The Life of Olaudah Equiano


Olaudah Equiano

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The Life of Olaudah Equiano: Preface Summary & Analysis

The preface, anonymously written for the 1814 edition of the book, lists the names of subscribers to the book’s first edition, that is, those who had paid in advance to be fund its publication. Since the book’s story was true, it sparked readers’ compassion more than an address in government would have done. Many other people, though, tried to cast doubt on Equiano’s character, arguing that he was born in the West Indies, not in Africa.
By 1814, the slave trade has been abolished in England—in great part thanks to Equiano’s narrative, which has by now been published in a number of editions and languages. But this preface also points to a debate about the legitimacy of Equiano’s identity, and by extension the legitimacy of his arguments.
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The preface also notes that some people objected to Equiano’s Calvinist religion, and others argued that his opinions should be discounted because, as an African, he would simply parrot the opinions of others. Yet another objection is that it’s written too well and therefore Equiano must have had some help. After dismissing these claims, the preface writer expresses a wish that Equiano had lived to see the bill for the abolition of the slave trade get passed in March 1807—a bill that Equiano helped to bring about.
The preface lists these objections in order to refute and dismiss them, implying that Equiano’s narrative itself successfully preempts such criticisms. In addition, the fact that the book helped to trigger the abolition of the slave trade is yet more proof of its power over many readers and even over national politics.
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