Mary Rowlandson and Olaudah Equiano
Mary Rowland and Olaudah Equiano have both documented their enslavement experience through writing narratives. Mary Roland was captured during the raid by Native Americans, while Olaudah Equiano was captured from West Africa and sold into slavery. Both writers came from different social, cultural, and economic backgrounds; when comparing their narratives, they appear opposites of American versus African, woman versus man, adult versus child, and in some instances, they appear world apart. However, in spite of these differences, there is a common aspect of self-identity and the identity of the people they encountered, which is the subject of this essay.
Mary Rowlandson was highly spiritual and depended on God for help, while Olaudah Equiano appeared to be self-dependent and only believed in himself. Regardless of these differences, their experiences, while in captivity were similar. Nonetheless, though they survived the enslavement, no one was able to realize the happy ending they had desired, because their experiences while in captivity were detrimental to their physical and mental health; hence, they never fully recovered from the ordeal. Mary Rowlandson was taken captive during King Phillip’s war and was enslaved for approximately eleven weeks by the Native Americans. Rowlandson was a steadfast Christian, who believed that everything that happened while on earth was happening in accordance with God’s will. According to Rowlandson, when they found themselves in painful and uncomfortable situations, they believed that it was a punishment for not being the best Puritan. Furthermore, she was very spiritually reliant, and her faith helped her to persevere much of her captivity, because of the reassurance and certainty of her religion. In addition, Rowlandson was very sacredly dependent during her tribulation in slavery, and her belief played a crucial role in surviving the captivity ordeal because there was a lot of reassurance and certainty in her religion. In comparison to the Olaudah Equiano narrative, reassurance is a total contrast with the instability and insecurity of the Olaudah Equiano’s life and no uncertainty that the difference is the one that makes them deal with enslavement and identity issues in a different way (Rowlandson 245).
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The way Rowlandson handles her captivity is very attractive because she appears to be very spiritually reliant. In her narrative, she describes receiving the Bible, which acts a source of comfort. Religion has played a significant role in Rowlandson’s life; her behavior and conducts throughout her captivity appear to be guided and influenced by it. For instance, Rowlandson has made a lot of comparisons between the experiences she was undergoing while in captivity and the events outlined in the Bible. For instance, “I might say, as it is in Psalm 38. 5-6, my injuries stink and are unethical, I am anxious, I am hunched down significantly, I go bereaved all day long”. Furthermore, it was customary for the puritans to make biblical comparisons between events in their lives and those in the Bible. This parallelism described Rowlandson during her appalling ordeal in captivity (Rowlandson 240)
As a Puritan, Mary Rowlandson views herself as being a small piece of God’s grand plan. She believes that she has been raised for a life of sacrifice to God, and viewed enslavement during captivity as just another chapter in the life set out by God. In accordance with Rowlandson, God brought this expedition in order to study her faith and to reexamine her commitment to Puritanism. These beliefs normalized her experiences in captivity, and it made it easy for her to cope with the perplexing condition. Furthermore, Rowlandson appears to be thankful to be in an awful situation, because she claims to experience the real strength of God. “The lord transformed my ability and strength still, and supported me along, that I might see a lot of his authority; yea, a lot that I might never have think of, had I not familiarize with it” (Rowlandson 239).
During captivity, Mary Rowlandson presents a passive character in her bondage. She does not attempt to free herself, because she believes that God will deliver form the situation. Rowlandson is determined to experience the challenge God has provided because she believes she can learn a lot from the experiences. The biggest challenge encountered by Rowlandson is the scramble for the meal. She was very active while fighting for the food pilfered from her “I got two ears of Indian corn, and though I did but turn my back, one of them was filched from me, which much troubled me” (Rowlandson 245).
Apart from scrambling for food, Rowlandson appears mostly waiting for God’s plan to be apparent. She believes that if she survives the captivity, she will be ransomed back to her family, and when she dies she will rest in God’s kingdom, which is the ultimate destination for all puritans. Although her experiences in captivity were unpleasant, she remained steadfast throughout her captivity. This was possible because she placed her faith in God with the hope that she will eventually be delivered.
On the other hand, Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped from the Essaka village in Nigeria together with his sister. “Two men and women got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both”. In the Equiano’s writing, it is evident that the black slaves were defined by the uncertainty whether they would stay with their masters, be separated from their family and friends, or be beaten or raped. As a result of the above uncertainties, Equiano does not know whether he will ever be free. This gives Equiano the drive and determination to seek for freedom himself. In contrast to Rowlandson, Equiano is self-reliant and not spiritually dependent. Equiano strives hard to learn the ways to read and write. Furthermore, he learns about religion and God and eventually became baptized. “I was Baptized in St. Margaret’s church, Westminster in February 1759”. Equiano also achieves good business skills as a tool for furthering his objective of gaining freedom. He turned to trading as means of making money, which he eventually uses to buy his freedom. “I endeavored to try my luck, and commence merchant”. The Equiano character appears to be dominated with handwork, patience, and determination. As a result, he manages to earn enough money to buy his liberty (Gates 698).
According to Equiano’s narrative, he relied heavily on himself, because he was uncertain of whom he could trust. Handwork and determination saw him becoming a free man at last. This is evidence showing a very huge difference between Equiano and Rowlandson on the way they dealt with their captivity issues. Although both Equiano and Rowlandson were religious, the extent of religious affiliation differed significantly. In addition to the religious belief, Equiano believed in his ability to free himself from enslavement. Irrespective of the two being form the different backgrounds, they fundamentally experienced a similar ordeal of finding their self-identity. Although they both regained freedom, it is still difficult to cope with the fact that they used to be someone else’s property that represents money and loss of dignity. Although they have achieved the happy ending they had been dreaming of while in captivity, it is still difficult to recover from their horrific experiences in captivity. In the narrative, Equiano has presented a man with no identity in his early life, and as an African and a slave, he has no identity. He was void, erased, and invisible with no control over his own movements, name, and property. Equiano endeavored to understand who he was, but captivity and slavery limited the opportunities of self-discovery. However, Equiano’s eventual identity is mainly defined by the experience he undergoes while in captivity. It is when he is freed that he affirms a sense of self-identity because he can now make decisions regarding his life (Gates 435).
In conclusion, it is apparent that although Equiano is eventually fortunate to be free from slavery, he is still subject to prejudices and racism from white people. As a freed person, Equiano is still marginalized, and the ambiguity of the situation left the freed individuals vulnerable to all manner of threats to their personal status. However, both Equiano and Rowlandson find a means of dealing with the captivity issues, loss of personal dignity, and physical and mental hardships they endured. The experiences they have undergone throughout their narrative have played a crucial role in shaping their self-identity. In the end, they both secure their personal liberty. They have both endured such awful captivity hardship that made them wonder whether they will ever recover. This is because going through such awful experiences is very complex and means more than just regaining freedom. It is also evident that Equiano and Rowland are unlikely to revert to the lives they had before the captivity. Furthermore, their self-identity has significantly been shaped by their actions in an attempt to survive the hardship and to gain freedom. Mary Rowlandson’s identity is significantly influenced by the spiritual faith, while Equiano’s identity is defined by self-determination and patience in spite of being religious (Gates 256).