Learning Not to Curse: Swearing, Testimony, and Truth in Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative

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Abstract

This article addresses swearing and testimony in Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative (1789) by reading the work in the context of a broader contemporary discourse concerning profane swearing and cursing. Acts of profane enunciation inform a number of key episodes in Equiano’s life, and bear particular significance for his spiritual development and abolitionist witnessing. Within the Narrative, swearing is cast as a failure of piety, civility, and humanity, and shown to be actively avenged by a retributive deity. In Britain, profane swearing was also thought to undermine the validity of legal testimony; while, in the British West Indies, slaves were denied recourse to such testimony against their oppressors. By disavowing profane swearing and cursing, the essay argues, Equiano sought to assert both the validity of his oath and the truth of his testimony against the iniquities of the British slave trade.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-357
Number of pages19
JournalEighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation
Volume54
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013

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