The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano is a narrative that evokes both emotions and historical facts in an effort to persuade its readers of the cruel and harsh reality of slavery and life after. Equiano does this by describing his life from his birth in Africa, to his enslavement in America, to his freedom in England. For several years his work was considered an excellent example of a primary source, however recently several inconsistencies regarding his timeline of events and origins bring into question his reliability as an author. This causes his narrative to lose power.
Equiano begins in his narrative there are several times where his events do not align. For instance he gets the dates wrong when he sailed from America to England (Carey 240). Some historians suggest that Equiano was actually much younger than twelve when he arrived in England. This brings into question his ability to remember events as they actually happened: after all “memories are pliable and … eyewitness accounts are far from perfect recordings of actual events” according the Irvine of the University of California, who has researched unreliability of memory (Costandi 1). Taking into account Irvine’s work, the fact that he forgets when various events occurred, and the fact that he was 45 when he wrote his narrative, Equiano’s memory is not as reliable as historians once believed.
Equiano himself points out the unreliability of his memory, when he writes “but I do not remember” and “nor do I remember” several times throughout his narrative.(Equiano 48-49 ) Although, being honest up front about his memory helps Equiano by building credibility, mixing up dates does harms his narrative’s reliability as a primary source causing it to lose power. These doubtful aspects of his memory can be attributed to sever trauma caused by being kidnapped and sold into slavery at such a young age (Carey 240). This explanation, once again, builds his credibility, however reliability is more important when establishing whether or not a document is a primary source. Equiano could have tried to build reliability by displaying verifiable truths (Rael 3). Unfortunately he does the opposite by mixing up dates – even if its because of some sort of trauma. The dates that Equiano points out cannot be verified as true. Therefore should have little historical significance. Additionally, being traumatized to the point of memory loss brings into question his ability to call to mind other parts of his life vividly and with such accuracy.
In addition to a skewed timeline, Equiano also has several inconsistencies related to his origins. In his narrative, Equiano describes being born in Africa in the province of Eboe, however baptismal records and a Royal Navy Muster Roll state that he was born in South Carolina (Carey 239). Equiano’s main motive for writing his narrative was to end slavery, or at least the buying and selling of slaves. With this motive, he wrote his book to persuade his...