When Equiano first begins to learn about Christianity from the Miss Guerins in England, he is intrigued but also ambivalent. After all, he has described a thriving belief system with which he grew up in his home village. Equiano does come to be baptized himself not long afterwards, but it is only over time that he comes to grapple with spiritual questions on a more profound level and to fully embrace an identity as a Christian. Following his first trips to England after being baptized, Equiano begins to relate some of the Christian teachings he’s learned to the events of his own life—for example, when Pascal betrays him and sells him to the cruel Captain James Doran, Equiano begins to wonder if God is punishing him for his sins. Throughout the narrative, Equiano’s desire to make his own choices and control his own life comes into tension with his growing belief that Providence is in charge of human activity and that he therefore must accept what happens to him as God’s will. While his belief in Providence can at times aid Equiano in his struggles against hardship and cruelty, it also can be seen as making him more passive in his own attempts to create change. For example, Equiano reflects at one point that, whether he ends up being freed or remaining in captivity, his entire life is a question of God’s will—either way, it’s nothing that his own desire can change. Equiano never explicitly settles on a conclusion to this question, although the novel does imply that it’s possible both to believe in God’s ultimate power over human affairs and to work towards what one believes is God’s will on earth.
It is only after a near death experience on a sea journey near the North Pole that Equiano fully commits to embarking on a spiritual journey, reading the Bible, studying Christian doctrines, and struggling to come to terms with his faith. Then, while working on a ship traveling to Spain, he experiences a moment of epiphany in which he no longer feels anxious or uncertain about his position within God’s plan. Equiano’s conversion firmly places his narrative within a genre of spiritual autobiographies that was quite popular at the time, in which identity is achieved in part through a miraculous, sudden revelation of faith. From the moment of his rebirth on, he’s fully established as a converted Christian, eager to work to fulfill God’s plan on earth even as he acknowledges that there’s much about the universe and about eternal truths that he will never know: he’s content to simply trust in his faith.
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will ThemeTracker
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Quotes in The Life of Olaudah Equiano
To that Heaven, which protects the weak from the strong, I commit the care of your innocence and virtues, if they have not already received their full reward, and if your youth and delicacy have not long since fallen victims to the violence of the African trader, the pestilential stench of a Guinea ship, the seasoning in the European colonies, or the lash and lust of a brutal and unrelenting overseer.
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.
However, as I was from early years a predestinarian, I thought whatever fate had determined must ever come to pass; and therefore, if ever it were my lot to be freed, nothing could prevent me, although I should at present see no means or hope to obtain my freedom; on the other hand, if it were my fate not to be freed, I never should be so; and all my endeavours for that purpose would be fruitless.
In this deep consternation the Lord was pleased to break in upon my soul with his bright beams of heavenly light; and in an instant, as it were, removing the veil, and letting light into a dark place.
At last he asked me, --“How comes it that all the white men on board, who can read and write, observe the sun and know all things, yet swear, lie, and get drunk, only excepting yourself?”