The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano

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The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African
Olaudah Equiano - Project Gutenberg eText 15399.png
Cover image
Author Olaudah Equiano
Country Great Britain
Language English
Subject Autobiography
Publication date
OCLC 23633870
LC Class HT869.E6 A3 1794

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, first published in 1789, is the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano. The book describes Equiano's time spent in slavery, and documents his attempts at becoming an independent man through his study of the Bible, and his eventual success in gaining his own freedom and in business thereafter.

Main themes[edit]

  • The African slave's voyage from Africa (Igboland) to the Americas and England.[1]
  • The journey from slavery to freedom and parallel journey from heathenism to Christianity.
  • Institutional slavery can raise the master as above man as the slave is forced beneath, both corrupting the master with power and crippling the slave with the lack there of.

Chapter 2 Summary

Equiano begins the chapter by explaining how he and his sister were kidnapped. The pair are forced to travel with their captors for a time, when one day the two children are separated. Equiano becomes the slave-companion to the children of a wealthy chieftain. He stays there for about a month, when he runs away after accidentally killing one of his master's chickens. Equiano hides in the shrubbery and woods surrounding his master's village, but after several days without food, steals away into his master's kitchen to eat. Exhausted, Equiano falls asleep in the kitchen and is discovered by another slave who takes Equiano to the master. The master is forgiving and insists that Equiano shall not be harmed.

Soon after, Equiano is sold to a group of travelers. One day, his sister appears with her master at the house and they share a joyous reunion. However, soon afterward she and her company departs, and Equiano never sees his sister again. Equiano is eventually sold to a wealthy widow and her young son. Equiano lives almost as an equal among them and is very happy until he is again taken away and forced to travel with "heathens" until they reach the seacoast.[2]

Equiano is forced onto a slave ship and spends the next several weeks on the ship under terrible conditions. He points out the 'closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship' suffocates them; some slaves even preferred to drown, and one was saved but to be flogged later, as he had chosen to die instead of being a slave. At last they reach the island of Barbados where Equiano and all the other slaves are separated and sold. The author mentions the impact of their selling away, as 'on the signal given, (as the beat of a drum), the buyers rush at once into the yard where they are confined, and make choice of that parcel they like best. [...] The noise and clamor [...] serve not a little to increase the apprehension of the Terrified Africans.'

Throughout the whole passage, Equiano refers to white people as cruel, greedy and mean, and is very surprised by the way they relate to each other, as they are even cruel between them, not only to the slaves. However as he meets more white people and learns about their culture he comes to the conclusion that the white men are not inherently evil but that institutional slavery has made them cruel and callous.


The book contains a discussion of slavery in West Africa and illustrates how the experience differs from the slavery of the Americas.[citation needed] The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano is also one of the first widely read slave narratives.[citation needed] It was generally reviewed favorably.[citation needed] It was used as a model for subsequent slave narratives.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Signifying Monkey, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Oxford University Press, hardcover, pages 153-157
  2. ^ Equiano in Africa A recreation of the childhood kidnapping of Olaudah Equiano.

External links[edit]