A Sum of All His Parts
Olaudah Equiano has long been known as an inspiration, a creative genius, and as a daring abolitionist. However, in recent years, he has also been known by some slightly more derogatory terms, such as liar and fraud. In 1999, certain findings by Vincent Carretta suggest that Equiano may not have been born in Africa, as he claims to in his autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, but actually may have been born in South Carolina. These findings have opened up a controversial debate among many literary critics and historians, not only about whether or not Equiano misrepresented his place of birth, but also about whether his fabrication of the truth makes his story any less credible. It is reasonable to believe that Equiano was truthful while writing his narrative. However, even if Equiano did falsely represent his place of birth and journey across the Middle Passage, he should not be chastised for his falsities, but instead hailed for his creative genius and remarkable accomplishments later in life.
There is very little reason to believe Equiano misconstrued the events of his early life. Carrata's findings, a 1759 baptismal record and a 1773 ship's muster roll, are not nearly enough evidence to prove Equiano's dishonesty. While this may seem convincing to some, there are many ways to explain these misgivings. Although Equiano claims he could “smatter a little imperfect English (369)” some time after being enslaved, this in no way made him a fluent speaker of the English language at the time. When Equiano was baptized in 1759, he had only been away from his home and his native language for 3 years, and was just beginning to get a grasp of the English tongue. When asked “Where are you from?” most fluent speakers would understand the question to mean “Where were you born?” However, with Equiano's limited knowledge at the time, he may have understood the...
Cited: Howard, Jennifer. "Unraveling the Narrative." Chronicle of Higher Education 9 Sept. 2005. 17 Feb. 2008 .
Equiano, Olaudah. "American Literature." The Norton Anthology. Ed. Julia Reidhead. 7th ed. Vol. 1.New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008. 1253. Rpt. of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself. London, 1789.
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