Although Equiano and Jacobs were both slaves who believed that an enslaved life was not worth living, their introduction and upbringing into slavery, the way that they were treated by their masters and their perception of white people were profoundly diverse. Olaudah Equiano was born in the 1700’s in an African village. When he was eleven years old, Equiano and his sister were captured and sold to different slave masters throughout Africa to soon be boarded on a ship headed for the West Indies.
When Equiano first boards the ship he explains, “[It]…filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror, when I was carried on board. I was immediately handled, and tossed up to see if I were sound, by some of the crew…”(McDougal 94). When Equiano starts to realize what was going on, he begins to become frightened by the people on the ship and soon understands that there is no hope for him. Equiano states, “I now saw myself deprived of all chance of returning to my native country, or even the least glimpse of gaining the shore, which I now considered as friendly…” (95).
Equiano shows his readers that even though he doesn’t know exactly what he was about to endure for the rest of his life, he knows that there is no chance of him going back to his homeland end enjoying the life he once had. Equiano’s introduction to slavery was very similar to the way that many other African’s were brought into the world of slavery. Throughout a slave’s life, he would sometimes be traded from owner to owner. This was often beneficial due to the way certain masters treated their slaves.
Some slaves would be given adequate housing and enough to eat while other situations often included starvation and abuse. In Equiano’s case, he was one of the slaves that was severely mistreated throughout his time aboard the ship. Equiano illustrates, “I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life…I was not able to eat” (96). Equiano continues, “…on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands…[and] flogged me severely.
I had never experienced anything of this kind before” (96). Slaves were thrown down under the deck of the ship as if they were cargo. They were treated as a product. The sellers would force feed their product, making sure that it would be to the highest standard, to get the highest offers from their buyers. Such a life should not be endured and Equiano realizes this. He admits, “I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me” (96). Equiano helps his readers to really understand how terrible this life really was by welcoming death as a friend.
It is very hard to grasp the idea of death being a good thing in your life. Equiano notices all the things that the white men do when he is aboard the ship. He notices the way they talk and how it is much different from the way he talks, and the way that they are brutal men who show no mercy to the backs of slaves. Equiano narrates, “The white men had some spell or magic they put in the water when they liked, in order to stop the vessel. I was exceedingly amazed at this account, and really thought they were spirits” (97).
Equiano believes that the white people are these spirits descended upon earth with magical powers because they treat him as nothing more than an animal, when in all reality, he’s no less of a human being than they are. Soon Equiano begins to realize that these men are nothing more than cowards afraid of what they don’t know. “I was born a slave; but I never knew it till six years of happy childhood had passed away” (Jacobs 1). Harriet Jacobs was a young African American woman who was brought into the world of slavery at her birth though she did not know it until soon after.
Jacobs had a comfortable life when she was a child. She was permitted to play with the other children and spend time with her family while she had the chance. Jacobs explains, “No toilsome or disagreeable duties were imposed on me. My mistress was so kind to me that I was always glad to do her bidding and proud to labor her for as much as my young years would permit” (2). Unlike many other slaves, Jacobs’ mistress treated her like her own daughter which was comforting to Jacobs. It was as if she was part of the family.
Soon after Jacobs becomes accustomed to her way of life, her mistress falls ill, only for Jacobs to discover that she really didn’t mean anything to her master but that she was just another piece of property. Jacobs points out, “I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as her neighbor” (5). Jacobs is enlightened by the reality of the bitter world of slavery. Though Jacobs was loyal and loving to her mistress, she was still thought of less of a person and was never saved from the auction block.
No one could show true compassion to a slave. Olaudah Equiano and Harriet Jacobs’ lives were profoundly different and the themes illustrated within their narratives are clearly contrasted. Throughout their lives they experienced many different events that changed their lives in a multitude of ways. However, Equiano and Jacobs come to a final understanding that no matter how good your life can be, slave or no slave, being owned by someone that thinks nearly nothing of you, is not a life worth living.