight of flamingoes, which they first worried were cannibals; there were also turtles and fish throughout.
For Equiano, dreams are a powerful way of making sense of and drawing meaning from his life, a way to interpret God’s word. Equiano also acknowledges here more than elsewhere his own role in perpetuating slavery.
Themes
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Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
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Equiano and the others made tents for shelter and began to wonder how they might leave the place. They decided to repair the boat, now in sorry shape, and set out in search of a ship or inhabited island. After 11 days, Phillips, Equiano, and five others set off with meager provisions. On the second day they reached Abbico, the largest of the Bahamas. By this time they were exhausted and had run out of water, and they couldn’t find water or people on the island all night. The next day they set off again but couldn’t find a single ship, though they did manage to find water on another key. Increasingly resigned to their fate, they began to despair when suddenly the captain cried that he saw a sail.
In a time of crisis, Phillips relies heavily on Equiano as a bright, quick-witted person who can help him and the others aboard survive. This is yet another example of how wrong-headed it is to create a hierarchy of intelligence and legal status based on race. Nonetheless, in this dramatic account, it seems quite possible that all those in the shipwreck, slaves and freemen, blacks and whites, might die at the hands of cold, unfriendly nature.
Themes
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Selfhood Theme Icon
The group set off in haste and reached the ship, whose the captain, a Welshman, thought at first that they might be pirates. But they managed to communicate their situation, and they found that this group, too, was recovering from a shipwreck of their whaling vessel and was now heading to New Providence.
Once again, at least within Equiano’s framework of making sense of the world, Providence intervenes in the form of another ship headed in about the same direction as Phillips’s ship.
Themes
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They returned to the key, picking up those they’d left behind, and continued for New Providence. On the way they were beset by another gale and they had to cut down the mast. Everyone aboard began to call on God to save them, and indeed the wind soon lulled long enough for two men to swim to an anchor buoy at some distance. All watched in terror as they made their way, but they reached the buoy and managed to haul the ship to safety. In two days the wind and storms had ceased, and they reached New Providence after three long, terrifying weeks.
Equiano is as skilled as any sailor given his many years at sea, but he recognizes the ways in which sailing can be treacherous for anyone, no matter how experienced, because of the larger laws of nature (or Providence) that remain indifferent to human desires. This adventure, though, just like Equiano’s others, ends in relief and success rather than in tragedy.
Themes
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Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
In New Providence they were treated well. One merchant offered free passage for four of them to Georgia if they helped work the ship. Upon learning they were going first to Jamaica, though, Equiano declined, waited until Phillips hired a ship to take himself and some of the slaves to Georgia, and went with them. They immediately hit a storm and had to go back, but after a week they made it to Georgia at last.
For Equiano, West Indies locations like Jamaica are still tied to barbaric treatment of slaves and being there would risk injustice towards himself, even as a free man. As a result, he strategically decides to avoid it as long as he can, even if that means waiting longer to make it to Georgia.
Themes
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Equiano went to lodge at a friend’s house, a black man named Mosa. That night, while they were drinking, patrolmen entered and, after asking for some punch and limes, ordered Equiano to the watch-house: all black man who had a light in their homes after nine were to be fined or flogged. Equiano told them he was a free man, but they paid no attention, and seeing that nothing else would satisfy them he went to the watch-house for the night. The next morning he asked why he must be flogged. Equiano told them that if there were a law that protected freed blacks, he’d use it against them. Enraged, the patrolmen were about to lay hands on Equiano when of them convinced the others to stand down.
As a free man, Equiano thinks that he has the right to do what he wishes. This instance reminds him that this isn’t always the case for a free black man. Still, Equiano has enough fluency with reading, writing, and the law that he knows his own rights (though they may not always be respected): clearly, the patrolmen are unnerved by this knowledge, realizing that they cannot perhaps get away with what they can with other free blacks and slaves.
Themes
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Another day, Equiano was a little outside Savannah when he was beset by two white men, one of whom immediately said that this was the man he’d been looking for. Recognizing the trick, Equiano ordered them not to come any closer to him. One paused, and the other said that Equiano’s English was too good: after Equiano continued berating them, they reluctantly left.
White people can rely on racism, systemic injustice, and inequality in order to accuse any black man of being “the one” and forcing him into slavery. Here, though, Equiano’s education saves him once again from danger.
Themes
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Eventually Equiano found a place on a ship bound for the French island Martinico (Martinique). Before he left, a black woman whose child had just died asked Equiano to perform its burial service, as no white person would. Though he told her he wasn’t a parson, she wouldn’t stop asking him, so finally he performed the service before he set sail.
Equiano agrees to serve in the role of a parson because of his powerful religious beliefs, but this anecdote is also a somber reminder of the ways in which even religious people often thought of black people (even black children) as less than human.
Themes
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