The Implications of Oroonoko

July 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

Oroonoko was a ground-breaking and revolutionary novella that depicted its African hero in a dignified, even regal, light and is considered to be one of the first works during this time era that showed a compassionate side towards Africans. It is also deemed historically valuable for its being written by a woman, Aphra Behn, a feat to be marveled at, since women were not often well-educated at the time of publication, as well as the simple fact that this was one of the first English novels to be written. Oroonoko showcases the plight of the Africans and the struggles that they faced with the Europeans by using the theme of the moral question of slavery, as well as that of cultural adaptations. These themes culminated to present a short but concise book that influenced the conventional world and quite conceivably served as a precursor to the abolitionist movement. Aphra Behn wrote Oroonoko for a number of reasons. She wrote because she was poor and needed money; she wrote to become a recognized author and because she liked writing; she wrote to illustrate the misery of slavery; she wrote to tell the story of a person that she may have actually known. Though not much is known of her life, she is still considered to be the predecessor of English women writers. However, the little that we do know about her life influenced how Oroonoko was written. Behn’s extraordinary education is also one of the biggest factors in her worldview – her cultural knowledge and innate feelings toward nobility are featured well. Her theme of the moral implications of slavery was limited by the preconceptions that ran rampant in these times. “Like almost all of her contemporaries, Aphra Behn accepted slavery for most of the enslaved” (Todd xxvi). The theme of cultural adaptations can also be shown to be related to Aphra Behn’s life experiences. Her short-lived experiences as a spy is an example of how she may have needed to culturally adapt to her surroundings as well, as well as the fact that she was a woman writer in an era where practically no women wrote – internally, she must have been able to adapt to the changing political and social standards that were prevalent in her lifetime. The moral implications of slavery was one that was considered widely in the Atlantic World, with most of the questioners agreeing that slavery was beneficial to Europe, and therefore acceptable. Behn was vague in her support of slavery – while she portrayed it as atrocious and horrid, she never stated that she was against it, and even thought of Europeans as superior to the Africans in many ways. Behn’s characterization of Oroonoko demonstrates this, as she describes not a typical African male, but instead an idealized and modified version. She says of him that “his face was not of that brown, rusty black which most of that nation are, but a perfect ebony or polished jet. His nose was rising and Roman instead of African and flat. His mouth, the finest shaped that could be seen, far from those great turned lips, which are so natural to the rest of the Negroes. The whole proportion and air of his face was so noble and exactly form that, bating his colour, there could be noting in nature more beautiful” (Behn 15). From the very beginning, Behn describes Oroonoko’s physical presence as more akin to that of a white person, as opposed to a normal African, and states that if he were not black, he would be the most beautiful person alive. This statement ties in with the common idea of European superiority over the Africans. However, this idea of superiority alone does not make Behn think slavery is righteous. She speaks of the treacherous white governor and painstakingly details the horrific abuse and torture of Oroonoko at the hands of him, and notes many other instances of cruelty to the slaves. However, Behn never speaks of banning the establishment of slavery, and even has Oroonoko himself give gifts of slaves. Behn is ambiguous in that she has arguments in both sides of the slavery debate, and never fully commits to one or the other. Even in the issue of superiority, there are clear cases where she considers the Africans to be superior, such as when Oroonoko slays two tigers that no white man could fight. The theme of cultural adaptations is also prevalent throughout Oroonoko. The wide rift between Africans and Europeans are clearly demonstrated, though similarities do exist as well. The theme of a patriarchal society are evident in both cultures, as well as the issue of nobility. In both cultures, nobility is revered and respected, and Behnherself almost idolizes it. The aforementioned cultural adaptations, in respect to this novella at least, is that Oroonoko and his love, Imoinda have to adjust in the world of white men, something totally foreign to them. What is hardest for them in this is that they are no longer free; they are slaves. What catalyzes this whole tragedy is the urge for them to be free once more, and they cannot bear to be subjugated to the unfamiliar and strange ways of their masters. Oroonoko and Imoinda are unable to adapt to the cultures of the Europeans, not because they were savages or because they were uncivilized and ignorant, but because they could simply not bear to be subjected. Behn uses the setting of Surinam to aid in her writing of Oroonoko. Her account of Oroonoko’s story is the earliest fictional representation of Africans under an English writer, at least under the Sahara desert (Todd xxiv). In the end, Oroonoko, Imoinda and their unborn child die because of their unwillingness to adapt to the cultural norms of society. They would rather kill themselves then acclimatize and accept their newfound lifestyle, and while this is noble and tragic in Behn’s eyes, in reality it may seem unrealistic and extreme. Behn’s novella is beset with inconsistencies. Intentional or not, factual or not, these inconsistencies lend to the air of confusion that Behn creates in Oroonoko. This confusion stems from the mixed allegiances Behn feels towards the idea of slavery being a cruel and outdated institution, and the idea that since it benefits Europe, it is tolerable. This air of confusion is not necessarily detrimental to the novel, because it helps to highlight the author and her tone. As a historical document, Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko indisputably holds importance. It is the first novel to sympathize with the African natives, and it is one of the first novels written by a European woman, as well. Aside from these barriers being broken down, it also was written for political reasons, and examining this helps shed lights on the political factions of this time, and aids in understanding them. The themes that Behn writes about in it also examines the worldview of Europeans and Africans during this time, a valuable thing to study.Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko implemented the theme of the moral question of slavery and of cultural adaptations to show that slavery was not the one-dimensional issue that most people of this era seemed to think it was. Though not necessarily an anti-slavery document, there are definite moments where Behn showcases the absolute dreadfulness of injustice. Considered to be one of the first abolitionist works, Oroonoko is unquestionably one of the most telling and information-providing historical documents that we have from this time period. Behn carefully crafted and melded Oroonoko into a novel that would raise haunting questions to the ideas and moral implications of slavery, and to what lengths some will go to in an effort to be truly free.

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