Literary Criticism Essay Sample
1. Comparison of Mary Rowlandson’s and Olaudah Equiano’s Narratives
This paper presents a literary analysis of Mary Rowlandson and Olaudah Equiano’s narratives. Literary criticism involves critical reading and interpretation of text while gaining insights of the underlying themes of the write up. This would help us to expand our understanding of the literal works of Rowlandson and Equiano in order to identify the similarities and differences. Mary Rowlandson in her write up describes her experiences when she was under the captivity of Native Americans during King Philip’s War. The narrative provides a diary of her life accounts as a captive until her release. On the other hand, Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative sheds light on his life account when he was taken from his native land in Africa and sold as a slave. He explains about the extreme hardships he faced in the slavery. The narratives are similar because both authors talk about their experiences in captivity in a new land but are different because the captivity had different cultural effect on the authors.
Mary Rowlandson and Olaudah Equiano face a set of hardships as expressed in their narratives. Mary Rowlandson described how she experienced hunger whilst under captivity as her captors did not offer her enough to eat. “I was fain to go and look after something to satisfy my hunger” (Rowlandson 269). It is also observable from the text that Rowlandson suffered injuries and was unable to walk, which necessitated her captors to set her on horseback. She also suffered from emotional breakdown for being separated from her family and deprived of her freedom. She described her captors as barbaric creatures.
The hardships faced by Olaudah Equiano are more intense compared to those of Rowlandson’s. Equiano states that his life changed immensely after he was captured. His initial hardship was the emotional torture for being forcibly separated from his family (Bradstreet 1271). He describes his hardships through dramatization of his journey from Africa to America in an enslaved ship. He further asserts that the ship was overcrowded with limited space for one to turn himself, and had an intolerable stench due to human waste. Many of the slaves died of diseases while others committed suicide by jumping in the sea. Equiano experienced psychological trauma due to the horrors he experienced during the voyage in the slave ship (Paul 851). But it did not end here; he was destined to experience more hardships whilst he served different masters.
Mary Rowlandson and Olaudah Equiano employ different strategies to survive in the hands of their captors. Mary Rowlandson in her narrative indicates that she survived captivity due to her strong Christianity beliefs, and that she remained committed to her religion which made her survive the harsh environment of captivity. Rowlandson writes that she even tried to observe the Sabbath day whilst being a captive, but her captors did not let her do so. On the other hand, Equiano survived slavery by conforming to the western culture. He indicates that he had no choice but to embrace the new life. Both Mary Rowlandson and Olaudah Equiano cooperated with their captors in order to survive, and never did either of them revolt against their masters. For instance, Equiano accepted to serve his new master Doran for his own sake, even though he was not willing to whole heartedly.
Mary Rowlandson and Olaudah Equiano related to the cultures of their captors differently. While Equiano embraced the western culture and adopted the European way of life including accepting Christianity, Rowlandson showed little regard for the culture of the Native Americans. Burnhamargues that Rowlandson’s cruel outlook on the Native American’s culture was perhaps to impress her intended western audience (69). It transpired that Rowlandson cooperated with the Native Americans to avoid conflict, while Equiano felt the urge to obligate and observe the western culture, which he reckoned superior to his own (Marren 96).Mary Rowlandson felt that her experiences under captivity served as a spiritual test and a religious journey. She tries to find meaning of her experiences in captivity using the Bible (Deuronian 85). Equiano, on the other hand, tries to depict the evils of the slave trade. While providing first account of his experiences, he wishes for the abolishment of the slave trade.
2. Poem Comparison: Anne Bradstreet’s “The Prologue” with Phyllis Wheatley’s “To Mæcenas”
Phillis Wheatley is a unique poet in comparison to most, if not all, the writers of her time. She starts by being thankful to slavery; a calamity that understandably affects most people but her as she felt it gave an opportunity to grow and advance her intellect. She is keen to note that while slavery does not favor everyone, it implicitly gave her a chance to explore the limits of her creativity. Yet she felt there was a need to give every race a chance, which is why she would criticize slavery. However, just like other writers, she tried to address the themes in the society by applying them in her writings.
On the other hand, Anne Bradstreet was a different kind of thinker who opted to limit her works to address the issues ailing the society. She would critique the society using different stylistic devices, even though she felt that no one would really be interested in what she had to write as a woman. This made her feel inferior as she elaborates in her current read. She had realized that publishing her works during her time was not worthwhile. In addition, one would use her religion as a Puritan to explain why she was viewed as controversial and supply an explanation on why her writing on gender inequality would not have succeeded during her time. Anne approach to is similar Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz as cited by Powell (85) who looks at society inequalities and feels that there should be a balance between the genders. She just like Anne question the role of gendered hierarchies.
The two writers also have similarities in the way they approach their writings. First, the two writers seem interested in tackling the issues that were prevalent in the society during their time. For instance, Anne in the Prologue opts to address the issues related to women inferiority and men superiority. She admits the fact that society has gender constraints which urge her to opt to indite stories or what they regard as simple issues. She satirically mocks the idea that men are the only ones that can address in detail the issues that they consider important such as war and kingship. In one of the most notable phrase in her writing she says “Men have precedency and still excel, it is but in vain to wage war. Men can do best and women know it well ” (Bradstreet 19). She adopts synecdoche and satire to mock men at the time she gets aware that they will not pay her any mind. The idea of satire in Anne’s poem is highlighted by the quotes such as the “Greeks did enough but play the fools and lie” (Bradstreet 48). She feels that Greeks do not give women the chance to thrive, yet they feel they might do so sometime in the future. She wonders just how this would be possible.
This idea of critiquing the themes of the society at the time is not only unique in Anne’s poem; it is an approach that has been adopted by other writers as well, such as Wheatley in her poem to Maecenas. She also felt that there was existing discrimination against some races such as the Africans. This urged her to further extend to her own challenges as a woman, arguing that with the society being limited by notions of some races being seen as inferior, then it was more likely that the themes such as slavery would not let a woman slave like her to advance in her quest to be a great poet. Yet she felt she could grow even further if she were given the opportunity. She gives emphasis by relying on hyperboles in a quote where she says, “as long as Thames in stream majestic flows” (Phillis 38), she will continue to thank his patron for giving her the chance to learn more, and to share her knowledge in writings (Phillis 41). Evaluating Wheatley writing using an idea proposed by Luo (28-32) as he studied “I Too” poem by Langston Hughes, one gets the sense that the writers must be really disappointed considering the society acts as though these people who are being discriminated against are treated as others rather than them being human. Both Wheatley and Hughes approach this idea tactfully trying to show blacks are as human as anyone else could possibly be.
Most of the writer in the past often used the idea of what was going on the society to advance their themes. The idea of slavery and religion has been highlighted as two conflicting ideologies that most writers advised need to be addressed. All the articles reviewed in this essay recognize the challenge of societal inequalities and argument that prompts them to offer them opinion using the distinct types of writings. Each of the writer presents ideas that they feel will best allow those who consider themselves superior to their senses.
Bradstreet, Anne. “The Prologue” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. American Literature, edited by edited by Lauter, Paul, 2003, pp. 439-440.
Burnham, Michelle. “The Journey Between: Liminality and Dialogism in Mary White Rowlandson’s Captivity Narrative.” Early American Literature 28.1 (1993): 60-75. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25056920.
Derounian, Kathryn Zabelle. “Puritan Orthodoxy and the” Survivor Syndrome” in Mary Rowlandson’s Indian Captivity Narrative.” Early American Literature 22.1 (1987): 82 – 93. www.jstor.org/stable/25056648.
Marren, Susan M. “Between slavery and freedom: The transgressive self in Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1993): 94-105. https://www.jstor.org/stable/462855.
Paul, Ronald. ““I Whitened My Face, That They Might Not Know Me” Race and Identity in Olaudah Equiano’s Slave Narrative.” Journal of Black Studies 39.6 (2009): 848-864. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0021934707305397.
Phillis, Wheatley. “To Mæcenas” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. American Literature Edited by edited by Lauter, Paul, 2003, pp. 1350-1351.
Powell, Amanda. “Passionate advocate: Sor Juana, feminisms, and sapphic loves.” The Routledge Research Companion to the Works of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Routledge, 2017. 85-99.
Rowlandson, Mary. A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. 11th Ed, Vol. A. Hard Press. 2006.
Luo, Jun. “Study on the Negroes’ Cultural Otherness in I, Too, Sing America.” International Conference on Arts, Linguistics, Literature and Humanities. (2018). Pp. 28-32