The Portrayal Of Feminism In Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko

‘Numerous critics have analyzed Oroonoko from the perspectives of genre, cultural history, feminism, and postcolonialism - as a faux travel narrative, an early romance novella, a political allegory of the Stuart monarchy, a proto-feminist narrative, an anti-slavery critique, and a cosmopolitan morality tale.’

Women were living in a misogynistic era which meant that unfortunately the strong morals of feminism,which prevails in today’s society, was not apparent as it went against the classical patriarchal normalities held by the society at the time. There were women who did, however, exhibate their need to be treated as equals to men. These women wished to be granted the freedom to be educated so that they can do all things that men were able to do. Aphra Behn is an example of one of these women who was widely seen as a principal figure of feminism, since she was one of the earliest female British authors to make a living with her writing. In her novella, “Oroonoko”, she disputes many of the expected normalities of women at the time through her educated female narrator and her main character Imoinda who Behn illustrates as a strong dilligent female. Both of these prominent female narratives created by Behn would have been some of the first of its kind to have been written into literature from a female author.

The Caucasian narrator herself is included in the marginal position as a female in a patriarchal colonial society. Behn tries to create a prominent voice for the main narrative as well as an air of authority of narrating as any man would be able to hold at that time. However, ‘in her narrator's concern for what to include or exclude, Behn assumes that her primary audience is male, commenting that the 'thousand little accidents' of Oroonoko's life 'yet might prove tedious and heavy to my reader, in a world where he finds diversions for every minute, new and strange.’ Behn’s prominent use of the pronouns “I” and “we” and the repetition of “my pen” allows her to speak out and express her feelings from the viewpoint of the weakest part of society, as a woman. Despite her lower position within the patriarchal society, she uses her authority as a white person to defend the heroic Oroonoko as well as illustrating the importance of his story. The narrator feels pity Oroonoko since his story can only be told from a female narrative as she says, ‘But his misfortune was to fall in an obscure world, that afforded only a female pen to celebrate his fame’. This illustrates the unequal worth of men and women in the novel as this shows that no male author would tell the story of a slave as they do not believe that the story from the minority matters. This inequality is also a reflection of women at the time. She is writing the novel because the narrator is seen as a projection of herself and so she will takes part in the story as well.

Aphra Behn portrays Imoinda in a very positive light as “the Brave, the Beautiful, and the Constant Imoinda”. She even calls her Oroonoko's 'Heroic Imoinda'. During this time, women had no choice but to follow what they were told by men or otherwise endure heavy punishment and shame as it went against the very morals of the patriarchal society. However, Imoinda is seen as a hero since she goes against the normality. Despite being a black female dealing with slavery, Imoinda is not wholly passive, silent, and under the complete control of male dominance which differentiates her from the other women.

When Imoinda refuses the king’s lustful advances at first, she was obeying the Royal Veil. She platantly refused to consenting to the king`s attempts to rape her. This is an truely valiant decision as it conveyed that woman at the time had the right to choose her partner, and that they able to say no whenever she feels exploited or violated. The Royal Veil is a useful yet corrupt tool for the king to enslave women for his sexual fantasies. Iomanda courageously stands against those misogynistic tools, methods, and practices.

Another example of Imoinda’s feminism morals is when she fights the slave owners using bows and arrows which eventually caused the fatality of a man. Whilst the other slave wives stood back silently and watched their husbands fight, the pregnant Imoinda takes control of her own destiny and carries out the necessary actions that she felt needed to be done to ensure her and her unborn child’s freedom and safety. Imoinda’s diligent disposition is furthermore conveyed when she “faster pleads for death” when Oroonoko suggests that death is the best solution for both of them to escape slavery as there was no other way for them to gain freedom. Here, Imoinda displays the upmost bravery, strength, and the ability to be active in an important decision that will ultimately be her fate. Not only is she protecting herself from a lifetime of slavery and possible rape but she is also taking on the responsibility of being a mother and protecting her child from being born into slavery and unfortunately, never knowing freedom.

Aphra Behn and Imoinda`s character, go against the normalised classical female roles by using their strong voices and actions to either tell their important stories or free themselves from the tight vices that they find themselves in. Aphra Behn sets an example for the women of the future to find the strength and resiliance in order to fight for their rights to freedom and to remain diligent. She has portrayed herself as an early example of being a feminist, and having a literary authority to express her own ideas. 

16 December 2021
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