What is freedom? This question is easy enough to answer today. To many, the concept of freedom we have now is a quality of life free from the constraints of a person or a government. In America today, the thought of living a life in which one was “owned” by another person, seems incomprehensible. Until 1865 however, freedom was a concept that many African Americans only dreamed of. Throughout early American Literature freedom and the desire to be free has been written and spoken about by many. Insight into how an African-American slave views freedom and what sparks their desire to receive it can be found in any of the “Slave Narratives” of early American literature, from Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustav Vassa, the African published in 1789, to Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself which was published in 1845. Phillis Wheatley’s poetry and letters and Martin R. Delany’s speech Political Destiny of the Colored Race in the American Continent also contain examples of the African-American slaves’ concepts of freedom; all the similarities and differences among them.
Olaudah Equiano was not an American born slave. He was born and raised well into his childhood in Africa with his family. His slave narrative, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustav Vassa, the African, published in New York in 1791 however, had a lasting impact on America as it described the inhumane treatment of Africans being sold into slavery (Baym 1: 687). Equiano’s initial concept of freedom stemmed from his childhood of which he speaks very fondly, describing his homeland as a “nation of dancers, musicians and poets,” a...
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Marsh-Lockett, Carol P. “Martin Robison Delany.” Afro-American Writers Before the
Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Trudier Harris-Lopez and Thadious M. Davis. Detroit:
Gale Research, 1986. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 50. Literature
Resource Center. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Scheik, William J. “Subjection and prophecy in Phillis Wheatley’s verse paraphrase of
scripture.” College Literature 22.3 (1995): 122+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Wheatley, Phillis. “Letter to Rev. Samson Occom, New London, Connecticut.” Baym
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