Gustav Vassa the Book
Gustav Vassa Plot Summary Gustavus Vassas was born Olaudah Equiano in the African province called Essaka in 1745. He was the youngest son of seven surviving children and was very close to his mother. He describes a happy childhood during which he learned – as all his people did – to work hard. He is kidnapped and taken as a slave while still very young and soon finds that he has a talent for the sea and for trading. By being very frugal, he is able to save enough to buy his freedom after only a few years, though his master initially refuses to honor their agreement for the sale.
He does gain his freedom and soon returns to the sea, seeing there a greater opportunity for financial gain than any other he can find. He spends his time also in pursuit of an acceptable religious affiliation and eventually finds himself ready to become a missionary. Gustavus Vassa Summary and Analysis Gustavus Vassas was born Olaudah Equiano in the African province called Essaka in 1745. He was the youngest son of seven surviving children and was very close to his mother. He describes a happy childhood during which he learned – as all his people did – to work hard.
He recalls little of any true religion though he describes briefly some ceremonies in which dancing and feasting were important. He write that his people were circumcised, one of many similarities to the Jewish religion. Chapter three begins when, at age eleven, Gustavus and his sister are alone at their house while the adults worked at their agricultural pursuits. While alone, they are kidnapped by slavers. They are soon separated and Gustavus is sold to several masters for various reasons over the next six or seven months. He encounters his sister briefly during that time but notes that she was soon taken away and he never saw her again.
At the end of those months, Gustavus was taken to the coast where he is put aboard a slave ship. He promptly faints. When he wakes, he asks if the strange looking people aboard are going to eat him and is reassured that he won’t be eaten. He remains on that ship for several days until a new ship arrives. He says that the whites aboard were happy to see the other ship and those who, like Gustavus, had never seen a ship in motion under the power of sails were convinced it was magic. In chapter three, Gustavus is first taken to Barbados where he is among the few who aren’t sold.
He is then sold to a plantation owner in Virginia but stays only a short period of time before being bought by a man named Michael Henry Pascal who intends him as a gift. At that time, Gustavus is called Jacob but Pascal refuses to call him such and renames him Gustavus. On the voyage to England aboard Pascal’s trading ship, Gustavus meets a young educated white boy named Richard Baker who sees past the slavery issue and becomes friends with Gustavus – a situation that lasts until Richard’s death. Gustavus spends about two years in England, mostly traveling by ship with his master.
He talks of the kindness of the people – especially two women named Guerin – who care for him at various times while his master is away. In chapter four, Gustavus talks about his emerging self-confidence and his waning fears. In 1759, Gustavus has learned about Heaven and requests baptism. In February, he is baptized at St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster. Over the coming months, Gustavus is involved in many battles as the French and English clash. Eventually, Gustavus’s master is released from his service and plans to return to private business. Gustavus has now met a man named Daniel Queen who has taught Gustavus many things.
Gustavus regards him as a father figure and often spends his meager earnings on sugar or tobacco for Daniel. Gustavus plans to go into business with Daniel as soon as he is released from his military service but his master refuses to release Gustavus and instead sells him to another ship’s captain, James Doran. Several of Gustavus’s former shipmates vow to redeem him as soon as they are paid but he is, in the meantime, at Doran’s mercy. As chapter five begins, Gustavus writes that his current situation is a punishment for having said he planned to spend an entire day in London on “rambling and sport. He is initially forlorn but comes to believe that God gives suffering of this kind for a reason. In the West Indies, Gustavus learns that Doran has sold him to a Quaker named Robert King who says Gustavus will learn to be a clerk. Gustavus learns to handle almost all aspects of his master’s businesses which include shipping. King is kind and Gustavus knows that several other plantation owners make offers for Gustavus. When King turns them down, Gustavus always works harder and thanks God for putting him in this place.
Gustavus describes the cruel treatment of most slaves and says that he was once threatened by a man who says he will shoot Gustavus and then pay for him. Gustavus offers up the typical arguments in favor of slavery saying that men who say they believe these arguments are fooling themselves. He also points out that those with kind masters and plenty of food work harder and live longer than those who are mistreated, and that those with cruelty as a daily part of life are more likely to simply give up and kill themselves. Gustavus points out that the slave trade is a study in avarice, and that slavers lie and cheat the slaves.
He says that if slaves were treated “as men” they would be “faithful, honest, intelligent and vigorous. ” As chapter six begins, Gustavus says that he could list many more instances of cruelty, but that to list them all would be “tedious and disgusting. ” He is soon given the opportunity to become a sailor on one of his master’s vessels and chooses to do so, trading a little to make some profit for himself. He notes that he is anxious to earn money and that escape and freedom is, of course, the ultimate goal though he wants it to be by honest means.
Gustavus prepares to go to Philadelphia with the captain. Gustavus’s master hears a rumor that he is going to try to run away once they reach American but Gustavus points out that he’s had opportunities and hasn’t done so. His master sees the wisdom of the words, provides Gustavus credit for some goods to sell on his own in an effort to earn money and promises that he can buy his freedom if he earns forty pounds sterling money. He goes on the voyage to America though he is ill treated by the whites who would buy his items for sale.
In Savannah, Georgia, he is beaten by a white overseer and left for dead but the captain finds him and with the help of a capable doctor, Gustavus recovers. In chapter seven, Gustavus earns enough money to buy his freedom. His master is initially upset, saying that he hasn’t expected Gustavus to earn the money so quickly; but the captain intercedes and Gustavus is freed in return for forty pounds. Gustavus agrees to another voyage as a freed man for a wage and wants to buy bullocks to take back with him for sale but the captain refuses and insists that Gustavus buy turkeys instead.
He does so against his wishes and the bullocks all die on the crossing though his turkeys survive. The captain takes ill on the voyage and also dies and Gustavus safely takes the ship to port. He’s offered the captain’s position but refuses though he agrees to yet another voyage under the new captain, William Phillips, who runs the ship aground. They are stranded on an island for days and then find themselves at the mercy of a crew who picks them up. Phillips sells some of the slaves that had been cargo on the ship and buys passage to Georgia with plans to sell the rest, parting here from Gustavus.
It’s in Georgia that Gustavus reluctantly agrees to perform a burial ceremony for a child and he notes that it’s the first time he serves as parson. In chapter nine, Gustavus begins working his way toward his goal of reaching London. There, he encounters the Guerins and Pascal and notes that Pascal seems indifferent of the way he treated Gustavus even after being confronted about it. Gustavus begins learning hairdressing as a means of supporting himself and begins studying the French horn and arithmetic.
He soon learns that he can earn very little money in this way and decides to go to sea again, this time with a desire to see Turkey. He hires on as a hairdresser with John Jolly on a ship called the Delaware. He remains with that ship and captain until 1771, seeing and being enchanted with Turkey but declining the offer there of two wives and eventually parting ways to join Captain William Robertson on the ship Grenada Planter and then on the Jamaica under Captain David Watt. He later ends up on the North Pole, trapped for a period of time by ice.
As chapter ten begins, Gustavus continues his travels, going to Turkey for awhile, then London again and then to Spain. In chapter eleven, he is appalled by the bull baiting and eventually returns to Plymouth. In chapter twelve, Gustavus spends more time with the Quakers and is impressed by their actions and their church activities. He wants to become a missionary and says that the rest of his life is to be spent with an eye toward assisting “the cause of my much injured countrymen. ” —- Gustavus’s story begins with descriptions of his own people.
He notes that they possess slaves that are usually captured in battle or are people among his own tribe who broke specific laws. However, he writes that those slaves are not treated badly. They are required to work, but their masters work just as hard. The slaves are typically given their own house to live in and the only difference appears to be that those people are not free to leave. He doesn’t go into this discussion to any great depth. Though Gustavus couldn’t have known the horrors that awaited him aboard the slave ship, he notes that he is immediately afraid.
He mentions a fear that he’ll be eaten, but doesn’t explain. It seems likely that his people were among those who commonly told their children that kidnappers were frequently cannibals. In any case, Gustavus writes that, had he had entire worlds of his own at that moment, he would have traded them all for the chance to swap places with the lowest slave in his country. Gustavus talks at length about the fact that his people believed in cleanliness and that they were circumcised, and that many of the rituals seem to indicate that the Jewish and the African tribes of that region were related.
He quotes a writer who believes that to be true and says the writer indicates that climate is the reason for the dark-skinned appearance of the Africans compared to the traditional light-skinned appearance of the Jews. Gustavus also points out that men with higher degrees of education have discussed the matter and that he isn’t the person to answer the question definitively. As Gustavus writes about his early travels, he seems to flit from one incident to another. He relates the story of a man who got something in his eye and then lost the eye. He talks of being hospitalized for chilblains and small pox.
He also mentions a man who saved him from being flogged for fighting with a “gentleman,” but does not go into any additional details. Gustavus seems to expect that his master is going to simply release him once the military stint is over and goes so far as to make plans for his future. He admits to being heartbroken upon the completion of his sale to a new master. It’s interesting that Gustavus, having encountered so many kind and generous people at this point, has ceased to believe himself a slave. He points out that he’s served his master well for many years and has earned nothing for it, and seems to expect that to be sufficient.
He has become somewhat educated and expects a slave owner to have a moral responsibility to allow him to leave when he wants. At one point, Gustavus is enamored with a tribe of the Mosquito Coast. He talks at length about their customs, including that they love the color red and that they enjoy their ceremonies. Gustavus seems to enjoy the actions of the people. He also talks of the fact that they seem similar to his own family of his childhood. Important People Gustavus Vassa Born Olaudah Equiano and sometimes called “The African,” he was born in the African province of Essaka is 1745.
Gustavus says that he’d been given another name in the early days of his slavery and had initially refused to answer to the name “Gustavus,” but eventually gave in. He is an intelligent man and adept at trading. His services are coveted because he is so capable and hardworking. When he’s purchased by a master who has land and shipping ventures, Gustavus wants desperately to go to sea. He’s learned much about shipping and knows that he has the potential to make enough money there to buy his freedom. He accomplishes saving that money in a matter of only a few years, though there are some pitfalls along the way.
When he then asks his owner to release him, the owner initially refuses but is convinced by an employee – a ship’s captain – who has taken a liking to Gustavus and prevails on the man’s sense of fair play. Gustavus loves to learn and devotes as much of his time as possible to learning a variety of things ranging from the Bible to the French horn. He says that he hates to be idle and will take on some new endeavor rather than spend evenings with nothing to occupy his hands and mind. He comes to love London and Turkey as his two favorite destinations among all those he visits.
Gustavus finds an array of friends during his travels and learns from many of them. He seems often overly trusting and occasionally finds himself in trouble when he trusts someone to make good on a promise, especially with regard to money. He says that there are those who defend slavery and that they are delusional in their arguments. Gustavus eventually applies to become a missionary. Themes The Desire for Freedom The desire for freedom is an overriding theme and the slaves who wrote these stories are each determined to find freedom, regardless of the cost.
This can be seen clearly in the fact that slaves are brutally beaten if caught in a runaway attempt, yet many continue to take the chance. One of the best examples of this desire for freedom is seen in Harriet Jacobs’ brother, William. William has been purchased by Harriett’s lover and the father of her children, Mr. Sands. Mr. Sands is subsequently elected to Congress and takes William along with him. William has the opportunity to travel through many states and to see many things, and it’s noted that Mr. Sands is not a cruel master.
Despite the fact that William is treated well with enough to eat and has the promise of eventual freedom, he seizes an opportunity to run away. In his case, there’s little cause for worry about reprisal because Mr. Sands isn’t cruel and isn’t likely to track him down. By contrast, Harriett’s Uncle Benjamin runs away, is captured and brought back where he is treated severely, and still runs away again. In the case of Gustavus, he had a master who was willing to allow him time at sea where he was able to make money on his own, but spent a great deal of money to buy his freedom.
This willingness to work for many years at jobs in addition to their regular tasks is another common theme in the quest for freedom and those who achieve that freedom are often then working to “buy” their family. Style Perspective Each of the stories is written in first person from the perspective of the author. It should be noted that three of these have two different names. For example, Gustavus Vassa was named Obaudah Equiano at birth and was later named Gustavus Vassa by a master. Because Gustavus used that name more frequently than the name given to him by his parents, he is referred to as Gustavus throughout the story.
Fredrick Douglass is a well-known name, though he was born Fredrick Augustus Washington Bailey. He took the name Douglass upon his arrival in the free states of the north, though he insisted on retaining his first name as some link to his true identity. For the sake of familiarity, he is referred to throughout this text as Fredrick Douglass. The same is true in the case of Harriett Jacobs who is writing as Linda Benton, and this author is referred to as Harriett Jacobs throughout the text. It should be noted that Jacobs admits at the beginning of the story to having changed the names of some of the people in her book.
In fact, research shows that she changed many of the names and it therefore seems appropriate that she would have changed her own name for the purposes of the story. Writing in first person seems the only possible option available to each of these authors because the stories are presented as factual events in the lives of each. Tone The story is written in a straight-forward manner but it should be noted that there are some graphic scenes that may be offensive to some readers. They are, however, a part of the history of these people and it seems appropriate that they should be presented.
For example, Gustavus Vassa describes the cruelties visited on the slaves of the Jamaican Islands. Those people were routinely beaten but the tortures often took the form of tying them in impossible positions where they were at the mercy of elements and creatures. In the case of each, the stories of separations of family members are a common theme and will likely touch the reader. It’s interesting to note that all three of these use words that may not commonly be associated with people of little formal education.
In most parts, the meanings of words are easily discerned but it should not be assumed that the level of writing is that of an uneducated person. Of the four stories, the messages of all are aptly conveyed but it seems that Harriett Jacobs’ story has a more personal slant, possibly because her story is of a more personal nature and involves her family and friends on a deeper level whereas the others, especially Gustavus Vassa, tells more of his travels and how other people treated him. The tone is often hopeless and a sensitive reader may find himself feeling pity for those involved.