The Life of Olaudah Equiano

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Themes and Colors
Culture, Education, and “Civilizing” Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Conversion, Providence, and God’s Will Theme Icon
Commerce and Trade Theme Icon
Selfhood Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Life of Olaudah Equiano, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In telling the story of his life from his childhood to the present day, Olaudah Equiano seeks to acquaint his British readers with the richness of life in his African home by detailing the dances, rites, and other social customs of his village. Equiano thus makes a case for the vibrant cultural life of African peoples, which Europeans at the time tended to belittle. At a number of points, Equiano describes his home village by…

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Equiano doesn’t overly idealize the African hometown where he came from: there too, he says, slavery existed. But that slavery pales in comparison to the violence of captivity that he experiences from the white men who enslave him. If one way of reading Equiano’s narrative is of a path from ignorance to knowledge, another is as a movement from freedom into captivity and back to freedom. Unlike Equiano’s gradual attainment of education, however, freedom is…

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When Equiano first begins to learn about Christianity from the Miss Guerins in England, he is intrigued but also ambivalent. After all, he has described a thriving belief system with which he grew up in his home village. Equiano does come to be baptized himself not long afterwards, but it is only over time that he comes to grapple with spiritual questions on a more profound level and to fully embrace an identity as a…

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Equiano lived during a period of time that saw the rise of both capitalism and imperialism, in which a chain of supply and demand was established—increasingly worldwide, as the British Empire is expanding. This cycle of trade was most powerfully represented by the Triangular Trade, in which raw materials from the American and West Indian colonies were sent to imperial nations like England, manufactured goods from the imperial nations were traded to Africa, and slaves…

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As Equiano relates the story of his life and his travels between Africa, England, and the British Empire, he tells a story of the development of his self—the forging of his individual identity—which proves vital to the broader political purpose of his story. Equiano, who seeks to convince readers of the inhumanity of the slave trade, must first convince readers that he, a former slave, is fully human. The very act of relating his development…

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