Everyone’s Literature

Throughout his autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Equiano constantly uses quotes or references other popular literary works to describe his current situation. In one such instance, Equiano quote’s Homer from the famous epic poem The Illiad as he and his ship crew prepare to fight as they set sail after dark by exclaiming:

“Oh Jove! O father! if it be thy will

That we must perish, we thy will obey,

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

This small nod to the famous story about the Trojan War does an appropriate job of setting up the scene, as in similar fashion, his own ship is about to head straight into unknown circumstances before “the light of day,” and as such, he knows they must be thoroughly prepared to accept defeat and death if need be.

More importantly, however, is Equiano’s fascination for using such profound works of literature in his own autobiography and adventures, as choosing to exclude them would do little to change the meaning of his experiences. It seems his decision to refer to established writers and stories shows the importance of literature as a whole not only within this time period, but also to Equiano himself, and serves as means to prove his intelligence to his audience. As a Black slave in the 18th century, Equiano wants nothing more than to be apart of English society and desires “to resemble them; to imbibe their spirit and imitate their manners” (74). By using the exact words of the very people he aspires to be, he attempts to convince his audience he is no different than everyone else. With each author he cites, he not only increases his credibility, but also demonstrates the potential people have despite coming from such a harsh background. Equiano shows that literature belongs not just to the high-class and high-profile English society, but to everyone from any background.

–Jose Ramirez

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