For this assignment, I would like for you to compare and contrast Franklin and Equiano’s narratives. While very different, both narratives nonetheless present themselves as narratives of freedom and as celebrations of the potential for self-making in a newly modernizing world: Franklin, in freeing himself from his humble, religiously conservative youth; and, of course, Equiano, in freeing himself from the racist bonds of colonial slavery. Additionally, just as Franklin uses his life story to celebrate the values promoted by Enlightenment philosophy, Equiano attempts to portray himself as a sympathetic figure who is capable of assimilating to the Western values of white European society. Indeed, even as Equiano rails against the injustices and brutality of European slavery, he nevertheless wants his audience to see him, a man of African descent, as individual capable of cultural enlightenment — just like his white readers. But whereas Franklin never meditates on how his own gender (male) and race (white) impacts his success or his ability to achieve it, Equiano forces his audience to see how European racism contributes to creating real obstacles for African peoples in achieving the same level of social equality and individual freedom as whites.
In doing so, one wonders, then, whether his attempt to assimilate to white, European culture is less an authentic desire of his own than a necessary survival skill he adopts in order to achieve a safe space in European society. Just as Franklin celebrates the necessity of playing up and developing a public persona (“character”) to achieve social success, do you think Equiano also playing a role or persona in his narrative? That is, do you think he is “playing” the role of what he thinks white men desire to see and seem to value, in order to promote his goal of abolishing European slavery as well as finding freedom within white society? Why or why not?
For this assignment, then, identify three points of comparison and contrast between Franklin and Equiano. What significant similarities and differences do you see in the way they tell their life stories, the goals they seek to achieve in doing so, and the values they hope to promote in telling them?
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