Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano Term Paper

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Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano

The two texts that are very famous for their representation of the Early Black Literature and that have now become a part of the English Literature course in many universities are The Interesting Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano also known as Gustavus Vassa, The Africe, Written By Himself published in the year 1794 and The History of Mary Prince, which was written by Mary Prince and was first published in the year 1831 (Kohl). Both of these pieces of literature have been successful in attracting a huge deal of attention of the British public in order to achieve their objective of abolition. It should be remembered that these writings eventually resulted in the established of the legal rights of the people who had been enslaved. In this essay, we should shed light on both of these texts and see how the two are similar and in what ways the two vary. We shall begin with a brief overview of both these texts.

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano

Also known as Gustavus Vassa, The African, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano was first published, as his autobiography, in the year 1789. In this book, one gets to know about the time which Equiano lived. There is description of how the author spent his life in slavery. As the text proceeds, he explains how he tried his best to lead an independent life and for that he had to take a lot of help and guidance from Bible. By following what has been decreed in the Holy book and by following his heart, Equiano eventually becomes successful in his business as well as in his life of freedom.

There are basically three main themes that have been discussed in this book. The first one is the discussion of the voyage of an African slave to England and the Americas from Africa. The second theme is the journey that led from slavery towards freedom along with the discussion of his journey from believing in no religion to Christianity. The third theme is the discussion of the journey of the slave from being unread to becoming literate (Gates).

This book, where it attracted a lot of British public, also attracted some criticism. This was mainly because the book is based on the discussion of slavery that prevalent in West Africa and therefore demonstrates how this slavery is different from that in the Americas. Moreover, it should be noted that The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano has been labeled as one of the most read slave narratives that have ever been written and therefore it has had a great influence on the Romantic literature of the British and elsewhere. The significance of this autobiography is evident from the fact that it was looked upon as a model for the subsequent slave narratives that were written by other writers.

The History of Mary Prince

This book was yet another autobiography that was written by Mary Prince and was first published in the year 1831. It should never be forgotten that this was the first account written on a life of a Black woman in the United Kingdom that actually got published. This book has had great influences on the Romantic literature mainly because it is an actual description of the brutalities that the slaves had to face at that time. This book had a huge impact because it was published at a time when in many British Caribbean colonies, slavery had still not been labeled as illegal. Therefore, this narrative was very helpful in stimulating an anti-slavery movement in the areas where slavery was prevalent.

Even though, slavery had become illegal in Britain when this book was published, it was still legal in many of its colonies. Also, there was a lot of uncertainty and debate going on at the time about the political consequences of making slavery illegal in the British Empire (Prince). Since this was a personal account, it held special significance and therefore was considered an altogether different debate from the statistical arguments and analysis that were being made by human rights activists or other people of the society. When one reads this account, he automatically understands the underlying authenticity of the text. What sets it aside (with respect to literature) from the other narratives is the fact the even though the text is very simple, it helps create the whole picture of brutalities of that time as compared to the writing style that was being used at that time.

Another thing that political opponents could not bring her down was the way she spoke about slavery and that confidence was given to her by the first-hand experience of the brutalities that were suffered by the slaves in the British colonies.


As the eighteenth century was ending the nineteenth century was beginning, the debate over the abolishment of slavery in the Great Britain was increasing. The main reason behind this debate was the loss that many people would have to suffer who were involved in the slave trade. Moreover, there were also chances that this would become a political issue since most of the aristocrats of the Great Britain and its colonies had enslaved a huge number of people. It should also be remembered that during the time when these debates were going on, it was also the Romantic period in the Great Britain. Therefore, the slaves who were literate and who wanted to stand up against the injustice that they had to face used an array of literary text to spur the interest of the general public towards the topic. Most of the people, who formed the general public, were not even aware of the brutalities that the slaves were suffering from. Such texts helped gain the attention of these thousands of people as these texts presented them with real scenarios and not just statistical arguments and reasoned analysis (Carey, Ellis and Saley).

As mentioned earlier, both these autobiographies are of utmost importance in the Black literature because these texts helped in galvanizing the anti-slavery movements that were going on at that time. Moreover, these texts are also important because they provide the reader with the first-hand experience of the brutalities that were suffered by the slaves of the Great Britain as well as their colonies. These texts have a great influence on the British public as well as the other writers to write narratives about the lives of slaves during eighteenth and nineteenth century.

There are many ways in which these two texts are similar to each other. The first similarity is that both the books are accounts of the real lives of the slaves. In both the accounts, the writers or the narrators explain what they had to go through when they were enslaved. It should be noted that none of the events that been discussed in this book are fictional and are truly factual.

Through the effective words of Equiano, the reader directly gets a vivid picture of the inhumanity that was shown by the white slave traders towards the people who were enslaved and most of them who were black. As one continues to read the text, the reader gets to know more and more about the infliction of violence upon their black slaves. It is emphasized in this book that the female slaves were subjected to violence more than the male slaves. In this narrative, it has also been discussed how even the freed slaves had to face a lot of hardships at the hands of the slave traders (The Interesting Narratives of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, 2012).

Equiano was faced by what can be called a common dilemma when he had to defend his work. Needless to say, when Equiano was writing this memoir, he expected that the people who were enslaved or the ones who were former slaves would consider this text to be legitimate and true. However, it should be noted that only the text of 'men of repute' are considered to be legitimate and not the text that has been written by someone who was kidnapped when he was still a young boy and was enslaved by white slave trader. For example, when Fredrick Douglas had to defend his autobiography he had to include a preface that was written by William Lloyd Garrison and then also included a letter that was written by Wendell Phillips. Likewise, to defend his autobiography and to prove its legitimacy, Equiano also included a couple of letters that explained the merits of his memoir along with an extensive list of publications and subscribers who were in his support. This list included the names of Members of Parliament, Prince of Wales, barristers, clergymen, esquires and the Duke of York.

Just like the criticism that was hurled at the text of Equiano, the work of Mary was also criticized by many people because this book had an…[continue]

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