Student guide: excerpt from the life of olaudah equiano about the author

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  • What does Equiano fear will happen to him when he is taken aboard the ship? Why might he be so afraid?

He fears that the white men will kill and eat him. His fears probably come from his never having seen a white person before; also, he is young.

  • In spite of his fear, Equiano displays great curiosity. For example, he observes sailors to see how they use a navigation system. What might this reveal about his character?

This shows that despite his appalling conditions on the journey, he remains curious and eager to learn.

  • Equiano says that the slaves’ separation from their loved ones is a “new refinement in cruelty,” and it “adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery.” Why does he say these things?

He is saying that slavery is made even more horrible without family support, and support is removed just when it is needed most.

  • Equiano’s book was a best seller in its time. Why do you think it was so successful at capturing the public’s interest? Why would his story have been useful to the cause of abolition?

The book described slavery through the eyes of a real-life slave. His story revealed the cruelty of slavery. It also showed the victims of slavery to be human beings with the same right to dignity as other people.

  • Based on this selection, what sort of insight have you gained about personal freedom in general, about human nature, or about our nation’s history of enslavement of Africans?

ANSWERS WILL VARY: the graphic images of a slave ship were shocking; human beings are capable of cruelty+

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