It was one of the earliest first-hand accounts of slavery, documenting the experiences of an immigrant to England and the tortures he suffers as a slave to white men.
The identity that Equiano adopts in his work is that of a native of Essaka, a village near the river Niger that is located in modern day Nigeria. In the village, his father occupies a respectable position as an elder in the village. But Equiano is sold off to slave traders at the tender young age of ten and a half years. This is the first indictment against slavery, because in narrating his experiences in being exchanged among various owners, Equiano is also able to highlight the bitter travesty that had denied him his heritage as the son of a respectable village elder, stripping him of the respect that could potentially have been his, in exchange for an oppressive existence.
Throughout his book, Equiano narrates several incidents to demonstrate how demeaning and oppressive the practice of slavery was. One of these was his arrival in Virginia where he was purchased by a Navy lieutenant named Pascal. One of the first things Pascal did upon buying Equiano was to change his name to Gustavus Vassa. Equiano resisted this name change and boldly demanded another name that he liked. But his master forced him to accept the name he had chosen by beating and shackling him until he agreed to do so. The name Gustavus Vassa was an uncommon choice and was not a name that Equiano particularly liked. Simon has offered the view that one of the reasons propelling Pascal to the choice of such a Latinized name could have been that the lieutenant had served on a ship with that name and therefore experienced a sentimental attachment to it (Schama, 161-162).