Using literary elements, explain in what two ways Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African are similar.

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Whenever examining a non-fiction text, I ask my students to examine the purpose of the piece. Once they are able to determine the purpose, I ask them to figure out how successful the author is at achieving the stated purpose. Many times, literary elements are what my students focus...

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Whenever examining a non-fiction text, I ask my students to examine the purpose of the piece. Once they are able to determine the purpose, I ask them to figure out how successful the author is at achieving the stated purpose. Many times, literary elements are what my students focus upon. Specifically, in non-fiction, my students turn to the modes of persuasion: logos, pathos, and ethos. Both authors use the modes of persuasion to address their audiences.

Logos is the use of logic and reasoning. Franklin's logos appears in his inclusion of letters from both Mr. Abel James and Mr. Benjamin Vaughan. He includes these two letters in his autobiography in order to illustrate his use of logic and reasoning in obtaining the American Dream. He states that he represents the ideal man in this search, and both James and Vaughan agree.

Pathos is the use of language whose purpose is to evoke an emotional response in the reader. Equiano's text is filled with images with are meant to evoke emotion in the reader. His description of what life was like in the belly of the slave ships allows readers to almost smell the putrid odor of excrement and hear the choked voices of the chained slaves. It is this type of language that appeals to a reader's emotions.

Both Franklin and Equiano use ethos in their texts. Ethos is where the writer uses language to convince the audience that he or she possesses authority on the subject he or she is speaking about. Franklin was well-known by many people. His autobiography was published one year after his death. By being so well-known, most works that he created were accepted based upon his authority of being a well-known and scholarly man. Equiano's ethos comes from the fact that he lived the experiences he writes about in his "interesting narrative." Given that each text recalls the events of each man's life, who better than the man himself to write upon such a personal subject? Given that their stories belong to them alone, one would be remiss in stating that their ethos is not present.

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Both Equiano and Franklin's autobiographies utilize anecdotes to make observations about life and human nature without coming off as pedantic or preachy. For example, when Franklin writes about his moral perfection experiment, he is self-effacing about his own lack of humility and incomplete success but helps the reader understand that any work undertaken toward improving oneself is never a wasted effort. Equiano's comparisons and contrasts of African and European lives are not meant as condemnation, as he sees value and shortcomings in both ways of living. He observes that the slave trade was practiced by both Africans within the continent and by Europeans who kidnaped and sold Africans to Westerners.

Both Equiano and Franklin employ imagery to make their respective narratives more vivid. When Franklin describes entering Philadelphia with very little money, he paints the following picture of himself buying bread:

"He gave me, accordingly, three great puffy rolls. I was surpris’d at the quantity, but took it, and, having no room in my pockets, walk’d off with a roll under each arm, and eating the other. Thus I went up Market-street as far as Fourth-street, passing by the door of Mr. Read, my future wife’s father; when she, standing at the door, saw me, and thought I made, as I certainly did, a most awkward, ridiculous appearance."

Equiano's harrowing description of life under the deck of a slave ship effectively records the barbarity of those engaged in the slave trade.

"This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become insupportable; and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable."

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I think that focusing on Franklin's and Equiano's works help to bring out some similar literary elements.  The most evident would be that both are told in the first person narrative structure.  Given the genre, this is automatically understood, but still constitutes a starting point of similarity.  Both works also feature characters or protagonists who undergo a great deal of change.  Franklin's autobiography helps to evoke much in the way of personal growth and development set against the backdrop of a changing colonial society.  By the same token, Equiano's narrative helps to bring out much in the way of how the individual perceives and understands human cruelty and the nature of evil.  Such realizations help change and help to foster a deeper understanding of what social orders present and what they should present.  The idea of a bildungsroman is evident in both works, as well.

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