In The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Olaudah Equiano skillfully represents the equal capabilities of nobility and intelligence from the African people forced into slavery. While his writing is steeped with a high acumen and earnestness, there is also a lingering sense of withholding that comes forth to the modern reader. Between the time of Equiano's tribulations and the time he penned his narrative, it was not the belief of the majority of Americans and Europeans that such slavery was wrong or evil--obvious by its long-standing practice. While our society today is much more privy to the certain horrors that occurred during the era of slavery, the people of this time were not so enlightened or understanding. This narrative was ever so delicate in order to make the readers accept the imminent need for emancipation of slaves. While his subject matter is a necessary base to his argument of equality for slaves, the true means of persuasion come from his tone and understanding of how exactly to address the white readership at the time of publication. His narrative is painstakingly tactful in the execution of such a tale during such a time. Equiano administers small doses of his hardships, tempered with his lightened, distanced recall, as well as his accounted fondness of the kind few he met throughout his journeys. By this systematic manner of narration, this piece works harder at being a persuasive work rather than a blunt historical account.
The first thing to consider when reading this narrative is the calmness that constantly prevails in Equiano's tone. He keeps a rather composed demeanor in relation to the tumultuous events he describes. For example, when he explains the process of the buying market, he writes: "On a signal given (as the beat of a drum), the buyers rush at once into the yard where the slaves are confined, and make choice of the parcel they like best." (1231). Instead of giving in completely with the emotional charge such a scene would produce, he removes himself to continue an unruffled tone. He sets the scene with this sentence before further developing the horrors in order to ease the reader into it. The use of the word "parcel" within this analogy puts him at a distance from the situation which further enables a calmer tone. Calm--yet the comparison of the slaves to "parcels" is still gripping by its reduction of people to mere idea of a package or item nonetheless. By extracting himself and explaining from a removed point of view, he can relate the events in an easier manner for the edification of the reader. As he continues with the explanation of the buyers market, he renders an almost clinical tone in order to suppress an all too emotional or frenzied retelling. He later states, "In this manner, without scruple, are relations and friends separated, most of them never to see each other again." (1231). For such a terrifying thing, he remains short and to the point. Equiano does not over indulge in describing these events he experienced, but delivers them in a balance of composure for the palpability of the reader.
While his tone enables the reader to take in his story without being overwhelmed with the harshness of his tale, he also continually addresses the reader personally, which imbues a deeper connection between author and reader. Equiano spends a deal relaying background information as to his own personal roots and heritage in order to impart a further sense of himself to the reader. Immediately after doing so, he states, "I hope the reader will not think I have trespassed on his patience in introducing myself to him, with some account of the manners and customs of my country." (1222). He takes great care in endearing himself to the reader in order to enhance their reception of him, especially as he is in the delicate position of being a representation of the slave population as well. In his efforts of persuasion, his image is of the utmost importance to his...
Cited: Equiano, Olaudah. "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano." 1789.
The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol. A. Boston, MA [u.a.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publ., 2009. 1214-245. Print.
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