The Life of Olaudah Equiano


Olaudah Equiano

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The Life of Olaudah Equiano: Allusions 2 key examples

Definition of Allusion
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... read full definition
Chapter 5
Explanation and Analysis—Paradise Lost:

Equiano alludes to John Milton's Paradise Lost several times. In Chapter 5, he paraphrases a passage from it in a way that suggests an allegorical relationship between slavery and the divine war depicted in the epic poem:

Are you not hourly in dread of an insurrection? Nor would it be surprising: for when

No peace is given

To us enslav’d, but custody severe;
And stripes and arbitrary punishment
Inflicted—What peace can we return?
But to our power, hostility and hate,
Untam’d reluctance, and revenge, tho’ slow,
Yet ever plotting how the conqueror least
May reap his conquest, and may least rejoice
In doing what we most in suffring feel? MILTON.

Paradise Lost is famous in part for its sympathetic portrayal of Satan and his fellow demons in Hell. This passage comes from Book 2 of Paradise Lost, and it concerns the demons' motives for corrupting Adam and Eve, the human darlings of Heaven. The speaker of the passage is Beelzebub, one of the more important demons. Beelzebub characterizes himself and the other demons (who used to be angels) as God's "enslav'd" because God has so severely punished them for questioning his authority. Banished to Hell, the demons now live in perpetual suffering. When they are treated so cruelly, he wonders, how does God expect them to respond? The only response available to them is "hostility and hate, Untam'd reluctance, and revenge."

In this chapter, Equiano has cited myriad examples of the cruelties enslaved Black people are forced to endure. He uses the paraphrased Milton passage to draw parallels between their situation and that of Milton's demons. Essentially, enslaved people live in a Hell on Earth. Equiano, like Beelzebub, demands to know how enslavers in the human world expect enslaved people to respond to their cruelty. "Are you not in hourly dread of an insurrection?" he asks. He means that cruel authoritarianism eventually must lead to revolution (like it does in Paradise Lost).

Chapter 10
Explanation and Analysis—Granville Sharp:

In Chapter 10, Equiano tries to help his friend John Annis, who has been recaptured by his former enslaver. He alludes to Granville Sharp, a man whose advice he seeks:

I proceeded immediately to that well-known philanthropist, Granville Sharp, Esq. who received me with the utmost kindness, and gave me every instruction that was needful on the occasion.

Granville Sharp was a high-profile white British man who devoted both money and time to abolitionist causes. Equiano describes seeking his advice and support in his friend's case in 1774. Even more notably, Equiano went to Sharp almost a decade later with news of the Zong massacre. The Zong was a ship that was used to transport kidnapped and enslaved Africans across the Atlantic, much like the ship Equiano describes in Chapter 2. Conditions aboard these ships were horrific. Many people died from disease, malnutrition or thirst, suffocation, and more. Still others voluntarily jumped overboard. The story of the Zong is especially horrific: realizing that there was not enough water left to drink throughout the voyage, the crew murdered over 130 enslaved people by throwing them overboard. The ship's owners then tried to collect property insurance on the "lost property," (meaning the murdered people). After Equiano told him about the case, Sharp went to court and argued, successfully, against the shipowners' legal right to profit off the mass killing.

In the case of the Zong and also in the case of his friend, Equiano hopes that Sharp will have sound legal advice. More than this though, he hopes to trade on Sharp's social status. This is not enough to save Equiano's friend, but in the Zong case, Sharp did prove to be a major asset in part because he knew the opposing legal representation. Mentioning his own connection to Sharp in his narrative likely boosts Equiano's credibility in the eyes of some of his white supremacist readers. Abolitionist efforts often involved this kind of collaboration, in which organizers leveraged white abolitionists' social connections and respectability to push initiatives forward. This has sometimes led to white abolitionists receiving disproportionate credit for initiatives that involved a huge amount of Black people's labor to organize. Nonetheless, Equiano recognizes a certain utility in presenting himself as Granville Sharp's acquaintance.

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