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ENL 6236: Restoration and
Eighteenth-Century Literature

Civility and the Public Sphere


Class 11

Reading Assignment:

Nov. 8: Liberty and Slavery
    John Locke, from Treatises Norton Online: Slavery and the Slave Trade, Texts and Contexts
    Samuel Johnson, Brief to free a slave (2811)
    Equiano, from Interesting Narrative (2812-2822)

    Recommended: O'Gorman, Chapter 7 and Behn's, Oroonoko (2170-2215)

    Also -- hot news in academe: "Unraveling the Narrative" by Jennifer Howard in The Chronicle of Higher Education Sept. 9, 2005. You can view this online at Howard and using the department's registration. See Blackboard site for that ID and password. This article traces the impact and implications of Vincent Carretta's forthcoming biography of Olaudah Equiano, which argues that Equiano was not born in Africa but in South Carolina.

    Report Topic: Slavery and the Slave trade -- Matt

    Due: Post #10

*********************

The group of readings assigned for today introduces you to representations of slavery in the literature of the eighteenth century. These representations include philosophical arguments for and against slavery and the slave trade as well as the significant biography of a slave who eventually purchased his freedom, Olaudah Equiano. The recent article on the forthcoming biograpy of Equiano is important to read in order to discuss the impact that eighteenth-century representations of slavery have today. The reading in O'Gorman will provide historical background on the growth of commerce and empire during the middle years of the century, a financial boon that was connected to slavery and the slave trade.

I also encourage you to read the novella by Aphra Behn, Oroonoko if you have not already done so for another class. This early work (1688) focuses on the life of an African Prince who was tricked into slavery in Surinam. Also browse the Norton Topic's online section on Slavery and the Slave trade. The excerpts from Locke are taken from that part of the website, but you will also find records of the middle passage by slave traders, arguments for and against slavery, as well as abolitionist poetry, illustrations and more.

As you read this material, keep in mind our course themes on civility and the public sphere. In part our discussion will center around the question, how can a culture that prided itself on liberty and civility maintain an active role in slavery and the slave trade.

*********************

1.

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.

What is Locke's central concern in depicting liberty in his Two Treatises?

How does this liberty differ (or does it) from liberty of a person born or sold into slavery?

How does one explain the inherent contradictions between Locke's belief in the native liberty of all men and his support for slavery in the colonies?

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?


2.

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?

The 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?

After reading Howard's article on Caretta's forthcoming biography of Equiano, what questions are raised for you? How does this affect your reading of the middle passage?

What problems does Howard highlight in her article? What are the controversial implications of Caretta's research? What does this suggest about the importance of eighteenth-century literature today?



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