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Comparative Analysis of The Slave Narratives by Olaudah Equiano and Mary Jemison

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There are a variety of aspects that contributed to the European colonization in North America. But specifically, there was a blending of cultures from the Africans, Dutch, French Europeans, and Native Americans. These interactions of these cultures differed from every area and depended on economic, social, and political factors. During this specific period, most Europeans didn’t see Africans and Native Americans as equal, but rather as inferior to them. Ultimately, Native Americans and Africans had a continuous battle with these opposing forces of power who wanted to colonize them. Native Americans retaliated out of anger and this is apparent within the writings “Mary Jemison, A Narrative of Her Life, 1824”, as she describes her journey as a young girl taken captive by a Seneca Indian Tribe. African slaves went through a variety of tragedies during the Middle Passage and this is apparent in “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 1756” as he recounts about his personal experiences as a slave encountering the horrific conditions of the Middle Passage and describes how he was brought into a “world of bad spirits”. The blending of these cultures ultimately caused the death and mass enslavement of Africans & Native Americans, retaliations of the enslaved, and adoption of cultures.

Olaudah Equiano, an African slave writes about his journey and fight for survival while encountering the Middle Passage in “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 1756”. His journey begins as he arrives on the slave ship where he soon encountered the tortuous maltreatment of the whites. He explains the horrific conditions that the slaves are kept below the deck and the state they’re in has caused the spread of disease because of all the emesis, feces, urine and all the other factors that contributed. Throughout the narrative, it is apparent that Equiano is very observant and learns a lot about these individuals just by observing their behaviors and actions. A key aspect within his writing is that the slaves found a sense of freedom in death and this was because of their religious background. They believed that they would be reunited with their ancestors when they chose death over slavery. On the other hand, Mary Jemison, a young girl taken from her family by the Seneca tribe describes her journey in “A Narrative of the Life of Mary Jemison, 1750” as she is adopted into a new family. Her fight for survival begins as she is taken away from her family because the Native Americans were retaliating against the English for the reason that they slaughtered many of their people. Her mother’s last words to her before she dies will forever leave a lasting impression on Jemison as she fights to survive this unfortunate situation. And this is vital throughout her writings because she has this recollection of memories that make her miss her family and reminds her that she was forced to abandon her true identity.

Jemison and Equiano are both stripped of their identity, taken away from their homes, and forced to conform to lifestyle changes that will forever affect them. This is key within both writings because they both were ultimately used as objects of use. Equiano being used as a slave of labor to further the economic goals of the colonist and Jemison being used as an object to replace a family member who was killed. As these individuals were deprived of ever returning home, and forced to conform they recognize key aspects of their experience that explain how they were used as objects. Equiano writes, “I now saw myself deprived of all chance of returning to my native country, or even the last glimpse of hope of gaining the shore”. He understood that he no longer had a chance of returning home, and this is important because overtime Equiano realizes that he had been brought to a new world where he had to survive. This is important as Equiano realizes he is no longer home and must conform to these white men who would inflict pain if he disobeyed them. He saw how these men used Africans as objects and treated them badly. This correlates directly with Jemison’s writings as her mother mentions “Don’t forget, my little daughter, the prayers that I have learned you, say them often”. Her mother expressed her last words to Mary as she is taken away. In other words, the survival of these individuals depended whether or not they would accept and conform to their new societal expectations. Jemison’s mother reminds her not to run away from the Indians and to do as they please to survive the brutalities that were soon inflicted on her. This is key to Jemison’s survival as she remembers her mother’s last words that will forever linger with Jemison. This is important as Jemison recognizes that is forced to conform to this new identity or she will face the same repercussions as her family did. Overall, a key aspect of both these writings is that these individuals were used as objects to fulfill the desires of others. This is important because this also recognizes that it wasn’t only Native Americans and African slave who faced the unfortunate brutalities of the colonist but other whites like Jemison who acknowledge this within their writings. Death, was something key within both writings as both individuals were surrounded by it. This is an important factor within both writings as they recognize how many African slaves died during the Middle Passage and some immigrant families died as the Native Americans retaliated because of the white men.

After closely examining “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano” it’s apparent that a lot of slaves died before arriving at land due to the confined spaces they were in and they want to choose death over slavery. Equiano says “The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying rendered the whole scene of horror almost inconceivable”. This quote confirms that slaves were in these disgusting conditions which lead to the spread of disease amongst the slaves causing them to die off especially because they were not used to being in these confined spaces with urine, emesis, and feces. Equiano also mentions that “I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me”. This acknowledges that Equiano was surrounded by death and wished to face death because he could not stand the torment of the Middle Passage. Unlike Jemison, Equiano was forcefully taken from his homeland for the whites to pursue their economic prosperity in the colonies while Jemison was taken by the Seneca out of retaliation because of the killing of the tribe members which was soon inflicted on her family.

In comparison, Jemison acknowledged within her writings that “Having put scalps, yet wet and bloody, upon the hoops, and stretched them to the full extent they held them…knives commenced scraping off the flesh”. This brutal instance confirms how immigrant families during this period faced the repercussions of the brutalities that were initially done to mass amounts of Native Americans. The key point to take away is that death surrounded both individuals and the main cause of each horrible circumstance was caused by the white men. Within both documents, both individuals are ultimately in their position because of the brutalities the whites inflicted on the enslaved population. Jemison mentions “On our way we passed a Shawnee town, where I saw several heads, arms, legs, and other fragments of the bodies of some white people who had just been burnt”. This is key because Jemison identifies the fragments of whites who were burned by the Shawnee because of the unlawful killings they inflicted upon their people. This is idea is apparent throughout Jemison’s writings as she is taken by the Shawnee and her family is treated just as the whites who were killed previously. This correlates directly to Equiano as he writes “I was carried on board…I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits and they were killing me. Their complexions too differings”. This confirms that Equiano was in this unfortunate position because of the economic pursuits of the white in the New World. This is where these two sources differ, yet fit in the context of colonial America. Jemison acknowledges how the oppressed individuals being the Native Americans were treated brutally by the colonist and in retaliation, they would kill these families or choose to spare their life which is what happened to Jemison. This also important because Equiano recognizes how the slaves were oppressed by the English and forcefully brought them to the New World to expand and profit economically. Ultimately, the enslaved individuals were in unfortunate circumstances because of the colonist whose primary goal was to expand and profit economically in the New World which effected these groups of people. It also caused retaliation from the Native Americans because of the killings that were inflicted on their people. The main idea present within both writings is that as individuals were forced into slavery and forced to adopt the beliefs of the Shawnee the conditions of these individuals were caused by the imposition and brutal treatment of the colonist.

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Comparative Analysis Of The Slave Narratives By Olaudah Equiano And Mary Jemison. (2021, May 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from
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