Aphra Behn’s Novel Oroonoko Book Review or The Royal Slave

Download Aphra Behn's Novel "Oroonoko" or "The Royal Slave"

In spite
of its lack of popularity during Aphra Behn‘s lifetime, Oroonoko (1688) has ornamented the throne of English Novel
of late. It has won the prestige of most widely read and most highly regarded
work. Oroonoko: or the Royal
Slave
remains important. It also influenced the development of the
English novel, developing the female narrative voice and treating anti-colonial
and abolitionist themes. It developed the figure of the noble savage that was
later to be made famous by the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Scholars
have debated which work should count as the first novel in English. The honour
often has gone to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson
Crusoe
(1719); Defoe is often referred to as “the father of
the novel.” Some others regard Henry Fielding as the Father of English
Novel. While other scholars insist that Oroonoko should have the honour
in that it was written in a novelistic form and is not too short to be
disqualified. In any case, Behn receives credit for influencing the development
of the British novel at or near its origins.
Oroonoko
is the story of an African prince Oroonoko who deeply loves the beautiful
Imoinda. Unfortunately, his grandfather, the king, wants Imoinda also. Imoinda
is eventually sold as a slave and is taken to Suriname which is under British
rule. Oroonoko’s tribe is a supplier for the slave trade.
One
day an English ship arrives and the captain invites prince Oroonoko to come
aboard for a meal and drinks. After dinner, the captain takes advantage of
Oroonoko’s trust and takes Oroonoko and his men prisoners. The ship then sets
sail. When they arrive at their destination, Prince Oroonoko is sold to a
British gentleman named Trefry who likes and admires the prince. As is the
practice with all slaves, Oroonoko is renamed. His slave name is Caesar.
Oroonoko soon finds out that Imoinda is a slave on the same plantation, but her
slave name is now Clemene. A sweet love affair peeps in between them.
Once
Imoinda discovers that she is pregnant by Oroonoko. Oroonoko tries to free his
family because he does not want his children born into slavery. His request is
denied. He next leads a slave revolt but he is betrayed and is badly beaten
when he is caught. Finally, he decides that he would rather see his family die
quickly from his own hand than die the slow death of slavery so he kills
Clemene and the unborn child. He is about to kill himself but decides to first
have his revenge on those who would not give him his freedom.
The
final section of the story concerns Oroonoko’s revolt and the horrible death of
the hero, who is willing to die rather than bear the name of slave. This is one
of British literature’s earliest depictions of the “noble savage”–a
person of innocence and true grace over against the contemporary city-dweller.
Oroonoko is notable for its groundbreaking depiction of the
horrors of slavery, and it has come to be called one of literature’s first
abolitionist tracts. After Oroonoko rouses the sugar plantaion slaves to revolt,
they are hunted down by the Island’s Deputy-Governor and surrender. Despite the
governor’s promises, Oroonoko is whipped brutally, his flesh shred and pepper
poured into his wounds. His own horrid death by dismemberment is beyond
description, and it served the abolitionist movement well. (Even so, readers
should note that in the narrative, Oroonoko sells his own captives in war as
slaves to the British.)
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