Sept. 27, 2005
Courses and Syllabi
Dr. Laura L. Runge
Office: CPR 301J
Office hours: F 05
And By Appt
British Literature 1616-1780
Oct. 4: Slavery section -- selections and online
Slavery and Freedom Section, NAEL 2806-7
Samuel Johnson, [A Brief to Free a Slave], NAEL 2811-12
Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative (excerpts), NAEL 2812-2821
Norton Topics Online:
Slavery and the Slave Trade
Due: Post #5 Group B
Paper 1 - close reading
The readings for today introduce you to the history of slavery and the slave trade in
Britain, with the Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano as the highlight.
I would like for you to browse the website from the Norton Online Materials to read some
background on England's role in slavery and the slave trade, to read some documents from
slave traders and descriptions of the middle passage -- which will resonate with the
description of the same in Equiano's narrative -- and to see some illustrations.
the objectives of this class is for you to gain a fuller understanding of this particular
history, which is very different from the United States' experience with slavery. The writing
of Equiano, although clearly not without controversy today, is an important treatment of
slavery and a significant literary accomplishment by an Anglo-African. The writings today
also prepare for our understanding of Aphra Behn's story about the African Prince who becomes
a slave in Surinam, Oroonoko which we will read for the next two classes.
Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:
The idea of liberty was central to the Enlightenment in England, and the prose writings on the
Norton website will give you an indication of the ways in which Britons conceived of liberty, and
by contrast slavery, in its literal and metaphoric sense.
Samuel Johnson's brief, written for
his young lawyer friend, James Boswell, draws on Lockean notions of freedom and property. What
case does Johnson make for freeing the slave? What basic rights does his argument assume? What
arguments (for slavery) does Johnson attempt to defeat in his brief?
Olaudah Equiano's narrative deserves to be highlighted both because it is the most developed
writing by an Anglo-African writer in our anthology and because it makes the African slave's
experience the central perspective of the piece. The excerpts focus on two pivotal moments in his
history as a slave, the description of his Middle Passage and the purchasing of his freedom.
What makes the Middle Passage expecially tortuous for Equiano? How does his description compare
with those of the slave traders from the Norton Topics Online?
How does Equiano gain his freedom? What about this experience might make this a persuasive
argument for abolition in England?
What role does religion play in Equiano's narrative?
Based on the excerpts, how would you describe Equiano's character? What are his strengths?
What are his weaknesses?
language of the manumission underscores the deep contradictions of the British commitment to the
native liberty of men. Who are excluded from the claims of liberty? What does the manumission
testify to? Why does Equiano include it? What is its historical value (what do we learn from
it)? What is its symbolic value?
How does this information challenge or confirm your historical understanding of slavery and
the slave trade?
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