ENL 6236: Restoration and
Civility and the Public Sphere
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
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.
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
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?
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?
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
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