The logic of Oroonoko

Sometimes people are more likely to agree with the things they are more familiar with, and have blind faith in the familiar one when comparing or competing with the things less familiar. Self(Europe)-centralized aesthetic without even hiding it, that was what I thought about the author on the process of reading this novel. But when I finish the whole book and think about the story, I had second thoughts: maybe it’s not that simple. Perhaps the world view of the author is indeed Europe centralized, but as a result, the Europe centralized world view was not only a status, but also was used by the author as a tool.

The author used this tool to create a process of “boiling the frog in cool water”, softly trapped the reader(Europeans) in an illusion that they are familiar with the world and the people in the story, which they were actually not. The European readers would easily accept that the story might very well be true. In addition, the form of novel seemed not popular yet at that time of the world, so unlike today, readers wouldn’t naturally assume this is just a tail that is not likely to be true. All of that will engage the reader to have a high possibility to agree with what the author actually  suggests.

There is an order of logic in the whole book:

1.First assume all readers are Europeans, and then express the view of “Europe equals good”, which makes the European readers naturally agrees with the author, and feels comfortable about the view and story that they’re about to read.(eg.88,96)

2.Giving the expression that Oroonoko is basically like a European Prince, and Imoinda is more or less like a European noble lady, leading the European readers to admire them in a way of admiring their own nobles.(eg.97,98,163)

3.When reader starts to accept the setting of “this is a real love story that happens in our life”, the author begins to reveal her true opinion, but instead of telling it directly, she guides the reader to initiate the same kind of feeling.(eg.90,144,152,207)

4.When readers start to wonder if their own people commonly act so dishonorable in the colonies, the author reveals the answer, and shows the bloody end of the story, which would really shock the reader’s feeling. And due to the successful Europeanize of Oronooko, the readers might have the expression of “They killed somebody who is just like my neighbor, and this inhuman sin is done when no one is breaking any law of my country?” And this will naturally lead to the consideration of improving and changing the law of colonies and slavery in order to prevent such thing to happen again.(eg.216,226)

The author did not instill any opinion in the whole story, she simply shows the reader the world they are familiar and quite agree with, and later on reveals how horrible can it be in the very same world. She makes the reader think and review their own world view without telling them to do so. It is the compact design of the author, a great skill that I should study of.

Honorable Conquests

In class last week we discussed the significant social and cultural changes that occurred during the Restoration and the eighteenth century, both within Britain and on a global scale. Two critical factors in those changes were the expansion of the British empire around the world and Britain’s involvement in the slave trade. In Oroonoko, Aphra Behn calls attention British imperialism by describing the various experiences of slaves in the South American colony of Surinam. One interesting pattern that I noticed in my reading of this novel was Behn’s use of the discourse of imperialism and conquest in her depictions of love and romance. Oroonoko and Imoinda’s relationship is described with language which is evocative of the colonial expansion associated with the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

I first picked up on this connection between romance and conquest on page 16 of the novel. Behn draws an explicit comparison between Imoinda’s effect on Oroonoko and a military triumph:

[Imoinda] gained a perfect conquest over his fierce heart, and made him feel the victor could be subdued. So that having made his first compliments and presented her a hundred and fifty slaves in fetters, he told her with his eyes, that he was not insensible of her charms; while Imoinda, who wished for nothing more than so glorious a conquest, was pleased to believe she understood that silent language of new-born love… (Behn 16-17)

In this passage, Imoinda is described as gaining control over Oroonoko in such a way that calls to mind British conquests of various native peoples. Behn goes on to describe Imoinda’s “eternal empire over [Oroonoko]” (18). These comparisons between the relationship between Imoinda and Oroonoko are coupled with frequent allusions to virtue and morals. Oroonoko is described as an honorable hero who “knew no vice” (17), while Imoinda is “female to the noble male, the beautiful black Venus to our young Mars, as charming in her person as he, and of delicate virutes” (16). The young lovers clearly feel passionately for one another, but they do not allow their feelings to prevent them from going about their union properly. The narrator describes a “certain ceremony” which mandates that “the grandfather was to be first made acquainted with the design; for they pay a most absolute resignation to the monarch, especially when he is a parent also” (18). This respect for tradition demonstrates Imoinda and Oroonoko’s moral integrity, and effectively portrays the two as honorable characters.

Based on Oroonoko, it would seem that Aphra Behn was not opposed to slavery in and of itself. She seems to have believed that there were benefits to slavery, and while Oroonoko illustrates the gruesome experiences of one slave in particular, Behn did not appear to be calling for an end to slavery all together. Rather, she effectively called attention to the fact that there are proper ways to go about the slave trade. I think that Behn’s use of the discourse of conquest in her descriptions of Imoinda and Oroonoko’s relationship demonstrates this notion. Imoinda “gained a perfect conquest over [Oroonoko]”, but the pair was prepared to follow the appropriate steps to ensure that their union was consummated legitimately. This union is ultimately destroyed by other characters who are deceitful and who fail to honor the traditional customs of war.


Works Cited:

Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko. Ed. Janet Todd. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.