The Uncommon Man

Oroonoko Response

Oroonoko is not a common man; Aphra Behn makes that clear through her novel Oroonoko. Oroonoko is regal, beautiful (even by Behn’s Western standards), and a prince in his homeland. His uncommonailty is shown in several ways: when he is worshipped by people he sold into slavery, his freely spoken conversation with Trefry, his new owner, and in the stoic manner of his death.
Oroonoko’s greetings by the men and women he sold into slavery is odd, to say the least. Behn’s narrator states, “He was that prince who has, at several times, sold most of them to these parts; and, from a veneration they pay to great men [. . .] all cast themselves at his feet, crying out in their language, Live, O King!” (44). Behn is clearly trying to tell us that Oroonoko is so great that even those he condemned to a life of misery still find him worthy of praise. This scene does present the narrator an opportunity to show Oroonoko’s humility because he “[assures] them he [is] no better” than they are (44). While Oroonoko recognizes he is a slave, what other slaves are greeted with a “magnificent supper” (45). Perhaps by pointing out that Oroonoko realizes he is a slave, further expresses how uncommon he truly is by immediately changing his mentality from a prince to accepting his role as Trefry’s slave (admittedly, one may question whether Oroonoko truly accepts his role as slave because of how freely, and frequently, he asks Trefry to release himself and Imoinda).
The second passage that struck me was Oroonoko’s conversation with Trefry about a slave girl (which we find out is Imoinda) who refuses to sleep with Trefry. Oroonoko tells Trefry, “Or why, being your slave, you do not oblige her to yield [to you sexually]?” (46). Oroonoko just dealt with a situation similar to this in his homeland, where Imoinda was kept as part of the king’s harem of women (granted the king could not force himself sexually upon anyone). It made me wonder what could make Oroonoko so casual about rape, knowing that his wife could have been raped if the king could hold an erection. Even as Oroonko realizes that this woman is Imoinda, there is not a single mention of regret for saying that Trefry should have had his way with her.
The last scene that stuck in my memory is of Oroonoko smoking a pipe while the executioner cuts off chucks of his body with “an ill-favoured knife” (76). I took that to mean a dull knife, which would increase how painful it is for someone to cut off parts of your body. That being said, Oroonoko is uncommon even in his death and how stoic he is while he “allows” men to cut off parts of his body. There are few men who could be so cavalier about being sliced up.

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