Essay on The Point Of An Ideal Account

Essay on The Point Of An Ideal Account

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The temptation in reviewing The Interesting Narrative is to dust off aphorisms about the nature of history and the purpose of history and whose job it is to define history. As an autobiography, Olaudah Equiano’s story can and should be scrutinized as something short of an ideal account. There are numerous passages that have been debunked by scholars, and more than a few devices that seem to have been lifted whole cloth from other best-sellers of the day. Equiano repeatedly emphasized his relative good fortune, and in light of the fact that he has managed to dodge the reputation of a charlatan, he appears to have been blessed with prescience as well as humility. Yet to analyze The Interesting Narrative in terms of objective truth in the way one might delve into A Million Little Pieces is to demean the context and the goal of Equiano’s message. History is not merely written by the victors, but is in fact adopted, massaged, and retrofitted by the survivors, and this is as it should be. That generations of schoolchildren were indoctrinated to believe that Columbus was an uncomplicated hero did not erase Las Casas. Whether Equiano plagiarized the “talking book” story is important, but not nearly as important as the fact that he talked at all.
There is no question but that the attention devoted to characterizing the various slaveowners he had to contend with had the purpose of relating the truth that even good people were corrupted by the institution of slavery. In certain respects, it must be remembered that Equiano’s audience was likely ignorant of the horrors of the slave trade. His writing concerning the Middle Passage certainly must have raised the hackles of like-minded activists, but could only have served as high drama to the t...


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...table with it. His steadfast belief in predestination and his commitment to the eradication of slavery would have held more value.
The Interesting Narrative must be viewed foremost as a work of propaganda, and in this vein Equiano was undoubtedly qualified. Is it any wonder that Equiano found himself compelled to resort to fictions to tell portions of his story? No honest reader with any conception of the past can honestly doubt that Equiano was attempting to narrate the unspeakable. For the enslaved, trauma was a way of life, and the difficulty of piecing together a coherent, eloquent narrative from a litany of brutalities can only be supposed by those who are far more fortunate than Equiano deemed himself to be. To fetishize accuracy at the expense of a greater truth would be a far greater failing than whatever sins against academia Equiano might have committed.

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