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The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano Analysis

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  • 0:04 Overview of the Narrative
  • 0:50 Epistolary Form
  • 1:30 Travel Narrative
  • 2:25 Slave Narrative
  • 3:08 Religious Meditation
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Audrey Farley

Audrey is a doctoral student in English at University of Maryland.

This lesson offers a literary critical analysis of Olaudah Equiano's autiobiography, 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.' This book is about the author's life of slavery.

Overview of the Narrative

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano is Olaudah Equiano's autobiography. An autobiography is a person's life story told from their own perspective. The book, which was published in 1789, describes Equiano's life in slavery, beginning with his kidnapping by slave traders at age eleven. Equiano traveled extensively with his master, the captain of a British trading vessel, and was allowed to own minor trade exchanges. In 1766, he used his savings to purchase his freedom. He obtained a job working for a scientist in England, while also traveling as an abolitionist and public speaker. His autobiography is noted for its combination of literary forms--epistolary form, travel narrative, slave narrative, and religious meditation.

Epistolary Form

The narrative begins in the epistolary form, which is a form of narrative that's told through letters. This is something you might have seen in modern novels like Bridget Jones' Diary, World War Z, or The Martian. The narrative begins with several original letters written about Equiano, which speak to his character. Equiano includes the letters to assure the reader of his strong moral character and work ethic. The letters use third-person perspective, which contrasts with the first-person voice that's used once the memoir begins. This combination of third-person and first-person point of view allows readers to see how others view Equiano, as well as how he views himself.

Travel Narrative

Equiano's autobiography reads like a travel narrative, since it describes the culture of the various regions to which he travels. Travel narratives have been popular for centuries and even included more modern works like Heart of Darkness, On the Road, and even Eat Pray Love. With Equiano's story, he begins by describing his village in Nigeria, then a beautiful African town to which he had never been. The narrative then describes his journeys in North America and Europe. While he describes the abuse which he and the other slaves experienced, he writes about his journeys in a more sentimental tone. For instance, he observes that he became very fond of the English culture and prided himself about his ability to write and speak the language. By adopting some of the elements of travel narrative, Equiano portrays his curiosity about the world. The adoption also suggests that he was blessed with many opportunities, despite his position.

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