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To scream or be subtle Essay

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Updated: Jan 25th, 2020


Olaudah Equiano and Mary Wollstonecraft are radically different authors; Wollstonecraft is assertive and direct about her call to change while Equiano is subtle about his message. He uses his own experience to humanize his call to the ending of slavery. As a result, readers end up connecting more with Equiano than with Mary. Wollstonecraft chose to confront the issues she was talking about through a direct approach.

She unapologetically stated her position and contradicted those who argued that women did not deserve civil or educational opportunities. This approach had the effect of drawing in those who held similar views, or those who were uncertain about their stance. However, screaming about her message had an unwanted effect of causing even greater criticism and therefore pushed away certain readers. Therefore, being subtle about one’s message is more effective than screaming about it.

Approaches used and how the authors appeal to their audiences

Mary Wollstonecraft was writing at a time when revolutionary sentiments were pervading western societies. In particular, the French Revolution had caused many people to debate and comment about various political issues. Some of them included: the role of the church and the state, the importance of human rights and the role of a representative government.

The use of rational thought was imperative in appealing to her audience; however, instead of confining herself to this formal style (it was common for philosophers to use it); Mary chose to use a hybrid style that used both logic and sensibility. The book looks like one long essay that has been divided into various chapters.

The author gives her point of view in all chapters through different angles. It can therefore be said that the use of sensibility by this author was an approach that she was using to appeal to her audience. Sensibility has come to be associated with women because they were known to be more emotional than men.

In that century, sensibility had encouraged the abolition of slave trade, but was criticized for paralyzing those individuals who were employing too much of it. Sensibility was something that authors used when they needed to assert values about unconventional topics like sexual freedom.

One may therefore say that Wollstonecraft wanted to target an audience of people who were willing to embrace unconventional ideas. She wrote to them in a language that they understood i.e. sensibility (even though this was not the exclusive mode). This was a strategy to appeal to such a group of people.

Sensibility by its very nature requires one to scream about one’s message. One cannot beat around the bush on this one. Mary Wollstonecraft was very direct in her book with regard to the rights of women especially their right to education and their role in society (Wardle, 40).

Wollstonecraft also used rational thought as another way of appealing to her audience of reformers. She used terms such as ‘principles’ and ‘arguments’ she affirmed that if women were not educated to become men’s companions, then they would not have sufficient virtue and knowledge to transmit to their offspring and this would hamper the spread of knowledge.

Mary even questioned the perception of women as rational beings by affirming that they only appeared as such owing to their male counterparts who urged them to remain uneducated. By making clear justifications about her stances, and by using certain principles to back up her assertions, Mary was using a style of writing that would appeal to reformers and philosophers alike. In making these rational arguments, she was also using a method that they would understand.

When implementing such a method, the author appears to be more detached from audience. Her main focus is to provide an objective description and analysis of societal values. Readers may not engage directly with her because she is offering her view on a social issue rather than discussing anything personal about herself (Wollstonecraft, 12). She used a prescriptive technique to bring out her message and being prescriptive often requires one to be very direct and loud about one’s point.

On the other hand, Olaudah Equiano uses a very different approach to appeal to his audience. This was someone who wanted to bring in a human element to the topic of slavery. He did not want to preach to his audience (even though he injects some of his sentiments from time to time) about slavery because that would have alienated them from him.

Instead, Equiano chose to intertwine his message in the narrative of his life. The reason why the book got very positive reviews was that the author was able to immerse readers into the story of his life. His story was very real to anyone who was reading the book. In fact, emotional appeal has always been known as one of the strongest forces of this book. Readers tended to sympathize with what the author was saying and this caused his message to sink in.

In the book, the author very effectively captures the differences between a deprived black man and the highly esteemed ‘white man’. His depiction of the relationship between the privileged members of society and the slaves have the effect of making readers identify with what he was talking about.

He contrasts his treatment in England with life in the West Indies, and therefore shows that there is another way that slave users can use to treat their slaves (Equiano, 105). Furthermore, when the protagonist buys his freedom, he shows readers that there is a better alternative to life as a slave.

How far the authors go in appealing for change

The call to change is hidden in the suffering of Olaudah Equiano. His indirect approach was quite powerful because it appealed to the very qualities and virtues that the author’s audience upheld. The story is one that talks about liberty and free enterprise. Many European audiences highly identify with these values because most of them expect their citizens to aspire to such a life.

The author therefore pushed his agenda in a clever and effective way by packaging the message in the form of a value-filled narrative. On the other hand, his counterpart Wollstonecraft used the exact opposite strategy to appeal for change; her message was rather impersonal. She wanted to focus on the philosophical and logical underpinnings of women’s rights rather than the personal nature of the economic oppression of women.

Therefore, while Equiano dwelt on showing his audience ‘why’ they needed to abolish slave trade, Wollstonecraft focused more on ‘what’ her society needed to do. Books of this latter kind tend to scream out to audiences because they focus on the subject matter alone. However, narratives that dwell on ‘why’ are more subtle, and arguably more effective. Once people are clear about why they need to do to take on a certain action, then the ‘what’ will come naturally.

The need to get personal with the audience in Equiano is so intense that the writer uses certain structures to achieve these goals. For example, some parts of the book are written in letter form. Additionally, this author realizes that his views might not be readily accepted by a predominantly white audience. Consequently, he talks about his adoption of a culture and way of life that is acceptable to listeners (Equiano, 87).

For instance, he becomes a Christian and frequently refers to God in his analysis. Furthermore, he learns how to read and write and makes speeches to an audience full of Caucasians. All these qualities endear him to readers. Most of them are willing to pay attention to what he has to say simply because he seems to come from a non judgmental place. Conversely, Mary Wollstonecraft did not want to use such indirect ways.

She might have felt that getting too personal with the audience would shift attention away from her message. To her, equality, education and women’s place in society were too important for her to mix them up with other issues. She, like Equiano, talks about culture but in a confrontational manner.

Her choice proves to work against her because her readers longed to know more about her personal life. In fact, after she passed away and her husband released personal information about her, her audience was heavily affected by that book. They learnt that Wollstonecraft attempted suicide, had a child outside marriage and had had several relationships.

People were appalled by this; and they stopped referring to her material (Wardle, 91). Her call to change was not taken seriously because she did connect with her audience on a personal level. By screaming, she ended up pushing away the very people that she was trying to get to her side.


Being subtle in literature is more effective than screaming because screaming tends to impersonalize one’s message. Equiano’s call for change was camouflaged in his life story. People sympathized with him, yet they also identified with him. At the end of it all, they were moved to action.

On the other hand, Mary Wollstonecraft did not bother with this strategy. She wanted to dwell on the message by being direct about it. Mary focused on ‘what’ needs to be done in terms of change, and rationalized her reasons. Conversely, Equiano focused on ‘why’ and did not shout about his call to action. This was more personal and more successful.

Works Cited

Equiano, Olaudah. The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano Ed. Allison, Robert. Bedford Series in History and culture. NY: St Martin’s Press, 2006. Print.

Wardle, Ralph. Mary Wollstonecraft: a critical biography. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1951. Print.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A vindication of the rights of woman. Boston: Thomas and Andrews, 1792. Online.

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