Both authors call to their muses Ovid, Virgil and Milton, Olaudah Equiano and Anna Barbauld use a double narrative to carefully write their stance in regards to the human condition. Equiano’s travelogue “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano” engages with slavery differently than Barbauld’s “The Mouse’s Petition” because unlike Barbauld, Equiano is put into slavery in real life and not a scientific matter; nonetheless both authors fight for the same cause and may share similar concepts of humanism and what should be fair amongst all, ultimately provoking sympathy and compassion towards freedom and equal human rights.
Equiano learns the language and does not resent Christianity; nonetheless he hates his given name “Gustavus Vassa” in the beginning but holds on to it. Equiano’s understanding of slavery differs than of Barbauld’s, because Equiano goes through the whole process of being a slave in real life as seen in his autobiography. His sympathy is explicitly human knowing that slavery is real creates more compassion towards his case.
Barbauld mirrors the issues of human rights by a non human voice, a mouse, which also puts forward the question of scientific experiments and animal cruelty and consciences; on the other hand it is also an allegory to Priestly, a leading scientist and theologian. Using a voiceless creature alludes to those with restricted ones such as the low class, farmers, slaves or anyone who do not fit the social expectations of an 18th century adult male (Davis).
A crowned head Passing down laws or generally writings as a whole can be allegorized as a way of giving voices to those without any. Thus writers coming out as those without any representatives like animals or peasants create a different type of compassion and sympathy to those oppressed.
As opposed to Barbauld, Equiano’s sympathy is explicitly human. Thus developing a narrator and authorial double consciousness can be more apparent (as an autobiography). Equiano’s view on slavery differs than Barbauld’s. Barbauld’s “a free born mouse” and “equal eye” represents that all souls are equal, human or animal can have your brothers’ soul. Equiano does not necessarily include radical politics like Barbauld although his background notes a system of laws and elders that his culture was a part off (Davis).
In line 20, Barbauld uses the French writer René’s Le Sage as a metaphor for overt, adding elements into the political sphere no just slavery and a commentary over the French revolution, perhaps just as the French believe, the rebellion is a natural reaction. Fighting for an “equal soul”, their background of politics, religion, science and nature play an important role in shaping their ideas and understanding of human rights and equality.
Not necessarily but Barbauld’s “prisoner’s prayer”, “The common gifts of heaven” and “pure as the lamb” adds some religious elements into the poem, enough to read through and allude to Christian elements. The lamb might also allude to Christ, the Prisoner’s prayer can be read as the final solution to a prisoner’s despair, a powerless feeling the mouse (or the lower class) might feel. Equiano’s conversion from heathenism to Christianity puts a different scope on religion when comparing the two texts, Barbauld perhaps already puts forward the mouse who is not necessarily Christian, but at least acquainted with the social understanding of some spiritual monotheism by mentioning prayers, heaven, “kind angel”, and lamb.
A religious mouse or not, Equiano is known to convert but the animal is presumed at least spiritual. Inserting religious elements into the texts definitely increases the span and complexity, particularly Barbauld’s poem because it is unclear whether the animal is heathen or not, speaking/following their own mouse-ways.
Whether it is slavery abolition or the romantics’ view of science, both emphasizing more on emotions, not the collective interest thus provoking a sense of sympathy and developing a double consciousness in the case of Equiano the author and the narrator, compared to Barbauld’s mouse mirroring humans; allowing readers to feel and understand what its like to be a slave or an unheard powerless creature. Both authors use similar and different elements when assessing and using spirituality, equality, and science or nature in their texts.
Davis, Leith. “Women’s work” English 206 Seminars. Simon Fraser University. Vancouver. 26.Sept. 2016. Seminar.
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature : The Romantic Period. New York: Norton, 2012. Print. Pp.40-43.