Project 1: Themes of Equiano and Django

In this essay I will be comparing scenes and themes between “The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”. Obviously both share the main conflict of slavery but both are from different times. In “The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano” the reading takes you through events in his life starting with when he and his sister were kidnapped segregating him from the rest of his family. This occurred while they were still children and since we know he was born in 1745 he must have been kidnapped around 1755 or 1756. Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” took place two years before the Civil War began which would be 1858, all over the American South. Throughout Equiano’s early life after being kidnapped he witnesses what the sale of slaves is like even though he is not purchased until he is on a plantation in Virginia. At the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s film we find Django chained up with other slaves that were freshly bought at the Greenville Slave Auction in Mississippi. What we do not find out right away is that like Equiano, Django is also taken from the people he loves. As we know Equiano was kidnapped with his sister to be sold into the slave trade, but was Django? Django begins his flashback with him and his wife Hildy attempting to flee the slave farm hey were trapped at. After countless times of Django and Hildy disobeying orders they are sent to the auction where they will be sold separately to never see each other ever again. Django’s owner before sending them away says “I can’t have a ****** with sand” which is an old southern saying meaning that he has guts. Both Django and Equiano have to accustom themselves with the new culture that surrounds them. Equiano in the first chapter says “Should they too have been made slaves? Every rational mind answers, No.” He directly points to the reader’s morality reveals the primary message of Equiano’s book, which is to turn people against the institution of slavery. . Both are attempting to change the world without even knowing it. 

            In Equiano’s journey a merchant naval officer named Michael Henry Pascal purchases him. Pascal is nicer than any white person has ever been to him in the past. Two sisters called the “Miss Guerins” were related to Pascal taught Equiano how to read and write. In Django’s journey we realize in Daughtry that Django barely knows how to read. As we progress throughout the film we can see Dr. King Schultz works with Django on his reading and writing as well as his overall manners. Back to Equiano’s journey we see that he befriends a white boy named Richard Baker. I find it intriguing that Django and Dr. King Schultz also be come very close. We are forced to believe that the relationship between Django and Dr. King Schultz is strictly business at first since he tells Django he wants them to point out the Brittle brothers. As the journey progresses they become inseparable just like Dick and Equiano. Equiano in chapter five says “Surely this traffic cannot be good, which spreads like a pestilence, and taint what it touches!” Equiano says this to describe the slave trade and its influence on the life around them. Equiano is arguing that the ending of the slave trade will be a benefit not only to enslaved people, but to the whole society.

            Both “The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” share the central themes of freedom and slavery. Equiano talks about how slaves would rather commit suicide than continue their lives as slaves. Equiano references directly to the slaves that he encountered jumping off of the ships to drown themselves rather than continuing whatever idea of life they thought they had left on the ship. In relation to Django we see similar events rather subtly throughout the film. One scene I would like to point out is the slave fight in Candy Land. We see Leonardo Dicaprio posed as one of the slave owners and the host while another slave owner is gambling on their slaves to win. Toward the end of the fight Leonardo Dicaprio throws in a hammer and says, “Finish him”. At this moment the slave knows he has to do it after a subtle pause of hesitation. The slave that is about to die makes eye contact with him and does nothing to defend himself further. We can infer from this scene that the slave about to be killed in the fight knows that he is about to die and accepts it because he knows anything is better than the life he has been thrown into now. After Leonardo Dicaprio’s slave wins the fight he is rewarded but no emotion from the winning slave is shown to be happy or celebratory. At the beginning of the fight he knew he had to win to survive, but by the end we can infer that he is pondering whether a life so cruel is even worth living. In chapter twelve Equiano says “Tortures, murder, and every other imaginable barbarity and iniquity are practiced upon the poor slaves with impunity.” He points out that slavery is brutal and violent and it is conducted outside of the bounds of morality.

Tragically as we know Equiano never actually gets away from the slave trade as he ends up participating in it himself, which seems to come off a bit hypocritical. Even though Django in no way gets involved with the slave trade he also shows some moments of hypocrisy. After Dr. King Schultz cleans Django up and allows him to dress however he wants we see a complete change in Django’s character. As they begin to approach the plantations to look for the Brittle brothers Django rides in on a horse with fancy clothes on which makes everybody look at him like he is crazy. Most of the people they encounter have never seen a free black man especially as prominent as him. Once he finds the Brittle brothers even though the slaves were told to treat him somewhat like “white folk” Django whips and kills them, which any other slave was probably dreaming to do. I understand that it is part of his job and he does have some terrible background with them but not too long ago he was in the same shoes as the rest of the slaves on the plantation.  Another even similar to this one is when Mr. Candie finds one of his slaves trying to flee. Mr. Candie asks Django if he can do what he sees fit. Django only replies with “He’s your ******”. This example may be more of a struggle for Django to hide his true emotions since he is on the way to saving his wife from the Candy Land plantation. What makes him show no sign of remorse or empathy for the slaves struggling just as he has?

Another theme both “The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano” and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” share is the development of selfhood. By this I mean the developments of both Equiano and Django throughout their journeys. Equiano travels to many places throughout his life these include Africa, England, the British Empire, and North America. No matter how much Equiano is pulled into the slave trade as an employee he knows that being a former slave will always be a part of him. His development comes from his sorrows and lessons learned from being a slave. He hopes with his identity and life story that he can convince his readers that slavery is absolutely inhumane and treats black people as property. Now going into Django’s development of selfhood we see a couple of different things. The clear one is how he learns to read relatively well. By the time they start their journey to Candy Land we can see how well mannered Django becomes as well as witty. Numerous times on the ride to Candy Land he intrigues Mr. Candie’s people even though Dr. Schultz believes he is antagonizing them. Django becomes very smart and strategic but for some reason avoids telling Dr. King Schultz exactly what he is doing. We see almost a moment of the student becoming the teacher as Django ends up having to do what he can to save Hildy as Dr. King Schultz is killed. When we first meet Dr. King Schultz he introduces himself very formally and his horse also introduces himself with a nod, which shows class. After Django saves Hildy and blows up the big house Django shows off with his horse. This shows a complete transformation from Django in the beginning in shackles to him now saving Hildy and the slaves from Candy Land.

Both Equiano and Django share similar themes even though they took place in completely different centuries. The outcome is also very different between the two journeys, which did make them harder to relate to each other. Equiano obviously uses his writing to inform people from all time periods how the life of a slave was in the mid to late 1700’s. Quentin Tarantino’s fiction drama shows more of a heroic stance toward slavery but also takes us through the struggles and hardships on his journey to save his wife Hildy. In the end he is captured again but is able to convince the people keeping him captive that they must go back for a bounty reward. He tricks them and goes back to heroically save his wife. Comparing this to the fist scene we can see that Django grows to be a lot better with his words as well as having the shooting skills of the fastest gun in the south. In the future if the class is old enough I could argue that using “Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” would be a very beneficial supplemental source when identifying the themes about The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano”.

Work Cited:

Equiano, Olaudah, et al. The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African . New-York: Printed and sold by W. Durell, 1791

Tarantino, Quentin. Django Unchained. The Weinstein Company, 2012.

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