Social Isolation In The Interesting Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano

Social Isolation In The Interesting Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano

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Olaudah Equiano in his Interesting Narrative is taken from his African home and thrown into a Western world completely foreign to him. Equiano is a slave for a total of ten years and endeavors to take on certain traits and customs of Western thinking. He takes great pains to improve himself, learn religion, and adopt Western mercantilism. However, Equiano holds on to a great deal of his African heritage. Throughout the narrative, the author keeps his African innocence and purity of intent; two qualities he finds sorely lacking in the Europeans. This compromise leaves him in a volatile middle ground between his adapted West and his native Africa. Olaudah Equiano takes on Western ideals while keeping several of his African values; this makes him a man associated with two cultures but a member of neither.

Olaudah Equiano during his long journey is exposed to Western ideas and customs. Although he is initially frightened by them, writing "and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were go to kill me" (755), he eventually begins to see Europeans as "men superior to us" (762). In this change of perceptive Equiano begins to endeavor to emulate his more pale counterparts. To further this cause, he begins to improve himself through education. He embarks on a quest to read and write having already partially learned his adopted tongue some two to three years after he arrives in England. He is put into school by Miss Guerins while his master's ship is in port and while in her service Equiano is taught Western Christianity and baptized. He thus begins to take on the European religious character as well as the new Enlightenment ideal of self-improvement. During Equiano's service...


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...other leaving him somewhere between both.
Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative provides insight into cultural assimilation and the difficulties such assimilation. The writer embraces several Western traits and ideals yet guards his African virtues jealously. In doing so however, he finds himself somewhere in between a full European and a displaced African. This problem of cultural identity Equiano struggled with is still present in modern American society. The modern day African-American appears to also be in the process of deciding the between two competing cultures and often being left somewhere in middle becoming a victim of cultural identity just like Olaudah Equiano some 250 years ago.

Works Cited

Olaudah, Equiano. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Yassa, Written by Himself. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

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