This literature begins with the word “I” to represent the narrator, who claims to be an eyewitness to the history of a fascinating hero. The narrator additionally claims that she was given whatever she did not personally observe as firsthand information of the people who were there. This novel was written by Aphra Behn in 1688 and she based it on her trip to what is believed to be Surinam. Behn lived between 1640 and died the year proceeding the authoring of this novel. She begins the novel stating her legitimacy as an author, and she is the persona in this novel. The main characters in this novel include Aboan, Oroonoko’s real friend in Caramantien, and help him enter the otan to visit Imoinda, who is later given the slave name of Clemene when she arrives in Surinam. Oroonoko, the African prince captured and enslaved by a British slave trader loves Imoinda. The other character is Bannister whom Byam, the deputy governor of Surinam, elected to kill Oroonoko to discourage the other slaves from repelling. Others also include Willoughy the lord governor of Surinam, Tuscan who organizes the slave revolt with Oroonoko, and Onahal, the senior wife of the king. This fictive novel presents the story of Oroonoko, the African prince and his beloved wife during the economic, cultural, and social colonial era and slave trade in West Africa. Caramantien, the current Ghana provided the slaves that worked in British firms because they were constantly at war. Oroonoko later leads the slaves to revolt against their masters. This paper provides an analysis of this novel as well as provides its importance in the current literature and contemporary society.
During Behn’s time, poetry and drama were the most common literary forms. For instance, Shakespeare, being one of the successful writers of that time only wrote poems and drama, but failed to write a novel. This novel is considered as one of the first and the origin of British novels. Since the writer was new to novels, she used short breaks in her paragraphs. The author herself spent some time in Surinam, a British colony that was founded in 1640 during her youth. The narrator of the novel, a reporter, seems to possess several things in common with the writer as an eyewitness. Despite being new to writing novels, the author categorically describes the location of Surinam as being in the West Indies, the group of Islands that Columbus discovered in 1492 (DeCorse, p. 45). The narrator uses vivid descriptions especially using the kind of insects and birds in Surinam to gain the trust of the audience when she presents the African prince’s story.
In the novel, Behn refers to three different types of people living in Surinam. The narrator in this novel is a young British reporter visiting the British colony. She uses prepositions such as “us” and “we” differently to distinguish the Europeans from the other two groups that she generally calls “them”. She maintains in the novel that one group, which are the current day Native Americans lived peacefully and as innocent as Adam and Evil before the fall, and as the early man during the “Golden Age” before the corruptions of civilization (Shumway, p.124). Despite the non-philosophical features of this novel, the aforementioned features might make it be considered as a philosophical literature. Beyond the simple identification of the Europeans with culture and the Native Americans with nature, tensions remain between the two groups.
Since the Native Americans surpassed the Europeans with their numbers, the latter were forced to be good to them, and could not enslave the natives. The British still needed people to work in their Caribbean colonies where they were advancing their wealth. This gave rise to the African slavery so that they could harvest tobacco and cotton, refine the sugar, and many other duties that the Europeans could not do on their own. The African slaves, therefore, became the third group in Surinam (Shumway, p. 312). According to the novel, lord Willoughby the governor was responsible for bringing the slaves in 1650. The novel also indicates that the salves soon outnumbered the Europeans. The writer in this novel later narrates the history of Oroonoko and the maneuverings of the slave captain, his grandmother, the captivity of his wife Imoinda, and the betrayal of the former as well as the final rebellion of these slaves. She also depicts honor in her novel as she degrades women in the society. As Oroonoko tells, Tuscan his fellow slave, women are not free to chose their destiny and they have to follow their husband, especially when his honor is at stake. This implies that women should preserve their husbands’ honors as "honor was the first principle in nature and if there were a woman among them so degenerate from love and virtue, to choose slavery before the pursuit of her husband that such a one ought to be abandoned".(Behn, p.68)
The novel was written in a time when most literary workers only wrote poems and drama. For instance, Shakespeare thrived in writing poems and drama, but failed to write a novel. The novel, which is written in first and third person do not flow in a non-biographical manner. The nature of the book depicts a philosophical literature. Even though the novel was not popular during the writer’s era, it is her most widely read novel today. The novel is additionally influential in the development of English novel. Most importantly, the novel gives an account of the slave trade and the treatment of the slaves during the British slave trade in the Americas from the perspective of an eyewitness. Behn seems to advocate for racial equality, except in her argument where she says that Oroonoko is an image of perfection “bating his color (Behn, p.8), but she does not seem to fight against slavery.
Behn Aphra. Oroonoko or the Royal Slave: Mobi Classics. London: MobileReference, 2010. Print
DeCorse Christopher. West Africa During the Atlantic Slave Trade: Archaeological Perspectives: New approaches to anthropological archaeology. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001. Print.
Shumway Rebecca. The Fante and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Rochester, New York: University Rochester Press, 2011. Print.