“Bad people” are not evil by nature

In chapter II, Olaudah Equiano was forced into a ship of slaves by the crew, and he lived in hell for weeks with other slaves. During his stay with the crew, Equiano found they were not “bad” by nature. Instead, they were institutional slaves themselves and victims, having been trained and ordered to treat slaves in a rough, stone-hearted and subhuman manner. All this, in their eyes, was the right thing to do and their obligation to fulfill just like soldiers executed orders from their commander. In short, the so-called bad people are not evil by nature; instead, they are trained and shaped into what they are in a specific social, economic and culture context.
Collins, Janelle (2001) said Equiano “was immediately handled and tossed up to see if I were sound by some of the crew” when forced into a slave ship (45). He rated the way the black ship crew checked on himself, their peer no different from the way customers checked and bought products preferred, so as to ensure the “products” were sound and valuable. Later, Collins, Janelle (2001) said Equiano realized “I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me” (48) because the crew was told to finish the whole procedure exactly as they were told, no matter whether they liked it or not. This fact revealed the poor situation of the crew where they were the slaves to their superiors because both the slaves and themselves lost free will and feelings for anger, happiness and hatred. As such, the crew was walking dead men. Moreover, when they tossed the slaves around on the ship and beat them with a whip to blood, they felt nothing themselves-no guilt, no sympathy for slaves, and thus no awareness of treating slaves who were their peers in a soft and discreet way. This revealed the “evilness” of the crew and their lack of the ability of thinking for themselves which was the core symbol of their free will and humanity, Unfortunately, their humanity had been deprived. Likewise, they did not feel satisfied when finishing this task assigned by their superiors, because they had been depersonalized through numerous killings and tortures of others unconsciously which made them feel nothing. Also, Henry Louis (1989) said Equiano was “surprised by the way they relate to each other, as they are even cruel between themselves” (113). For example, the crew would swear at others and kick others in their stomach without hesitation if their bread was eaten accidentally by others. At this point, the white people were institutional slaves just like the slaves they prison, because they were originally pure and good people, and it was the cruel organizational mechanism of indifference, exclusion and self-interest orientation that made them evil and felt nothing by treating others roughly over time. At this point, it is concluded people are not what they are born; instead, they are defined by the way in which they are cultivated and what they are told to do.
Collins, Janelle. Passage to Slavery, Passage to Freedom: Olaudah Equiano and the Sea. Midwest Quarterly, 2006, 45-48.
Henry Louis. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. Oxford University Press, 1989, 113.
The interesting narrative of Olaudah Equiano. Retrieved 14 December 1998.

2 thoughts on ““Bad people” are not evil by nature

  1. I was really intrigued by your title! It feels like you are arguing that people are perpetuated into treating others poorly (captors and slaves). I don’t think most people believe that whites, the ones helped perpetuate the triangle trade, are institutionalized like slaves are.

  2. Equiano in writing his story definitely sought to gain the hearts of his readers by appealing to their Christian values. He definitely looked for advocates to his cause.

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