An Anti-slavery Agenda In Oroonoko By Aphra Behn

Oroonoko is a story written by Aphra Behn. The story is about an is an African prince from Coramantien, who is later focused into slavery. Oroonoko’s tale was told from Aphra Behn’s perspective. Behn claims to have known Oroonoko during his captivity time. 

In Oroonoko, Aphra Behn went beyond the norms of her time period to say nice things about people of color. But at the same time, she wrote from a perspective that assumed European superiority, she wrote to please her audience. Oroonoko is set in a time (1430-1833) before the African embargo on slave exportation. Oroonoko, his grandfather, the king, and his enemies actively engage in the slave trade of their people. The African concept of slavery is different from the Surinam. Behn calls attention to what she considers cruel behavior by some plantation owners. While Prince Oroonoko might look upon their condition in terms of ill fortune, or the price of defeat in battle, Behn would have her protagonist believe that they were slaves because of their innate inferiority. She wrote that Oroonoko “... was ashamed of what he had done, in endeavoring to make those Free, who were by Nature Slaves.” 

What she meant by “natural slave,” stands in stark contrast to Oroonoko. Not only did she portray him as above the common class that swelled the slave ranks, but also to the other royals. Behn writes that his superiority resulted from his closeness to European culture and appearance. Behn described Oroonoko as quite dark, his skin-tone is much purer than the “rusty brown” faces of the others. She describes his facial features, consisting of a “Roman” nose, gleaming white teeth, and lips that do not poke out, are much less African. She explains, his manners, knowledge of European culture, and ability to speak several European languages mark him as a cut above those around him.

To her credit, Behn acknowledges that the cruel conditions she saw in Surinam fostered a change in those who toiled under the whip, writing, “... that they (i.e. the slaves) had lost the Divine Quality of Men, and were become insensible Asses, fit only to bear; nay worse...” Seeing that this statement precedes the remark about natural slaves, you may draw that while she perceives them to be inferior people, she does not see them as an inferior species unless made so by torture. But that leads one to wonder how she could expect anything else. In a society where the population of blacks rivaled or surpassed that of whites, how could the Europeans maintain control without some degree of repression?

In this sense, Oroonoko is not a critical analysis, but rather a rationalization after the fact. Keeping in mind the author’s spiritual beliefs, which she makes clear throughout the narrative, the institution of slavery presented a severe (most nowadays would say insurmountable) challenge to Christian ideals. Like other Europeans, Behn marveled at the wonders that this new land could produce. Gaining quick and easy access to these resources, however, required the exploitation of someone. It would therefore be convenient to imagine that there were those, who by dint of their natural inferiority deserved their subservient roles. This not only applied to Africans, but also to the indentured European servant exported to the New World for the same purpose.

To conclude, I feel that the narrator feels that her race was superior, it was noted that she feels that the impressiveness of her race is being threatened because of Oroonoko‟s doubt, then she employs the singular umbrage of personal pronoun on behalf of plural race. She became upset that Oroonok would think that she would lie to him. She felt that her race morals and values were higher than those of him. 

16 December 2021
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