Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley in the American Literature
Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley were influential slaves to the American Literature during the 1700’s. They were kidnapped from Africa at a tender age. Both authors share their views and life experiences as slaves into their pieces of literature. Their writings were affected by their background, education and the life experience of voicing for the slaves. The literary pieces, “To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth” by Phillis Wheatley and “The Life of Gustavus Vassa” by Olaudah Equiano talk about the experiences, ideas, and views of the two authors in relation to slavery.
The two authors used different types of styles to write their narratives, however, they have some common topics. Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797) talks of the inferiority of a black man in the world where there is power (Gates & McKay, 1997). He is however direct in his narration and considers superiority in the hands of the black, but according to Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), she only aims at empowering black people through her narration of the experience through her slavery period and the experience she got from America (Gates & McKay, 1997). Therefore her mode of approach is indirect. Their background impacted a lot on their opinion and it is the reason that they hate the superiority that the white have. Embracing the America culture was quite difficult for Equiano and the slavery he underwent made him develop a negative attitude. Their background gives them the knowledge of comparison between the culture and religion. This greatly influences their writing as they narrate their experiences and express their views. According to Olaudah Equiano, the discovery of language was a source of liberating imagination and the educational system of Africa was behind the system compared to that of America. However, according to Phillis Wheatley, she spokes of how blacks are seen to be scornful (Gates & McKay, 1997).
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How it works
The works of the two authors show two different lives of Africans taken into slavery. Beside their similarities in skin color and country of birth, they had different experiences with their slavers. As a result, their ideas on the world they born in and the world they were taken to, became polarized. The slaves from the United States and England were being treated unfairly. Even though Equiano and Wheatley were born a few years apart, their background had a huge impact on how they were being treated as slaves.
Even as a slave, Equiano saw Africa as a beautiful continent through the hands of those who captured him. He also considered his owners to be kind until when he was introduced to the European owners when his misery as a slave began (Equiano, 1996). On the other hand, Wheatley was lucky to be brought into America. Her owners treated her with kindness, raised her with education and success as their daughter. Wheatley became part of a society that perceived slavery as an incompatible element with Christianity. This made it possible for her to have a positive ideology when she was still young. According to her, Africa was a “pagan land”. Africa would not have made it possible for her to believe in God and grow up into her adulthood as an educated, happy and successful woman (Wheatley, 1997).
Even though Equiano eventually found freedom, became successful in London, his perceptions towards Africa was more positive than that of Wheatley’s. The days he spent in Africa as a slave were better than those he spent with his captors of European descent. Many African born slaves are likely to share his narrative while Wheatley’s narrative is a rare one.