A Symbol Worth A Thousand Words (Unessay)

Explanation (I’m sorry it’s long):

Chains hold a thousand and one meanings and then some. Literal or figurative, we’re held down by chains everywhere. Every person, place, and object needs to be kept in line – in society’s standard of a line. Each society, no, each situation has a different standard of freedom or chains. Equiano was held down by the chains of slavery, Elesin was held down by his people’s beliefs and obligations, and I, as well as many others, are held down by preconceived obligations. Knowing how vastly different chains could be, I gathered numerous photographs – which I took myself – and paired them with quotes. Some of them seem strange, maybe even far-fetched, but bare with me because I have my reasons.

While the first image may look like it’s just a group of trees, it’s actually trees being engulfed by invasive vines. They’ve become quite the problem throughout the United States – ironic, because I used this picture as a symbol of colonialism. The way the wines wash over the other plants, fences, anything it can get its viney little hands on, reminded me of the way colonists came and forcefully covered up other cultures. The people in Soyinka’s Death and the Kings Horsemen are the trees, the colonists like the Pilkings are the invasive vines that push down the other’s culture. The way the British hide the truth about war is also similar. Olunde says “I know now how history is made” and that stuck me because history is made by the brutal winners trampling over others – similar to how the vines destroy all life in their path.

The second image has a less morbid meaning. The stark difference between the tree and the lights decorating it is obviously apparent during the day. It almost looks out of place as if someone threw it on there. In this case, the idea of British decadence is represented with putting lights on the tree while the start difference represents Olunde’s reaction to it all. Similar to Olunde and Jane, the tree and lights seem to be intertwining, trying to become one with understanding, but they just can’t seem to understand each other.

After this I put the death of Elesin and a picture of a flower entangled in chains. This has a bit more of an obvious meaning towards chains, as the chain symbolism is obvious, but it has more meaning than that. The flower (Elesin) is pulled away from the other plants (his culture) and hangs over some chains. The entire image is almost symbolic of his life. The flower is above the last step on a broken, falling apart staircase. There’s holes and cracks and doubt all leading up to the final scene where Elesin wraps a chain around his neck and strangles himself. It almost seems as though this flower is reaching for the same end.

After the death of Elesin we move on to Equiano’s narrative. The first image is a close up of a wooden paneled flower pot that’s held together by a black metal strip. This strip is a chain, seemingly holding the flower pot together. It’s snapped with age, leaving a striking mark where it once was on the wood. Equiano is this bucket- held down by the chains of slavery that left a life-long impression on him,. 

When I saw my cat’s collar I couldn’t help but recall that scene in Equiano in which a lady bought him for her son to play with. Of course, we took Kuro off the street to give him a better life, but isn’t it, perhaps, very similar? This woman that Equiano stayed with seemed to have his best interest in mind but if she hadn’t wanted her son to have a playmate, if we hadn’t wanted a cat beforehand, would either of us really have taken in the other? I also noticed the striking similarity slaves had to pets – of course pets were treated much better. The collar around my cat’s neck symbolizes that someone owns him, no matter how well we treat him, we still own him – which is the same for the chains around a slave’s feet or just the simple marking of any kind that they are a slave. My cat, also similar to Equiano, is content and happy until he can’t go outside or has to go to the vet. Equiano can’t truly do what he wants and neither can my cat to an extent.

The second to last image is of an ornate glass lamp that has a blindingly bright light under its hood. This lampshade and bright bulb is a metaphor for Equiano and how intelligent he is. He is bright, strong, and exceptionally good at academics. I’ve lived in this house for over a month now but had only just noticed that this lamp was held to the ceiling by an old chain- something that could have gone completely unnoticed had I not been looking for it. Equiano’s life is the same. Despite being a wonderful human being with his own personality, he’s still held up by a chain around his entire body – the only reason he’s alive is because people find him useful and chain him up to be on display and serve them, quite similar to how we view tools such as lamps.

The final image is similar to a previous one, but it is different. It’s the same kind of planter, but chunks of it have been torn out, revealing more rich soil that spills out slightly. The rust, broken metal, and cracked open planter I think represents Equiano’s wish quite well. He wants the chains to break and for his brethren (the beautiful plant and rich soil) to be free from their confines. It’s also a commentary on how slavery limits human capabilities. We are not machines. Plants weren’t meant to be shoved into pots with little room. I mentioned earlier that slaves were sometimes like pets and most of the time seen as tools like lamps. I think, a majority of the time, slaves were exactly like plants – they were these unique wonderful people who were forced into how their owners wanted them to be, unable to explore the rich soils for themselves. They were only allowed to take root in whatever soil their captors gave them – no matter if it was rich or dry to the bone.

There were a lot more pictures and quotes that I could have used, but these several seemed to be the best ones. I hope that by seeing this, people might gain a new perspective on literature and how it can be read. There are so many ways to connect old literature to now, even if it doesn’t take place anywhere we are. We, as human beings, shouldn’t be confining literature to the small planter that we call the United States. If we were to make it part of the curriculum and teach it with the other cultures in mind, I think it would be the start of something amazing.

4 thoughts on “A Symbol Worth A Thousand Words (Unessay)

  1. I think you did a really great job with this project, and I love the way you formatted it. I also think that you definitely thought this whole project through, and I think the pictures that you took complement the text very well. I think in your explanation you did a great job explaining why you paired the text, and the photos together. You have definitely given me inspiration with this project, something I will think about for my next project. Very original! Keep up the great work.

    1. Thank you so much for the complements! I’m unbelievably happy that I give you inspiration – that tends to be my aim with many things. Also, it’s good to hear that the explanation made sense because I wondered if it sounded confusing or rambly.

  2. This is a really cool project! I think it’s so cool that you were able to take all of these pictures around where you live. It leads me to wonder if I looked around if I would find similar connects to Equiano. I think this was a very creative way to look at colonialism, slavery, and Equiano’s life. When I first clicked on this post and saw the quotes and pictures, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at. As I read your explanations I went back and looked at the pictures and it made a lot more sense. As English majors, we are so used to having to write analysis about quotes. However, I think these pictures are just as meaningful as the typical paragraph. I think that a project like this works our brings in a different way. Instead of reading a paragraph that tells us what to think, photography like this allows us to make our connections between quote and photo. This is a very meaningful way of sharing Equiano. Great work!

  3. God, I love this so much, it’s got to be my favorite of the projects. The diversity of images and their relations to chains is so creative. Like literature, for some of these images, I had an idea of what they meant right away but for others, I had to look deeper. You can tell how much effort went into this– everything from finding and taking all of the pictures, to selecting the right quotes, to explaining your reasoning and perspectives on everything below. My favorite picture has to be the top one. When I first saw it. I didn’t really know what it meant, as you said I just thought that it was a group of trees. But after realizing it was covered in invasive vines I was so much more intrigued and fascinated. The idea that they remind you of the way colonists forcefully entrap and cover up other cultures is such a cool connection, and that really makes the last line of the accompanying quote so much more powerful, “I know now how history is made”.

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