The Life of Olaudah Equiano


Olaudah Equiano

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The Life of Olaudah Equiano: Logos 3 key examples

Definition of Logos
Logos, along with ethos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective speaking or writing). Logos is an argument that appeals to... read full definition
Logos, along with ethos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective speaking or writing). Logos is... read full definition
Logos, along with ethos and pathos, is one of the three "modes of persuasion" in rhetoric (the art of effective... read full definition
Chapter 6
Explanation and Analysis—Constant Alarm:

In Chapter 6, Equiano witnesses the kidnapping and enslavement of Joseph Clipson, a Black man who has a certificate stating that he was born free. The scene creates pathos, which Equiano then spins into logos to persuade his readers that slavery must be abolished even for the sake of people who are free:

Hitherto I had thought only slavery dreadful; but the state of a free negro appeared to me now equally so at least, and in some respects even worse; for they live in constant alarm for their liberty, which is but nominal; and they are universally insulted and plundered without the possibility of redress; such being the equity of the West-Indian laws, that no free negro’s evidence will be admitted in their courts of justice.

Clipson's kidnapping is upsetting and unjust in itself, but it is especially upsetting to Equiano because Clipson should have been legally safe from enslavement. Equiano and other Africans are kidnapped from their homes and enslaved on a regular basis. But Equiano sees a distinction between the position he was in as a child and Clipson's position. Clipson has paperwork from the colonial institution stating that he is free. This paperwork ought to protect him, but it turns out not to mean anything when enslavers decide that they would rather ignore it. As Equiano explains this disturbing realization, he frames it as a problem that threatens the legitimacy of West-Indian law. If a Black person cannot sue in a court of law, and if people do not respect manumission papers, legal freedom does not mean anything. Not only does this mean that free Black people must live in a state of constant vigilance, but it also means that British lawmakers do not have the control they would like to think they have over the institution of slavery.

Chapter 9
Explanation and Analysis—Disgraced Grandeur:

In Chapter 9, Equiano points out the situational irony of the poor living and working conditions enslaved people endure in Genoa, a city that prides itself on its riches. He uses logos to gesture toward the implications of this situational irony:

This is one of the finest cities I ever saw; some of the edifices were of beautiful marble, and made a most notable appearance; and many had very curious fountains before them. The churches were rich and magnificent, and curiously adorned both in the inside and out. But all this grandeur was, in my eyes, disgraced by the galley-slaves, whose condition, both there and in other parts of Italy, is truly piteous and wretched.

Equiano appreciates the beauty of Genoa and the "rich and magnificent" architecture. Its churches are especially impressive. But Equiano notices that these displays of luxury depend on the utter lack of luxury in the lives of enslaved people. The beauty and magnificence come at a high price. They don't signify a society that is thriving so much as a society that prizes beauty above human well-being.

Italy's riches (both in terms of actual wealth and in terms of culture) were a sensitive issue in England at this time. England's intense push to expand its empire was in large part a competitive response to the growth of other European powers at this time. Italy was often seen as a particular threat because of its cultural history: there was a sense that a country needed a strong culture and heritage to thrive on the modern stage, and it was difficult for England to compete with the cradle of the Roman Empire. Equiano suggests that England ought not be so quick to emulate Italy. Scouring the world over for resources may allow England to display similar wealth to Italy, but the over-the-top displays of luxury Equiano sees in Italy depend on some of the most inhumane practices he has ever encountered.

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Chapter 12
Explanation and Analysis—Universal Good:

In Chapter 12, Equiano uses logos to advocate for the abolition of slavery on economic grounds:

Population, the bowels, and surface of Africa, abound in valuable and useful returns; the hidden treasures of centuries will be brought to light and into circulation. Industry, enterprise, and mining, will have their full scope, proportionably as they civilize. In a word, it lays open an endless field of commerce to the British manufacturers and merchant adventurers. The manufacturing interest and the general interests are synonimous. The abolition of slavery would be in reality an universal good.

For all the important points he makes in his narrative, Equiano has been criticized for using his own economic success, religious conversion, and literacy as evidence that he, a formerly enslaved African, is as human as a white British man. His critics point out that Black and Indigenous people should not have to demonstrate that they can assimilate to colonial culture in order to claim the right not to be enslaved. This criticism is fair, but also, part of what Equiano aims to do with his narrative is give British lawmakers a set of facts about slavery to convince them that they should abolish it. Equiano is therefore trying to find common ground with an audience whose priorities and beliefs don't necessarily align with modern readers'.

This passage is an especially strong example of Equiano's use of logos to appeal to lawmakers' economic sense. The primary reason abolition faced so much resistance in Britain was that it created seemingly limitless opportunities for the British government and individual enslavers to amass wealth. For instance, second sons could be sent abroad to British colonies, where they could operate plantations. They could send goods and money back to their families and build their own wealth, all without needing to fracture their families' real estate back home to receive their inheritance. Equiano knows that he must convince British lawmakers that they can abolish slavery without causing their entire economic system to collapse.

Equiano suggests that Africa will yield more wealth as an active part of the British Empire and not as a source for the enslaved laborers on plantations the world over. Equiano mentions the abolition of slavery as a universal good, but what he seems to be advocating in particular is an end to the Triangle Trade, under which Africa was treated as a kind of factory for enslaved people who could be forced to work on West Indian and American plantations. He argues that by collaborating with Africans to make use of all Africa's natural resources, British merchants will open up an entirely new source of wealth. Equiano hopes that if he can get readers to see Africa in this light, their innate sense of greed will drive them to see the Triangle Trade as a loss compared to the gains that might be had with its abolition.

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