Aphra Behn, an certainly woman, still attracts critical attention with her novella Oroonoko. The aim of this essay was to find out the political implications of Oroonoko. First, the significance of the main character, Oroonoko, and interpreting his possible symbolism. Second, how the political sympathies of the author, were expressed in the book through her presentation of characters and plot. And third, the treatment by the author of slavery and racial issues, as seen in the political context.
Aphra Behn, the first Englishwoman to earn her living by writing, was noted for many of her works, among them Oroonoko, which Abrams calls "an important precursor to the novel" . Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave, is a novella from the Restoration period, published in 1688, and presented by author as "a true history."
The story, set in the New World, is told by a female narrator who recalls her acquaintance with a black African prince, Oroonoko. He was born in Coramantien (Coromantyn), fell in love with beautiful Imoinda, married her, and was divided from her by his grandfather, the king, who wanted her for himself and subsequently sold Imoinda into slavery. He "loses his freedom because he naively accepts the invitation of an English sea captain - with whom Oroonoko has engaged in slave trading - to dine aboard ship. Behn excoriates the `treachery' of the captain, who entraps the too-credulous prince and transports him to Surinam." Eventually, Oroonoko leads a slave revolt which results in failure, kills his wife Imoinda, and is punished by torture and execution. "The hero learns too late that the `good' Christians ... have repeatedly if perhaps not fully consciously deceived him" . The prince is depicted as noble and honest, educated, yet still `different' and ultimately savage, for example even in the fact that he kills his wife, who does not object to the deed at all. For in their country, Behn writes, "wives have a respect for their husbands equal to what any other people pay a deity, and when a man finds any occasion to quit his wife, if he love her, she dies by his hand, if not, he sells her or suffers some other to kill her" (p.68). Remarkably, opening the novella, Behn gives a description of Indians in Surinam, living in some kind of a "golden age", as Adam and Eve (p.7), innocent, unspoiled and decent, "they understood no vice, or cunning, but when they are taught by white men" (p.8). Oroonoko, just as white people, is not claimed to have possessed such innocence.
Margaret Anne Doody in "Women Poets of the Eighteenth century" writes: "Aphra Behn was a political writer and a Royalist, very decidedly on the Tory side supporting the king." In Oroonoko, the explicit political ideology of the narrator is that of a Royalist and a Tory, as well. Aphra Behn includes characters she most likely had personally met during her stay in Surinam, adding real-life colour to her story. However, I do not think she identifies herself with the narrator at all...