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Algerine Captive by Royall Tyler - Book Review

Updated on May 12, 2011

What I enjoyed from this the most was its presenting of different cultures and ideas of equality through putting yourself in the others shoes. Here you had a christian man who was captured by black muslims and sent to Algeria as a slave. Where upon he was forced to continue his slave status unless he relinquished his christian views and adopted the Islamic way of life. Although it can not be sure that Muslims today want to convert the Christian “infidels” to their religion, it can be sure that the principle differences are still the same yet very much alike. What I mean is that although we are different, we are still both brought up to believe something, “we” being the American Protestant community and the Middle Eastern Muslim community, and we both condemn the other for their falsity. So there is much resemblance between the two, and what Tyler I believe was trying to get at was that if one person is brought up one way while the other is brought up another way, and both do not promote injustices or violences without reason, who is to say that one is better or worse than the other? So he did this by putting Dr. Underhill as a slave to work in a foreign world so that the American and European white readers would feel what it’s like for the black slaves in the slave trade of the time. There was that very interesting moment in the book when the black slave who had once been under his control, brought him rice for him to eat while he was in the dungeon. This showed compassion on part of the negroes and showed a sense of equality between the two.

There is no doubt that the book focuses on the idea of equality among different races. This is made blatantly apparent with the blind man’s test. Tyler wrote, “Blind as I am, I have discovered a still minuter, but as certain a distinction, between the children of men, which has escaped the touch of your eyes. Bring me five men, perfect strangers to me; pair the nails of the same finger, so as to be even with the fingers’ ends, let me touch, with the tip of my finger, the nails thus prepared. Tell me each person’s name, as he passes in contact before me, bring the same persons to me one month afterwards, with their nails paired, in the same manner, and I will call everyone by his right name. For be assured, my friend, that artist, who has denied to me that thing called light, hath opened the eyes of my mind, to know that there is not a greater difference between the African and the European, than I what I could discover, between the finger nails of all the men of this world.” Thus he shows that really race is not an important distinction among men and should not be treated as such. 

The most interesting discussion among peers in the book was when Dr. Underhill was approached by Mollah. Mollah showed Underhill, though he did not listen, how religion is based on custom and one cannot be compared to the other. That one should see all religion with the same light and draw his own conclusions at the end. Thus was his quote that I love, “A wise man adheres not to his religion, because it was that of his ancestors. He will examine the creeds of other nations, compare them with his own, and hold fast that, which is right.” This from the mouth of a fictional Islamic priest, came the foundation for American ideology and equality. Seek everything out, and draw ones own conclusion to that which is right. 

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