To Gain the Whole World

Categories: Olaudah equianoWorld

Outside knowledge and self-knowledge are similar ideas, but also differ from one another. Outside knowledge is familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or something such as fact, information, descriptions or skills which is learned through experiences or education. Outside knowledge influences your self-knowledge. Self-knowledge refers to knowledge of one’s own sensations, thoughts, and beliefs. Sometimes, these two types of knowledge are complementary. However, there can also be tension between what you learn about the external world when you venture through your life’s journey and what beliefs you hold true to yourself and the kind of person you are.

Tolsoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych, Blake’s The Little Black Boy, and Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano all are great examples how self-knowledge and outside knowledge come together and, create tension in life experiences. When analyzing these works, you can see how outside knowledge and self-knowledge can be complementary and in other situations, cause tension.

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The characters in these writings persist through some tough life experiences that cause them grow as people. This causes a mix of their self and outside knowledge which can shape their life positively or negatively.

Examples of outside knowledge are prevalent in Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Equiano went through some life experiences that defined him and made up his outside knowledge. He was kidnapped into slavery at a young age and went through many difficulties that ended up creating his views and beliefs about life.

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Because of this, his texts were mostly political as their purpose was to abolish slavery. Equiano being a slave gave him a different perspective on slavery than those who were not slaves. He was destined to become an abolitionist and to fight for racial equality due to his experiences and travels. His literacy was uncommon for a slave and enabled him to acquire his freedom and to advance his fight for freedom off all slaves. These experiences all had an impact on his writings because the outside knowledge learned developed his self-knowledge and ultimately what he believed that he could do- regardless of anyone else’s opinion. There were probably many people along the way that told Equiano that he would never amount to anything just because he was black. But Equiano was educated unlike most other slaves and through this he became literate. Because he was educated, Equiano at some point believed that he was worth something in the world. This belief, stemming from his education, caused a new thought process that completely changed the rest of his life. Usually, slave owners didn’t educate their slaves so that they would stay ignorant and not question slavery.

In The Death of Ivan Ilych, Ivan’s life experiences and surrounding environment contribute to him becoming a greedy, jealous, and selfish man. 19th century Russia was an environment where your social class standing, and wealth were two of the most important things in life. This caused everyone to strive towards these themes, but they were always left chasing more and unsatisfied. Ivan ended up hurting his hip badly which ultimately led to his death. Because of this major life experience and change in his outside knowledge, he was able to change his self-knowledge and perspective on life as he knew that his days were limited. He is left dying thinking back on his life full of regret. This new insight gained is a direct outcome of the outside knowledge when he injures himself. Outside knowledge and self-knowledge are also in tension with each other as Ivan’s newfound perspective and understanding of life went against the norms of society that made up the outside knowledge of everyone else.

The ideologies of society in 19th century Russia were too engrained in people’s thinking process for Ivan to really make a difference. This caused him to die and leave no meaningful change behind for everyone else. For example, at his funeral, a friend of his says, “Had he any property? I think his wife had a little- but something quite trifling” (Tolsoy 12-13). Even at his funeral, all the people can talk about are things like his wealth and property. Rather than mourning his death or talking about some fun times with him, the only thing that comes to his friends’ minds is his class standing and the wealth and property accumulated throughout Ivan’s life. This shows the tension between Ivan’s self- knowledge and others’ outside knowledge as Ivan’s life and later days left no real, meaningful impact on anyone else as they were still consumed by the selfish, petty lifestyle of society.

In The Little Black Boy, a black boy has some self-realization about his own identity as an black boy. In addition, he learns about God and who God is for the first time. In this poem he states that, although he is black, his “soul is white” (Songs of Innocence The Little Black Boy). This newfound enlightenment shows that in the face of all of the racial inequalities, the boy believes that there will be an afterlife for him in heaven even though he isn’t white. This is a good representation of self-knowledge because the boy encounters the white boy which causes a realization that he is different but still accepted in the eyes of God.

In conclusion, life experiences and lessons learned seem to have a profound impact on your own development as a person and your understanding of yourself. How you approach the tension between self-knowledge and outside knowledge ultimately leads you to becoming who you are in life. Some common approaches can be through faith, activism, sadness and self- reflection. Rather than accepting what the world tells you about yourself, these approaches can allow to go against the norm of society and trust your self-knowledge. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Matthew 16:26).”

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To Gain the Whole World. (2022, Jan 10). Retrieved from

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