Middle Passage is a novel written by Charles Johnson that focuses on human and inhuman transformations. He writes about the escapades and experiences which Rutherford Calhoun, a freed slave who is on the run from New Orleans, encounters on his journey. As the ship called The Republic prepares for a voyage, Rutherford Calhoun colleague Cringle tells him that, at the end of their journey the Republic will not be the same ship which initially left New Orleans. The reader is taken through astonishing incidences that give a lot of meaning to Cringle’s words. “She will not be the same vessel that left New Orleans” (Johnson 13). This paper analyses and compares different transformations that take place and how they influence people’s behavior.
The characters aboard the ship in the novel and the ship itself undergo transformations. As the ship commences, Cringle tells Calhoun that, she was a typical ship who would transform amidst the winds and the old wood because most of Captain Falcon’s crew would spend their time reforming and rebuilding The Republic as they sailed. Reading this one may think that, Cringle is only referring to how the ship will look like after it has been rebuilt throughout the journey yet there is more to it. On its way from New Orleans, the ships pick slaves from the Africa continent (Johnson 170). The little experience of the sailors and the cargo of the Allmuseri tribe trigger the ship to sinking. However, many people survive and are rescued by another ship. Cringles quote that, during the voyage, the ship would fall to pieces when least expected refers to the transformations that take place to the ship occupants too.
Rutherford, the protagonist in the novel left New Orleans in haste after being pursued by a certain man called Papa who was his creditor. He later finds out that, Papa was incited by a woman in love with Rutherford, named Isadora. Her intentions were to make Rutherford stop living a ravished lifestyle and marry her. As a freed slave, Rutherford squandered all his money on women gambling, accumulating debt and drinking perhaps to embrace the feeling of his freedom from slavery. He interacts with a cook of The Republic who invites him to his escapade via the ship. Along the voyage, Rutherford tries to find himself. He discovers the schemes of the evil Captain Falcon, his disparate influences on the subordinates’ crew. He is also amazed by the unity and cohesiveness of the Allmuseri tribe of the African wizards who though enslaved live in harmony with each other. They speak in a common language and thus not easily disintegrated into pieces (Johnson 24).
Ngonyama, the leader of the tribe raised a rebellion after he learned of the captain’s insanity and oppression. To halt the rebellion, Rutherford acts as a mediator between the tribe and the surviving crew due to his little understanding of the Allmuseri people. The journey is not all so pleasant henceforth but Rutherford learns survival tactics from the Allmuseri people and he becomes a strong person in character. When he finally returns home, he finds out that, Isadora is about to be married to a man called “Zeringue”. Rutherford has now become a hardworking and ready to face challenges rather than running away from challenges. He ultimately frees himself from his debts and manages to expose Zeringue’s deceitful traits of character and marries Isadora. He starts a life he had once eluded. He is very grateful to the lessons that he learnt on The Republic ship as they will be of outmost importance in this new life design (Johnson 144).
Captain Ebenezer Falcón, who heads the crew of The Republic, has an obsession for slavery actions. He represents an ideal slave trader who with great curiosity and intellect hides his inferiority with an outward show of calmness and bravado. Being an illegal slave dealer, he sometimes acts insane and ruthless towards the society around. Throughout the journey, he does not transform but keeps relating himself to the past, perhaps to disguise his primitivism and deceive. Captain Falcon’s revealed on the Republic that, he was a merciless and illegal slave dealer.
Cringle was also inside the ship. His story is little narrated. It is revealed that, he was a moral man and quite reflective. When the voyage commences he tells Rutherford Caulhon that, the ship will never be the same again. His speculations later turn out to be true. The mentioned Allmusseri tribes with their leader the Ngonyama are the enslaved cargo in the ship. They look calm and have their own identity and history like any other organized tribe. Ngonyama heads their ceremony rituals that transform and seem to empower them. They develop a rebellious attitude while in The Republic and overthrow the evil Captain Falcon. As slaves, we expect them to be scared and cowardly, but they do not easily bend, and submit to the Captain’s wishes (Johnson 168). The Republic paves way for them to rebel and fight back even though they are enslaved.
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The Republic has variant transformation impacts on her members as detailed in the previous paragraph. Rutherford takes it as an eye opening experience and betters himself at the end. The Allmuseri people realize that, freedom is within their grip though the sinking of the ship worsens their situation. They are freed from Captain Falcon and his illegal slave trade. Captain Falcon’s ambitions are futility during his sailing of the Republic, and he is challenged by the Allmuseri people. He was confronted by them that, he is not all high and mighty as he might have been thinking. The sinking of the ship after these events may mean that, its final transformation has taken place after serving its purpose.
Cringles quote may also apply to the gradual change in humans, nations, gods and governments. What Cringle means is that, no one can be utterly indifferent to change. When The Republic was set to sail, it entailed people with different personalities. This concept applies to humans. It is obvious that, an interaction with people who have different approaches to life can affect us. The presence of the Allmuseri tribe, their magical god who Rutherford had a confrontation with is quite important and makes us realize how a transformation can be induces from inhuman to human. The wicked manipulative Captain Falcon is among the people in the ship who contributed to the transformation of Calhoun. Captain Falcon was challenged by the Allmuseri tribe also transformed and was overtaken. A ship on voyage experience is not the only challenge to everyday life, but gradually as we proceed in life, we encounter with different experiences that may weaken or strengthen us. All in all, we just can never remain the same after we are subjected to events that affect us in some way. The same applies to nations. For a nation to prosper, it has to go through many transitional periods. Transforming and rebuilding is important to a nation. It enables growth and establishment (Johnson 170).
Good governance is achieved through proper planning and coordination of people’s affairs. No one can tell the possibility of unforeseen and unplanned events that may lead to nation’s destruction. Cringle talks of parasites found in the old wood, cancerously swift which are ready to spring up when and where least expected. This symbolizes the unpredictable and unwanted misfortunes that may occur to government as it progresses to a stable and strong reformed government. Villains such as Captain Falcon, though with a crew that helps in rebuilding, their oppressiveness and deceptive skills might be the ones leading the rest to destruction and must be overturned to continue with the recreating of proper governance (Johnson 144).
Johnson’s description of Ngonyama’s transformation is eerie. When Ngonyama performs his ritual, he is proven to be skilful and different from the rest of his tribe. The silence that follows during the performance of the ritual and the amazement of the people tells of how the peppered by magic kind of death ritual Ngonyama underwent transformed him in the eyes of the people. What is unexpected happens at the end. After the rebellion, Ngonyama takes over the ship. The god of the Allmuseri is seen to be a powerful and mighty one. After Ngonyama performs his rituals, he transforms him into a fearful and brave leader who causes a successful rebellion and frees his people from slavery. Nevertheless, when the ship collapses and sinks due to its wearied status and little experience of the sailors, their god is not able to help them. The author may have wanted to highlight that as much as The Republic was under transformation, it stretches beyond its ability to sail (Johnson 170). The fact that hundreds of slaves were stuffed in, in sickening conditions, stopped the rebuilding, hence, the old wood that had not been replaced weakened.
To conclude, the Middle passage has a lot to offer, ranging from inhuman to human transformation. From this essay, it is conceivable to say that we can never be the same if we encounter experiences that change the way we view life and things around us. Like they say, change is inevitable. One change attracts another change since change is a continuous aspect in life. Those who accept changes in their lives encounter many events which make them stronger. They become resilient to daily life challenges as they give hard situations a chance for change.
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