In The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, the author Equiano recollects on his abduction, the Middle Passage, his years as a slave and later his freedom. He recalls being ripped from his home, an African Ibo village and sold into slavery. The most horrifying details of his story were during the Middle Passage, where Europeans were uncivilized, peaceful and moral to any of the slaves on the ships. Equiano’s experiences gave him knowledge of how Europeans truly are, the real version. As a result, he writes about many of his experiences using pathos as a tool to generate emotion in his readers.
Moreover, he uses pathos to challenge the tenants of imperialism articulated by a scholar, James Tully, that Europeans believe that other cultures are inferior to or lower than their own culture. He also adds how European culture is civilized and they have a moral duty to civilize other cultures because they are superior. Equiano uses pathos in this context as an attempt to appeal to his audience’s emotions; and by engaging with his reader’s emotions, he can apply them so that Europeans and Western imperialism are seen as uncivilized, non-moral, and at the equal level to other cultures.
In The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, the author Equiano uses pathos in a positive and negative way in his descriptions of his experiences in slavery, and as a free man to appeal to the audience’s emotions in order to resist the tenants of imperialism many of his readers believe. He also uses the pathos in his writing to contradict the European imperialist views that European culture is superior and more civilized than other cultures, and because of this, they have a moral duty to aid inferior cultures to enter Western civilization.
These contradictions of imperialism show that Equiano believes slaves can ultimately find success and happiness in their lives without the influence of imperialism with the real example being himself. Equiano first uses pathos when he describes the horrid living conditions of slaves in the Middle Passage, to resist the imperialist views that Europeans are civilized and peaceful, and convey that Europeans are truly savage. His experience during the Middle Passage shows the harsh realities of how slaves were treated from the point of a slave.
Equiano tells the audience about his horrifying experiences with pathos, to make the larger argument saying he resists imperialism. While describing the tight packed under deck of the ship, the filth in which people laid, and the feelings of the men who were suffering he uses words like, “Intolerably loathsome”, “suffocation”, “sickness”, “filth”, “scene of horror”, “life of misery”, “unmercifully”, and “death” (2815). Each one of these words or phrases forms an image of squalor and utter despair of the slaves on these ships.
He uses pathos here, to resist the imperialist belief that Europeans are civilized because after reading the descriptions of the slave’s treatment, the “civilized” (Tully) European is contradicted on top of Equiano’s pathos. He creates the idea of the “savage” European when he remarks on how they treat slaves as well as their own people: “The white people looked and acted… in so savage a manner; and this is not only shewn towards us blacks, but also to some of the whites themselves” (2814).
The additional perspective of the Europeans supports Equiano’s main argument about how Europeans do not follow their own writings of imperialism and how they are savage, not civilized people. His pathos might also appeal to the reader’s emotions and make them feel pity and sorrow for how the Europeans treat the slaves. In describing the Middle Passage with anguish, Equiano resists the idea that European imperialism and their beliefs are right through describing how the Europeans act as “savage” (2814) which ultimately shows the extent of the European treatment towards the slaves.
Equiano combats imperialism by using pathos to make the audience question the imperialist belief that Europeans have a moral duty to civilize the world when all of the slaves in the Middle Passage deeply question these morals, as well as empathize with the slave’s devastating experiences to convey imperialism is wrong in all of its views. Throughout the play, he uses pathos by writing in pronouns like we or our, to subtly form an emotional connection with his readers.
He does this because with the connection, readers will feel more understanding about the ideas he raises about how he believes imperialism is and from empathizing with his story. This device aids Equiano later in his narrative when he presents questions of the slaves who feel the Europeans have zero morality due to their treatment of families and slaves as people. The slaves ask: “Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? …
Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery” (2817). The audience is directly asked these questions about how moral is it to tear families apart for no gain to the slaves, but because of the Europeans’ lust of luxury and gain. Equiano again uses pathos to emotionally appeal to his audience’s emotions in order to further challenge the set view that Europeans are being moral when they try to civilize other culture, when these slave’s questions convey how they show no morality in their actions to civilize.
Furthermore, by combining personal pronouns with personal questions, Equiano successfully combats the Western view that imperialism overall is right and moral, through pathos of his audience’s emotions and feeling of empathy. After freeing himself and becoming his own master, Equiano uses positive pathos language to portray how European superiority over another culture leads to no happiness, instead, self-sufficiency can grant you that. When Equiano becomes a free man, his view of life transforms from feeling trapped and suffering to open and happy.
An important factor in his freedom was the equirement of payment to his master; and as a working man who was under less imperialist influence, he was able to make enough money in a short period of time to buy his freedom. Many of his experiences after becoming free are positive conveying how he feels now that he is in control of his life. All of his emotions burst through the second he hears his master say to have the manumission, the release from slavery form drawn up. In the pages following his freedom, Equiano uses the words, “heaven”, “gratitude”, “heartfelt”, “pleasure”, “joy”, and “affection” (2820) to describe how he was feeling and the events after hearing this news.
Equiano also uses these words as pathos to create positive feelings in his audience to contrast to his descriptions of slaves in the Middle Passage; and, to show the transformation from slaves being controlled by European imperialism to being self-controlled. In addition, Equiano challenges the imperialistic belief that European’s are superior because of their culture, as Tully wrote, to show instead that himself as a free slave has accomplished happiness in his life and even success without being controlled by imperialism.
Olaudah Equiano’s narrative is different than any writing of the eighteenth century because hardly any slaves were literate or educated enough to be able to write such a complex piece of work. His usage of pathos as needed throughout the piece demonstrates his understanding of writing; and, the way he supports his overall argument about European imperialism supports his story to any audience.
Equiano’s purpose, to unveil the true nature of Europeans and imperialism, for his narrative is important for readers in the past, the present, and future, because it gives readers an outlet into the real experiences of a slave, and opens our minds about the severity of many of their conditions and treatments people may not have thought about before. It also might have had significance in the eighteenth century regarding the supporters of European Imperialism ideas, because after reading Equiano’s narrative they might feel differently because they were effected through his pathos and emotions.