The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African Form and Content

Gustavas Vassa

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African is considered the first major slave autobiography in English literature. It served as the prototype for the numerous fugitive slave narratives used in the fight against slavery by the abolitionist groups during the period prior to the Civil War.

In the mid-1750’s in West Africa, the eleven-year-old Olaudah Equiano and his sister are kidnapped and sold into bondage. After serving for a short time as a slave in Africa and being separated from his sister, he is purchased by European slave dealers. Equiano undergoes the worst terrors of the Atlantic crossing known as the Middle Passage, an experience shared by countless Africans tightly packed in slave ships sailing to the New World and to a life of cruel servitude.

The slave ship takes Equiano to Barbados, where he is put up for sale. He is not purchased there, however, and soon the frightened and bewildered youth is sent to Virginia. Eventually, a British Royal Navy captain purchases Equiano and puts him aboard a trading vessel.

Equiano is called Gustavus Vassa, the name of a Swedish freedom fighter, and the young slave spends the next ten years working on various ships plying the Atlantic between England and the Americas. Thus, he is spared a crueler existence on a Caribbean or an American colonial plantation. He is befriended by two sailors, Richard Baker and Daniel Queen, who...

(The entire section is 402 words.)