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The Persuasiveness of the Captivity Narrative Essay

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As the most influential black American author of his time, in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavas Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, Olaudah Equiano illuminated for the masses many of the inhumanities and atrocities associated with the slave trade that previously had been known only to those more intimately involved with it and began an entire new genre known as the slave narrative. Part of the success of Equiano’s narrative must be ascribed to the familiar themes of capture, captivity, and restoration that he experienced and many had read in one of the many “captivity narratives” that were so popular in early Colonial times. One such captivity narrative that has many similarities to Equiano’s slave narrative is Mary Rowlandson’s A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson. Not only did both stories follow a very similar story arc, but both stories experienced enormous popularity that sparked the formation of an entire new genre. However, while Equiano might have chosen to model his narrative after the captivity narratives that came before him due to their popularity and familiarity, and despite being so similar to Rowlandson’s narrative in form, he wrote with a vastly different purpose than did Rowlandson.

In his narrative, Equiano meets all of the criteria that are used to define a captivity narrative from the 17th and 18th centuries. The most basic criterion of a captivity narrative is that an individual goes through three distinct periods: the period of capture, the period of captivity, and the period of restoration. Looking at Equiano’s narrative as an outline, it is clear that each requisite part is present. Equiano’s period of capture begins at the age of ...


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...the evils of his enslavers would have alienated the people whom he was trying to influence. Instead, by recognizing the virtues that the white man possesses despite everything that Equiano witnesses, he appears to be magnanimous and noble and he is able to bring the white man to his cause.

Even though Equiano’s slave narrative had a vastly different purpose from captivity narratives such as Rowlandson’s, it was, nonetheless, the perfect medium in which to introduce himself and his story to the Colonialists. By choosing the captivity narrative as his format, he, as the narrator, was thrust into the role of the hero while those that held him captive would be perceived as the villains. By choosing the captivity narrative, Equiano launched an entire new genre of narration whose sole purpose was to help combat and inform on the evils of slavery, the slave narrative.


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