Olaudah Equiano: Contribution to American Literature

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      Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa) was the first significant Afro-American writer. Gustavus Vassa was born in 1745 freedom of Africa but he was enslaved and transported first to Barbados and then to Virginia, bought by a British captain to serve aboard his ship, and then finally in 1776 became a freeman again. His humiliation, suffering and mental dislocation were of his generation of the millions of the black Americans. From Barbados, he was shipped to Virginia and later sold to a British naval officer whom he served in various capacities. He was later sold to Robert King, a Philadelphia Quaker, engaged in the trade of sugar and rum trade in the West Indies. King was very kind and humane. Like the many Africans of this time, he was kidnapped at the age of eleven and was sold to the whites. Vassa, like Phyllis Wheatley, who came to be known by his name Olaudah Equiano, became a Methodist convert. Unlike Wheatley, he had the sufferings of the slavery at first hand and made it the main subject of his book, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Oladauh Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789).

      Olaudah Equiano is an inaugurator of the Afro-American literary tradition of black autobiography and cultural history. The book has stylistic similarity to that of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. Both wrote in a kind of clean and straightforward prose with a felicity of liveliness of the narrative and with a keen eye for realistic details. Both have a strong sense of comic self-appraisal. So their writings were totally free from smugness. Both speak for the dreams and desires of a whole generation. Equiano, who converted to Christianity, movingly laments his cruel “un-Christian” treatment by Christians - a sentiment many African-Americans would voice in centuries to come. For the next period of eleven years of, in his life, he wandered away from America and urged the Bishop of London to send him as a missionary to Africa without success. Finally, he got himself appointed as a Commissary for Provisions and Stores for the poor blacks in Sierra Leone immoral integrity for his honesty. He was killed because he complained against the cheating in the organization to his authorities.

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