The Life of Olaudah Equiano

The Bible Symbol Icon

Before he learns to read and write, Equiano notices his master Pascal and his friend Dick Baker studying the Bible together. Unacquainted with the Bible (and with books in general), Equiano thinks that the men are speaking to it, and that the book is answering. His frustrations with being unable to “talk to” books himself are symbolic of Equiano’s fervent desire to learn what he thinks of as the wisdom and knowledge of Europeans, even though these are the people who have cruelly enslaved him and who continue to subjugate him. The Bible, then, as the most prominent book among the Europeans, represents the mysteries of the new culture to which Equiano has been introduced, mysteries that he longs to unlock by learning to read and write himself.

But the Bible is also a book of a particular kind, one that serves as the central document of Christianity—the religion that Equiano essentially equates with European civilization. In some ways, in fact, the moral teachings that Equiano does begin to access in the Bible allow him to make a connection between European culture and his own, as he remarks to Daniel Queen that it seems his own country’s teachings are reproduced in the Bible. The Bible is vital to Equiano’s own spiritual development as a Christian, but it is also crucial that he is inducted into a specific kind of Christianity, the Protestant Church of England, which emphasized an individual’s ability to access spiritual truth by reading the Bible (rather than through the intermediary role of a priest). In that sense Equiano’s relationship to the Bible can also be mapped onto his education more broadly, as the Bible allows him to begin to think for himself and decide what he believes. This is fitting for an autobiography that is concerned with the development of a rational subject who is both indebted to Providence and a maker of his own destiny.

The Bible Quotes in The Life of Olaudah Equiano

The The Life of Olaudah Equiano quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bible. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of The Life of Olaudah Equiano published in 2000.
Chapter 4 Quotes

He taught me to shave, and dress hair a little, and also to read in the Bible, explaining many passages to me, which I did not comprehend. I was wonderfully surprised to see the laws and rules of my own country written almost exactly here; a circumstance which, I believe, tended to impress our manners and customs more deeply on my memory.

Related Symbols: The Bible
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

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The Bible Symbol Timeline in The Life of Olaudah Equiano

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bible appears in The Life of Olaudah Equiano. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
...they look around the world and think of themselves as superior, they should recall a Bible passage stating that God made all nations of men “of one blood.” (full context)
Chapter 4
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
...attached to Equiano. Queen taught Equiano to shave and to dress hair, and he explained Bible passages to Equiano, during which Equiano realized that the laws of his own country were... (full context)
Chapter 6
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
At St. Kitt’s, Farmer lent Equiano some money to buy a Bible, which he’d been without since being forced out of the Aetna. There, too, a strange... (full context)
Chapter 10
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
...himself during this time, worrying about his own sins. His only comfort was reading the Bible, especially the verse that reads “there is no new thing under the sun.” But he... (full context)
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
...to die. Indeed, he nearly once threw himself off the ship, but he remembered the Bible’s injunction against suicide. Then he decided he’d rather beg on land than spend time with... (full context)
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
One evening, while reading the Bible, Equiano began to think that he had indeed lived a good life, but still wondered... (full context)
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
...he longed to be in London among more like-minded people. His only comfort was the Bible: in these pages of the narrative Equiano cites a number of Bible verses to help... (full context)
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
Equiano was still puzzled about a certain Bible verse, so he went to see a famous reverend preach at Blackfriars church, where he... (full context)
Chapter 11
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
...to his own church. This priest thought it improper that regular people should read the Bible, but Equiano vehemently disagreed. The priest also said Equiano should go to a Spanish university:... (full context)
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
...threaten them all with the wrath of God in heaven, pointing upward and at his Bible. They were stunned and frightened, and peace immediately ensued. (full context)