Shelfari edited the themes of Oroonoko Tuesday, October 12, 2010.
- Edited the description of The Female Narrative Voice: Behn's work is important for her innovations in developing the female narrative voice. In her case, this voice invites readers into the plot with a familiar tone that bears a resemblance to an ongoing everyday conversation. The narrator's voice is suggestive of someone using the epistolary form, writing a letter. For instance, some lines read,
"Ihave already said..."or "Iforgot to ask how..."In addition, the narrator's active and knowing involvement in the plot, and her follow-up conversations with those who were present when important events took place, provide a great sense of authority that makes the story believable and approachable. For instance, the narrator might not have been on the scene when Oroonoko was killed, but her mother and sister--who are eyewitnesses--inform her of the horrid happenings, which she can convey to her readers with immediacy and authority.Thispattern becomes a central feature of the female narrative voice. The narrator is considered an "intrusive narrator,"someone who more or less interrupts the narrative when she deems fit to interject a personal aside on the basis of additional knowledge or interest. On the journey to the native village, for instance, the narrator makes a rather long digression by informing the reader how she came to be in Surinam: her father died on the trip to his new post as lieutenant-general, and now she and her family must wait for transport back to England. As a travel writer of sorts, she also provides her readers with a description of the local flora, fauna and cultural customs of the natives. Behn's narrative strategy would influence such major novelists as Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, and George Eliot.
- Edited the description of Slavery: Oroonoko is regarded by scholars as having advanced the cause of abolitionism. The colonists certainly appear evil towards Oroonoko and others. The whites who whip Oroonoko act very cruelly in rending the flesh from his bones:
"whenthey thought they were sufficiently revenged on him, they untied him almost fainting with the loss of blood, from a thousand wounds all over his body...and led him bleeding and naked as he was, and loaded him all over with irons and then rubbed his wounds, to complete their cruelty, with Indian pepper which had like to have made him raving mad"(67). These descriptions would have horrified seventeenth-century Europeans.Evenso, Behn fails to criticize colonialism's use of slaves altogether. It seems to be all right to treat slaves like the overseer Trefry does--being nice to them rather than cruel. Behn does not signal discomfort that slaves cannot retain their own names and are forced to leave their families and friends forever. Thus, though she writes of the horrors of slavery, she never suggests that it should be outlawed as an institution. Although Oroonoko suffers as a slave, he never regrets taking slaves himself. He merely justifies the practice of slavery in Africa as the fate of men honorably taken in war (after all, it is better to be a slave than to be dead). Oroonoko never seems troubled by the idea that the slaves he took honorably in war were then sold by him to the British for his own profit. Although he suffers the brutalizing whip before his ultimate death, the hero never shows regret over having been complicit in selling his own countrymen to the British.
- Edited the description of Anti-colonialism: Oroonoko is highly regarded as an anti-colonial text. It sheds light on the horrors of slavery and paints many of the white colonists as brutal, greedy, and dishonest. Behn, like other writers from her era, felt greatly disheartened that her countrymen could behead the late king Charles I (1649) and that countless assassination attempts continued on his son, the restored Charles II. Such writers feared that the British possessed a general predisposition towards violence, greed, and disobedience. For instance, the British slave trading captain first befriends Oroonoko, but later betrays him and twice lies to him, and then sells him to Trefry. In addition, Byam, the real-life historical deputy-governor of Surinam, also pretends friendship with Oroonoko and similarly assures him over and over again of his eventual freedom. Later, however, Byam hunts him down, whips him, and without a thought orders he be put to death. The author refers to Byam's greed
("hewas one who loved to live at others' expense"and illustrates how he acts with kindness and friendship to someone's face and then plots behind his back (70).Thebarbarism Behn fears is inherent in the British nature is particularly apparent in the character Bannister, "afellow of absolute barbarity,"the member of Byam's elected council who condemns Oroonoko to death. Bannister captures Oroonoko and tells him honestly that he will "dielike a dog,"to which the African prince replies gratefully that he has finally heard a white man tell the truth (76-77). Even Trefry, who indeed is truthful and kind though he is an overseer of slaves, remains blind to the plight of all the other slaves in his charge. And while he defends Oroonoko, he never takes action on his and Imonida's behalf; he remains passive and helpless. Finally, even the narrator, who means well and befriends Oroonoko, runs away at the first sign of trouble. Like the other whites, she is two-faced. She assures him of her undying devotion, but shewarns immediately after that she and the others do not "trusthim much out of our view, nor did the country who feared him" (48).Ifthis pattern is common among British colonists, Behn suggests, the British are not suited to engage in colonialism.