The Importance of Perspective

One revolutionary aspect of both Interesting Narrative, and Aurora Leigh is the perspective each writer comes from. These are not rich, white men of high class. Equiano and Barrett have different perspectives, and they both shed light on the plights of slaves and women respectively. Both writers mention, and delve into descriptions of the perceived childlike innocence of both women and slaves. Equiano talks about how innocent he was about snow, “As I had never seen any thing of the kind before, I thought it was salt” (Equiano 218) and his lack of understanding about the  religion of the white people, “([A] great man called God: but here again I was to all intents and purposes at a loss” (Equiano 218). Barrett Browning talks about the innocence men place on women, “I read a score of books on womanhood…that boldly assert Their right of comprehending husband’s talk…With pretty ‘may it please you,’ or ‘so it is,’” (Barrett Browning 1161 lines 426-433). Both stories are made increasingly more popular and well known for their insight into important problems from the perspective of those experiencing them. Interesting Narrative is a story about slavery, told from the perspective of a slave. The other is a story about women and their experiences in the real world, from the perspective of a woman. These ‘insider access’ stories make the reader think more about the issue at hand, than if a white man in a position of power were to have written them, and this allowed these authors and these passages to make a big impact.

Revolution of Perspectives

Both Equiano’s Interesting Narrative and Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh contain many important and vital aspects for their time. However, the most revolutionary part of their writings is the perspective from which they are written. Though nowhere near equal to those of white land owning males, the opportunities for African slaves and women began to increase in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. These two writings prove that very point by not only gaining a wide readership in their time but impacting the way we view that era from our current perspective. The fact that both works were written by members of each of those two disenfranchised groups shows a distinct change in the perspective that literature could be written from and still be widely published. Equiano’s work comes about as part of the abolition movement, making it both an autobiography and a political track. With statements like “I have been baptized; and by the laws of the land, no man has a right to sell me”, the abolitionist message is rarely missing in a part of the story (220). On the other hand, Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh is often linked to the suffrage movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This movement would not come to a head until two decades after the narrative poem was published, but like the Interesting Narrative it impacted the politics of emancipation for a respective group. The way this factors into the revolution of perspectives is that both of these works were written by people from those groups that needed emancipation. It was not a minister writing about abolition or a Whig politician writing about helping women, it is a slave writing about abolition and a women writing about educating herself.

Another way that both of these works fit into a revolution of perspectives is that they both fit into the genre of autobiography. Though autobiographies existed prior to these two works (for example Benjamin Franklin’s) the stories that they told were different than most autobiographies before them. Equiano’s narrative is more likely to fit the mold of a regular autobiography with some editing from an unknown (but likely abolitionist) source. It focuses on the aspects of  Equiano’s life as a slave and eventually free man, but never really digs into his thoughts during the major events of his life. Aurora Leigh however, contains many aspects from Barrett Browning’s life and the challenges she faced. Aurora learns many things from her aunt, but Barrett Browning also often carries a sarcastic tone when referencing things as sewing or knitting by writing “The works of women are symbolical” (1161). In the same way that Aurora was not always being educated on the subjects she would have enjoyed the most, Barrett Browning always strove to have an education that women  were not allowed to have in her time. By making a character face the same challenges she faced when she was younger, Barrett Browning allows us to see how she may have felt inside when she was going through these struggles as well. This gives us two different perspectives of autobiography, the internal thought autobiography with Aurora Leigh and the more outward struggle autobiography with the Interesting Narrative. These changes in perspective can remind us that revolution often produces evolution. The French Revolution though eventually disastrous, coincided and caused other revolutions that would further the emancipation of less fortunate members of society.

Humankind and Nature in Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein

Compared to the passage from the Enlightenment writing Robinson Crusoe, the passage from the Romantic work Frankenstein focuses more on humanity’s incomplete and immoral control over nature. Robinson Crusoe is able to control nature, such as when he is able to make the cave he is in more spacious for himself, while also constructing furniture for his leisure. Crusoe remarks that “by making the most rational judgements of things, every man may be, in time, master of every mechanic art,” which demonstrates how the novel focuses more on how humans can control nature than nature’s control over humankind (Defoe). In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein has much of the similar initial view as Crusoe, but polarized to an extreme; he arrogantly states that “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world” (Shelley 692). Though Frankenstein is able to create his creature, seeing the creature disgusts him and shows how the laws of nature cannot be overridden by human desires.

Similar to how both novels focus on humankind’s relationship with nature, Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe also are juxtaposed on the subject of slavery. Crusoe talks about trading for slaves as a commodity to be compared with beads, hatchets, and other material goods without questioning the morality of slavery (Defoe). In Frankenstein’s creature’s journey to understanding how he was created, the creature also views himself as a subject of whomever his creator is, but as the creature finds the doctor’s lab notes on his creation, he realizes that he is viewed as “odious and loathsome” (Shelley 693). While Frankenstein does not directly address slavery, it suggests that the creature is like a slave who is viewed as inhuman to his master, Frankenstein. It is evident that the creature feels like an atrocious creature below Frankenstein when he wants to ask “Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust” to his creator (Shelley 693). The novel contrasts with the novel Robinson Crusoe’s apathy towards slavery’s effects.