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Historical Accuracy in Equiano's Novel

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Jessica Rodriguez Moton and Paradise English 21 4 May 2005 Historical Accuracy in Equiano's Novel Olaudah Equiano's autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, has become a very important piece of literature. Equiano established a new type of literature with this novel. It was the first autobiography/slave narrative ever written. Many other slaves, such as Fredrick Douglass, followed his example in writing autobiographies or slave narratives. Equiano not only gives detailed descriptions of his homeland, of which we still know little about, he also gives a powerful account of the Middle Passage. Despite these captivating accounts, many critics have come to question the authenticity of Equiano's history. Many do not believe that he was the man he claimed to be. Although there is some evidence to suggest this, there is not enough to discredit Equiano's accounts. Equiano's autobiography offers a powerful and truthful account of the author's history, and his experiences with the slave trade and the Middle Passage. Despite the critics' accusations, Equiano's novel is historically accurate. Olaudah Equiano was born in the southern part of Nigeria known as Isseke (or Essaka) in the year 1745. ...read more.


He states of the slave ship, "and I was now persuaded that I had got into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me" (34). He relates the "shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying" as a "scene of horror almost inconceivable" (38). Equiano's description of this event is of great importance because it was the really the first time that the Middle Passage had been recorded by someone who actually experienced it. These descriptions, however, do not go without criticism. Vincent Carretta, a professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, claims that Equiano's descriptions of Africa and the Middle Passage closely resemble those of American and European writers (96). Equiano surely consulted other works to recollect his distant memories. According to Angelo Costanzo, Equiano's descriptions of Africa came partly from the "ideas he read about and ... the knowledge he acquired from a lifetime of experience" (56). Equiano was young when he traveled the Middle Passage and it was a terrifying and traumatic experience. It is possible that he did not understand all that went on while aboard the ship. He claims that his "ignorance of what [he] was to undergo" was increased by the many horrors he witnessed (Equiano 35). ...read more.


It has been claimed that he invented this persona in Rodriguez 5 hopes of doing so. Of course, Equiano hoped that his story would help influence the abolishment of the slave trade; however, this desire and motivation should not discredit Equiano. He saw the opportunity to possibly make a difference for thousands of people and he seized the moment. This novel is one of great importance and controversy. This novel continues to be treated as a valuable and historical piece of literature, yet it is still scrutinized. While it is evident that the critics have not proven the inaccuracy of this account, it is also clear that this debate is far from over. Regardless of this debate, the importance of the novel remains. This memoir brought about several new concepts to literature, especially for the African-American. It provided information in a way that readers had never experienced. The first hand account of these horrible events provide the reader with many conflicting feelings. At this time, there was much debate over the abolishment of slave trade and this novel helped to eventually bring all slavery to an end. Equiano was never able to witness the fruits of his hard labor, but he did not quit fighting for what he believed in until the very end. Olaudah Equiano is a historically accurate novel worthy of being treated as a viable piece of literature. ...read more.

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