The Interesting Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano: Religious Roles In The Narrative
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The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Religious Roles in the Narrative
The narrative of Olaudah Equiano is truly a magnificent one. Not only does the reader get to see the world through Equianos own personal experiences, we get to read a major autobiography that combined the form of a slave narrative with that of a spiritual conversion autobiography. Religion may be viewed as at the heart of the matter in Equianos long, remarkable journey. Through Equianos own experiences, the reader uncovers just how massive a role religion played in the part of his Narrative and in that of his own life. More specifically, we learn of how his religious conversion meant a type of freedom as momentous as his own independence from slavery. As one reads his tale, one learns just how dedicated he his to that of his Christian faith; from his constant narration of the scriptures to the way that Equiano feels a growing sense of empowerment from the biblical texts for the oppressed community. However, at the same time, one may question Equianos own Christian piety. Did Equiano really seek to tell the tale of his souls spiritual journey, did he really believe God would set him free or was he simply using religion as a ways of manipulating British and American readers to accept him as a credible narrator. Regardless of which of these facts is true, religion is quite possibly the defining feature of his life story.
Equianos own exposure of Christianity first began when he was no older than 12 years old and was first arriving in England, where he experienced the sight of snow for the first time. Curious to what it was, he asked a mate and soon found out that “a great man in the heavens, Called God…” [Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, ed. Angelo Costanzo (Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Literary Texts, 2004), 82.] created it. This caused in him a feeling in which he had never felt before, and thus inspired him to new things to get himself more aquatinted with God:
After this I went to church; and having never been at such a place before, I was again amazed at seeing and hearing the service. I asked all I could about it; and they gave me to understand it was worshipping God, who made us and all things. I was still at a great loss, and soon got into an endless field of inquiries, as well as I was able to speak and ask about things. (Equiano, 82)
As the years past, Equiano had been through numerous hardships, however he still considered himself very fortunate to have a kind master (with equally kind family members.) One day as he was attending his masters sisters, a servant told him that he could not get into Heaven unless he was baptized:
This made me very uneasy; for I had now some faint idea of a future state; accordingly I communicated my anxiety to the eldest Miss Guerin, with whom I was become a favourite, and pressed her to have me baptized; when to my great joy she told me I should. She had formerly asked my master to let me be baptized, but he had refused; however she now insisted on it; and on being under some obligation to her brother complied with her request; so I was baptized in St. Margarets chuch, Westminster in February 1759. (Equiano, 93)
To Equiano, being baptized was the equivalent of his soul being set free. From that precise moment on, no man could own him, he belonged to God. And anyone who tried to be in possession of him, was breaking the laws of the land, and thereby breaking Gods law “… besides this I have been baptized: and by the laws of the land no man has a right to sell me.” (Equiano, 109) Equianos baptism is one of the key points in the initial dedication of that to his Christian faith. Being baptized finally gave Equiano something pure to live for, for the remainder of his life.
As Equianos struggle with slavery was a daily reminder in how he was oppressed, religion brought him a sense of something to believe in, something to escape to as to remind himself that the situation he was in wasnt always going to be this way. Since he was a black slave, Equiano barely had any rights justified to him and with that knowledge, he hoped that religion would lead him to a far more extraordinary & unprejudiced world. “That as I could not get any right among men here I hoped I should hereafter in Heaven.” (Equiano, 109)
Equianos own identification with biblical narrators is seen a few times throughout the novel. Nevertheless, it becomes essentially prominent in his depiction of his manumission. It appears that Equiano can only tell his experience with help from the biblical texts, only by appealing to scriptural narratives of liberation. For example he first mentions Psalm 126 “I glorified God in my heart, in whom I trusted.” (Equiano, 156) These words, he declares, have been fulfilled by his own specific experience of emancipation. In a similar fashion he next links himself to that of the apostle Peter, “My imagination was all rapture as I flew to the Register Office, and, in this respect, like the apostle Peter (whose deliverance from prison was so sudden and extraordinary, that he thought he was in a vision) I could scarcely believe that I was awake.” (Equiano, 156) By creatively referencing himself to Peter, Equiano shows how that Peter, like himself, was also once a captive. And in that reference Equiano silently claims a sense of religious empowerment by his identification with Peter. Furthermore, the intensity of Equianos emotion of finally achieving his freedom is the biblical equivalent of the dramatically supernatural events that occurred in the story of Elijah:
Who could do justice to my feelings at this moment? Not conquering heroes themselves, in the midst of a triumph–Not the tender mother who has just regained her long-lost infant, and presses it to her heart–Not the weary hungry mariner, at the sight of the desired friendly port–Not the lover, when he once more embraces his beloved mistress, after she had been ravished from his arms!–All within my breast was tumult, wildness and delirium! My feet scarcely touched the ground, for they were winged with joy, and like Elijah, as he rose to heaven they were with lightning sped as I went on. (Equiano,