The Life of Olaudah Equiano


Olaudah Equiano

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The Life of Olaudah Equiano: Situational Irony 1 key example

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.