Equiano: A Coat Signifying Liberty
Olaudah Equiano is a man of many travels, starting as a young slave. One common thread between all of these is his need for freedom. Symbols of his freedom are found throughout the text, perhaps the most noticeable that I found was the inclusion of his clothing as a vessel for liberty. It represented more than just his social class.
As a slave, Equiano plans to buy his freedom. Note that he mostly discusses his clothing choices once he owns himself: "In this expectation I laid out above eight pounds of my money for a suit of superfine clothes to dance in at my freedom, which I hoped was then at hand." (Equiano 99) He could have spent that money on any variety of vices available during his travels. Clothing, though simple in his childhood, has become a luxury that he can own, a representation of Equiano owning himself.
"In short, the fair as well as black people immediately styled me by a new appellation-to me the most desirable in the world,-which was "Freeman," and at the dances I gave, as I thought." (Equiano 102) His clothing represented his freedom, a different class of black man. Yet as he notes a few lines later, his heart yearned for London! His physical presentation also shows his desire to assimilate into the culture of his captors.
Yet no matter the clothes he purchases, his skin still reveals his status as a slave. He can't escape his second class status, no matter what social class he projects onto his physical appearance. Ownership of clothing represents freedom from direct slavery, but unfortunately it cannot protect him from the restrictions of a prejudiced society.
Olaudah Equiano: The Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1999.