Oroonoko by Aphra Behn Essay
Updated: Nov 27th, 2019
Different authors try to communicate their views about race and class differences, relations between certain categories of people, and the historic and sociocultural context of these differences.
Aphra Behn is the author of Oroonoko who can be considered one of the first professional female writers due to her original style and applicability of plays to theatrical performances. Aphra Behn uses colonialism as a method to demonstrate her attitude to the class differences by means of contrasting an enslaved African prince and the nobility that inhabits Surinam colony.
The author tells about the events of her time suggesting the political situation in the country and the world where people did not as willingly apply for a job on another continent as they do today due to globalization.
It is necessary to compare and contrast the attitude of the author towards the slaves in Africa and in colonies with regard to Oroonoko who serves as a bridge in building up relations between two different cultures though he fails to succeed in applying traditions typical of his native tribe to the setting typical of English colonies of that time. I plan to focus on the author’s manner of describing the actions of Oroonoko and Englishmen to provide a clear evidence for the argument.
Attitude to slavery and enslavers
The main concern of the author is to show her attitude to the position of slaves with regard to their origin and nobility contrasted to slaves that were sold to enslavers by their compatriots. Though Aphra Behn implements an original composition of the text to ensure that the readers believe that the text is drawn from the true story that took place in the life of inhabitants of a colony, she fails to convince me of the true historic usefulness of this story as it is full of personal ideas.
Behn claims about being a witness of the events though she applies her writing gift to describe vividly the setting where he characters were found in their homeland. Thus, an African prince who was enslaved is referred to as the ‘royal slave’ (Behn 2003) by his enslavers and by other slaves who were sold to slavery by Oroonoko. Honor and other virtues play a crucial role in the establishment of the author’s attitude to Oroonoko shaping readers attitude as well.
Personal experience of the author should be taken into account while reading the story and assessing the historic usefulness of it for evaluation of slavery and assessment of the European perception of slavery. In this respect, readers can genuinely understand the author’s attitude to slaves as they are depicted in their ‘state of innocence’ (Behn 2003, 11).
At the same time, the author demonstrates her certainty in the necessity of enslaving people for political and economic reasons beneficial for the country (meaning England). Ambiguity in the author’s attitude makes this work of literature of special literary significance for readers because slavery was favored by one category of people and received negative acclaim from the other.
In other words, the author fails to show how she treats slaves and the principles of slavery including the ways people are enslaved and reasons for that. The same situation occurred in contemporary European society where people demonstrated different attitudes toward slavery as well as Aphra Behn in the novel about African slaves on the South American continent.
Another way of demonstrating the author’s attitude to differences between slavery as positive and as negative phenomenon in the contemporary society is the presentation of the romantic story where a beautiful Imoinda was opposed, in some way, to the narrator of the story. Though these two characters have some features in common as European women used their beauty to obtain a position in court and Imoinda ‘who trusting in the strength of her charms, believed she should appease the fury of a jealous king’ (Behn 2003, 30).
A contrast appears when Imoinda is enslaved and sent to Surinam where the author finds herself visiting the colony and admiring the slaves. The women that come from Europe are independent and can do whatever they want contrasted to women that live in African tribes and have to fulfill their responsibilities as a wife and a mother instead of being a representative of some company in a colony and write poems.
The more readers learn about the beauty of African women, the less they believe that the author could support the principles of slavery for any reason.
Though Aphra Behn has a sort of ambiguous attitude to slavery as it is depicted in her story, she also imposes some portion of uncertainty about the real attitude of Oroonoko to his people and representatives of other tribes while being in Africa and after being sent to Surinam colony.
He is referred to as the ‘royal slave’ but he fails to address the principles of nobility in European people who appear to be the colonizers. The moment when Oroonoko kills Imoinda, he is depicted as barbarian for the Europeans and as a man of nobility, honor, and traditions for other slaves. He did not treat slavery as something negative before due to the education he obtained. In this respect, the African prince fails to understand the situation he found himself in and the true perspectives of his further life within colony.
So, he appealed for colonizers to leave him and Imoinda to Africa as she was pregnant and had nothing to do as to kill her and himself ‘first cutting her throat, and then severing her yet smiling face from that delicate body, pregnant as it was with the fruits of tenderest love’ (Behn 2003, 72) in accordance with the honor principles of their motherland.
The author communicates her message of slavery and its ambiguous nature with the help of a complicated composition where she persuades the readers in the origins of the story and her being witness of the events introduced in the novel. Thus, the attitude of Aphra Behn changes in the process of describing the beauty of ingenious people of Africa and explaining the economic and political usefulness of the slavery for England and other European countries.
Moreover, it is possible to trace the differences between the attitude of the author towards the male and female slaves on the territory of African when they are sold to slavery by their compatriots and in colonies when they found themselves in the status of slaves. Though the romantics of the story is obvious, the characters die in the end in accordance with the principles of honor and nobility typical of slaves as well as colonizers.
Behn, Aphra. 2003. Oroonoko. New York: Penguin Classics.
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