Revised First Project

Kaitlyn Mader

Dr. Helms

Currents in Global Literature

27 September 2020

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano Religious Analysis

Olaudah Equiano’s narrative is an extremely devastating account of his life and the way that him and those of his culture are treated.  By the end of his emotional narrative, he is able to turn it into an encouraging and inspirational story representing how he is able to eventually gain control of his life and discover himself through the religion that he finds.  In this analysis, I will be focusing on several aspects of Equiano’s relationship with religion, and his journey to coming to terms with it.

            The ideas of Religion, Providence, and spirituality play a large role in Equiano’s narrative.  Not too long after Equiano becomes very intrigued about learning more about religion, he is able to actually become baptized.  In a way, I thought it seemed unfair for slaves in this narrative to undergo baptisms, because of the fact that usually a baptism was a ritual that meant they would become free.  However, this was not the case for them.  It takes Equiano quite some time before he dives deeper into his religious journey as a Christian.  Equiano starts to try and relate some of the Christian readings and teachings he has learned about to his own life.  As Equiano’s life continuously takes turns for the worst, he relates it to his life by wondering if God is punishing him for any sins that he has committed.  As Equiano’s religious beliefs grow stronger, so do his beliefs in Providence, or that God has made all of his life decisions already.  His belief in Providence is sometimes a positive thing, because it helps him with his struggles with cruelty and extreme hardships.  “I thought I could plainly trace the hand of God, without whose permission a sparrow cannot fall. I began to raise my fear from man to him alone, and to call daily on his holy name with fear and reverence: and I trust he heard my supplications, and graciously condescended to answer me according to his holy word, and to implant the seeds of piety in me, even one of the meanest of his creatures” (The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 88).  At this point in the narrative Equiano shows that he begins to take on a sort of “fear of God”.  However, at other times it seems that his religious beliefs end up making Equiano more passive and disinterested in his life because he believes that God has already decided what his fate is and that it is not worth it to even try fixing it.

            Later on in the novel while Equiano is on a voyage near the North Pole, he makes the decision to fully take on his spiritual journey and commits to discovering more about his faith.  He dedicates lots of his time to Bible studies, reading Christian doctrines, and fully investing himself into his faith.  While working on another ship, a revelation comes over Equiano where he no longer feels uncertain about his faith or his relationship with God.  “In this deep consternation the Lord was pleased to break in upon my soul with his bright beams of heavenly light; and in an instant, as it were, removing the veil, and letting light into a dark place” (The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano).  Equiano seems to live a happier, more fulfilled life once he fully comes to terms with his faith, even though it takes a lot to do this.  “However, as I was from early years a predestinarian, I thought whatever fate had determined must ever come to pass; and therefore, if ever it were my lot to be freed, nothing could prevent me, although I should at present see no means or hope to obtain my freedom; on the other hand, if it were my fate not to be freed, I never should be so; and all my endeavors for that purpose would be fruitless” (The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano).  This relates back to how Equiano believes that God has already decided his fate and all that he will do in his life. He understands that there are many mysteries within his faith that he will probably never have the answers to, but he seems content with trusting his faith and leaving the rest of the decisions in the hands of God. 

            An important symbol throughout Equiano’s narrative is the Bible.  During one of Equiano’s first encounters with the Bible before he even learns how to read or write, he sees his master Pascal studying the Bible.  Equiano thinks that Pascal is speaking to the Bible, and that the Bible is somehow “answering” Pascal back.  The idea of Equiano thinking that the Bible can answer his master back symbolizes the importance and significance that the Bible actually holds for him.  Later on in his life and on his journey, Equiano himself will look to the Bible for help and guidance.  Not only does the Bible teach Equiano more about Christianity and give him more of an insight to his religious and spiritual journey, the Bible also helps Equiano learn how to read and write.  It also helps him learn to think freely for himself, and decide what he believes.  This was something that he never had the opportunity to do because he had been a slave for so long.  Equiano also realizes that he himself is actually a better representation of true Christianity than compared to his white Christian slave owners who twisted the meanings of the Scriptures to believe that they were doing good things and not terrible things.

Religious beliefs and practices were numerous and varied a good amount among African slaves.  Many African slaves were exposed to the world of European Christianity (Slavery and the Making of America).  Because of this, many of them brought these beliefs along with them as they were forced into slavery.  Many others converted once they arrived in America.  Many slaves viewed the conversion to Christianity as a road to freedom.  “In the early years of settlement, for instance, fugitive slaves from South Carolina, headed for Florida, where the Spanish Crown promised them freedom as a reward for conversion. Slaveholders in the British North American colonies became increasingly fearful that Christianization of slaves would lead to demands for emancipation” (Slavery and the Making of America).  However, in 1667, laws were passed in several colonies stating that religious conversion did not change the status of a person from slave to free.  (Slavery and the Making of America).  This relates to Equiano’s narrative, because of how he explains that slaves believed that a baptism would grant them their freedom.  “During the Antebellum period and after the Civil War, black churches, not just in the North, but throughout the nation, offered African Americans refuge from oppression and focused on the spiritual, secular, and political concerns of the black community. Following emancipation, the church continued to exist at the center of black community life” (Slavery and the Making of America).  Religion and spirituality seemed to have offered slaves a slight amount of comfort during their devastating experiences.  Many slaves looked to religion as an escape, or as a coping mechanism in order to help them get through their lives. 

Religion was a large aspect of Equiano’s life that was able to help him get through his challenges to eventually become a free man.  Equiano’s religious journey is arguably one of the most profound and important things that he went through in his life.  It caused him to finally attain his selfhood and identity.  Through all of his struggles, religion seems to be the one thing that continuously gives him a glimpse of hope and support, even in his darkest times.

Works Cited

Equiano, Olaudah. Equiano’s Travels; His Autobiography, the Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African.  

“Slavery and the Making of America . The Slave Experience: Religion: PBS.” Slavery and the Making of America . The Slave Experience: Religion | PBS,

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2 thoughts on “Revised First Project

  1. I think you did a great job with this post, and it really shows how you have a great understanding of the text. Ive always found it interesting how as a character he looked to religion to help guide him through life. I think this is still relevant in today’s society in many different ways. For example I was watching a documentary about someone who had been put in jail. While he was in jail he looked to religion to help guide him through life, and it had actually helped him change for the better. I’m sorry that I don’t remember the name of the documentary, but that is what came to mind. Many people when they are struggling in life they look to religion to help find themselves, and really focus on their faith. Great job with this project!

  2. This is a great analysis of this prevalent theme! I also found the religious influences upon Equiano’s life to be profound and important to the piece. Not only does it impact his perseverance and courage during the darkest times of his life, but it is also a cornerstone to his abolitionist argument. In an effort to appeal to the ruling white class of the time, he cites things such as the golden rule and other prominent aspects of religion, emphasizing the hypocrisy in those who believed in Christianity but also owned slaves. I think this refers back to respectability politics in which the oppressed adopt the practices and beliefs of the oppressors in order to appeal to their beliefs. This is certainly a major theme in Equiano’s work. Great job!

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