Equiano: The Allusionist

Using allusions to other literary works is very common in literature, and can even be traced back to the Anglo Saxon period when Beowulf was written. Throughout his biography Olaudah Equiano alludes to other literary works to explain what is happening to him. He alludes to Homer’s The Iliad in the lines:

“Oh Jove! Oh Father! If it be thy will

That we must perish, we thy will obey

But let us perish by the light of day” (78).

Despite it being a mere three sentences of the entire work, these lines help the reader visualize the setting. The story about the Trojan War is known by the majority of scholars of the time, and by using these lines he can perfectly illustrate the setting of his ship heading into the unknown, without having to dedicate a page or two to description.

More importantly however, his allusion to The Iliad  isn’t just useful for description. Because, without these allusion he could still easily recount his experiences, but rather he uses these allusions to highlight the importance of literature, to his audience and to himself. It also seems to me that he is using these allusions as a way to prove himself to intelligence and ability to the audience. As an eighteenth century slave, he wants to be considered an English man and not a slave. He must’ve thought that if he referenced the ame works they read, and used the same words they did they would be more accepting of him. And as his autobiography goes on, and he makes more allusions, he demonstrates that literature can belong to everybody, not just the higher class.

Arturo Raudales

One thought on “Equiano: The Allusionist

  1. The thesis of your post is to highlight the beneficial effects for Equiano using a well known and educated story such as the Iliad. It is better the Equiano uses the Iliad to connect with his readers instead of recounting more events that would eventually distance himself from the readers. You make an interesting point regarding how he wants to be seen as an English man and not a slave even though Equiano knows he will never be able to truly move away from that label. Possiablly you could explore other options Equiano has to make his writings more relatable to his audience.
    -Ashley Jackson


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