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Aphra Behn - Oroonoko - some main characters – Oroonoko/Caesar, the Prince and “Royal Slave” the King (Oroonoko’s grandfather) Aboan (Oroonoko’s attendant/sidekick)

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Presentation on theme: "Aphra Behn - Oroonoko - some main characters – Oroonoko/Caesar, the Prince and “Royal Slave” the King (Oroonoko’s grandfather) Aboan (Oroonoko’s attendant/sidekick)"— Presentation transcript:

1 Aphra Behn - Oroonoko - some main characters – Oroonoko/Caesar, the Prince and “Royal Slave” the King (Oroonoko’s grandfather) Aboan (Oroonoko’s attendant/sidekick) Imoinda/Clemene Onahal (part of the Otan) Aboan/Onahal work as foil to Oroonoko/Imoinda Trefry (the “good” white guy) Byam (the governor; the “bad” white guy) narrator (white, English, Christian, woman) a “Frenchman of wit and learning”/the royal tutor (921) Behn – 1640?-1689 the story of a “royal” “slave,” Behn’s work embodies a number of tense contradictions: Surinam

2 narration/slavery/race I do not entertain my reader with the adventures of a feigned hero...And it shall come simply into the world...there being enough of reality to support it...without the addition of invention (918). narrator as “eyewitness” (918); yet on 959 the story is related to her (is the event romanticized? is the narrator an unwitting filter; an “Englishness” imposed on the world – the storyteller as colonizer?) slippery pronouns: “Before I give you the story of this gallant slave, ‘tis fit I tell you the manner of bringing them to these new colonies, for those [slaves] they make use of there are not native of the place; for those [natives] we live with in perfect amity” (918). - note the shift especially from they to we the narrator and race – - 920 – “With these people [in Surinam]...we live in perfect it behooves us to do, they knowing all the places where to seek the best food...and the means of getting it, and for very small and invaluable trifles, supply us with what ‘tis impossible for us to get...So that they being, on all occasions, very useful to us, we find it absolutely necessary to caress ‘em as friends, and not to treat ‘em as slaves; nor dare we do other, their numbers so far surpassing ours in that continent.” “History” - 1. A relation of incidents (in early use, either true or imaginary; later only of those professedly true); a narrative, tale, story. – OED online

3 - “I have often seen and conversed with this great man, and been witness to many of his mighty actions, and do assure my reader the most illustrious courts could not have produced a braver man...a wit more quick...He had heard of and admired the Romans” (922) – and then he would become Caesar - narrator as “Christian” [and as critic?]: - 924: in Africa, men “take to themselves as many [wives] as they can maintain, and...the only crime is to turn her off, to abandon her to want...Such ill morals are only practiced in Christian countries”; yet Oroonko, because he knows “honor,” vows that Imoinda “should be the only woman he would possess while he lived” (and then the narrator “forgets” the “ceremony” that confirms the engagement between Oroonoko and Imoinda) - on 937 (after Oroonoko has been enslaved): the Captain will not believe Oroonoko, who is a “heathen” and “has no sense or notion of the God that he [the captain] worshipped”; Oroonoko responds with skepticism that the Captain has behaved as taught by his God; ultimately, Oroonoko swears on his “honor” (938) - Oroonoko later points out that his suffering as a slave will have been worth it, since he has learned the truth about the English and “your gods by whom you swear” (939) - on 943 we are told that the Frenchman “they could not make a slave, because a Christian” (yet he had been cast out of France for heresies) who is the narrator?

4 the narrator and race/slavery 920 – “unless they [the Indians in Surinam] take slaves in war, they have no other attendants” (is this anti-slavery?) 921 – in Africa, “all they took in battle were sold as slaves, at least those common men who could not ransom themselves” - 923 – Oroonoko returns from battle and visits Imoinda (because it was her father who saved Oroonoko’s life); he presents her with “those slaves that had been taken in...battle, as the trophies of her father’s victories.” and later, his gift to Imoinda is described: “a hundred and fifty slaves in fetters” 919 – “they [Indians] have all that is called beauty, except color, which is a reddish yellow” 921 – “certainly there are beauties that can charm of that color”; yet Oroonoko stands out as unlike his race: “he was adorned with a native beauty so transcending all those of his gloomy race that he struck an awe and reverence even in those that knew not his quality; as he did in me, who beheld him with surprise and wonder, when afterwards he arrived in our world” (921).

5 the “Middle Passage”


7 slavery - interestingly, on 932 Imoinda and Onahal are sold into slavery by the King; Imoinda because the King thinks she has been “polluted” by another man, yet he is still bound to her because he has given her the ceremonial “veil” (the King is caught between two contradictory laws); Onahal is sold because she helped Imoinda and also because she is no longer “useful” (she is too old) - Behn here links slavery of two kinds - the narrator indicates the King’s feelings: “he considered he ought in honor to have killed her for this offense, if it had been one”....”He ought to have nobly put her to death, and not to have sold her like a common slave” (933). - the King decides to lie to Oroonoko about Imoinda’s slavery and tell him she was “secretly put to death” (933) – is this honorable? - the narrator does not seem to see the contradiction when Oroonoko says, “it is not title make men brave or good, or birth that bestows courage and generosity” (934). Yet it is, throughout the story, the lowliness of slaves that justifies their initial enslavement (so are all men created equal, or are all men not created equal?)

8 slavery - on 936, the English ship arrives - the captain, who will trick and enslave Oroonoko, “was very well known to Oroonoko, with whom he had trafficked for slaves, and had used to do the same with his predecessors” (936) - is Behn playing with the possibility of a strange “justice” here? - for it is “to this captain” that Oroonoko “sold abundance of his slaves” (936) - when Oroonoko arrives in Surinam, it is Trefry who at once distinguishes Oroonoko as different (939); for example, he sees Oroonoko’s “vest” (his clothes) - Oroonoko confesses he is “above the rank of common slaves” - Trefry “soon found that he [Oroonoko] was yet something greater than he confessed, and from that moment began to conceive so vast an esteem for him that he ever after loved him as his dearest brother, and showed him all the civilities due to so great a man” (939) - Trefry laters promises on “word and honor” to return Oroonoko to Africa (940) - again, is slavery the problem, or just enslavement of the “wrong” people? - Oroonoko himself will justify slavery (oddly, as he argues against his own enslavement): “should we be slaves to an unknown people? Have they vanquished us nobly in fight? Have they won us in honourable battle? And are we by the chance of war become their slaves? This would not anger a noble heart” (953).

9 - “He was...of a shape the most exact that can be fancied...His face was not of that brown, rusty black which most of that nation are, but a perfect ebony or polished jet...His nose was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat...” (922) - “his face was so noble and exactly formed that, [except for] his color, there could be nothing in nature more beautiful...and handsome” (922) Race the beautiful powerful violent black body

10 race - 936 – Oroonoko is “more civilized, according to the European mode, than any other had been, and took more delight in the white nations and above all men of parts and wit” - yet (perhaps “according to the European mode”?) Oroonoko is “betrayed into slavery” (937) by the captain’s “design” - in Surinam, Oroonoko is once again identified (by the narrator) as different than the commoner: “The royal youth appeared in spite of the slave, and people could not help treating him after a different manner” (940) - as an ironic commentary (I think) on this “difference” – which is celebrated by the narrator – Behn, as author, indicates that Oroonoko literally becomes a new person: Caesar (940) - notice the distance between the straightforward narrator and the critical author: “I ought to tell you that the Christians never buy any slaves but they give ‘em some name of their own, their native ones being likely very barbarous and hard to pronounce; so that Mr. Trefry gave Oroonoko that of Caesar” - and so we get narrator as historian (though this narrator does not seem to realize the implications – she really believes it’s simply a “true history” – that her telling of the tale does not create the “reality” of the story, or that her telling necessitates her involvement in it)

11 - Oroonoko as Caesar – this invokes the sense that the narrator is telling a history like that we know about the “real” Caesar - in fact, had Oroonoko’s feats “been done in some part of the world replenished with people and historians that might have given him his due. But his misfortune was to fall in an obscure world, that afforded only a female pen to celebrate his fame” (940); though perhaps history might have recognized Oroonoko eventually had not the Dutch “killed, banished, and dispersed” any potential historians - the irony of Oroonoko’s enslavement at the hands of the English (as guilty of killing, banishment, and dispersion) seems lost on the narrator - at the plantation, Oroonoko was “received more like a governor than a slave”; yet the narrator willingly accepts the name change (in order for her history to be accurate, she says) – 941 - Oroonoko, slave in name only (though he is relegated to where “the Negroes were”) actually has to confront those slaves that he himself had sold into slavery! (941) - in a further twist, they accept Oroonoko as “King,” yet he wishes to be thought of as “their fellow-slave” (941)

12 - as Oroonoko/Caesar becomes King/slave, he is set to be reunited with Imoinda (who has been “christened” Clemene (942) - notably, “her task of work [she is a slave after all] some sighing lover every day makes it his petition to perform for her, which she accepts blushing and with reluctancy, for fear he will ask her a look for a recompense, which he dares not presume to hope.” - Oroonoko comments, “I do not wonder...that Clemene should refuse slaves” (942). - so Imoinda, now Clemene, in her slavery, is keeping slaves - notice how the naming works during the reunion scene on 942-943: - Caesar, Clemene, the Prince, Imoinda...”Caesar swore he disdained the empire of the world while he could behold his Imoinda; and she despised grandeur and pomp, those vanities of her sex [what a bizarre inclusion by the narrator], when she could gaze on Oroonoko” (943) - the narrator here mentions (out of guilt?) that she had promised Oroonoko/Caesar his freedom: “I had assured of liberty as soon as the Governor [Byam] arrived” (on 951 she notes that “we resolved to make her [Imoinda’s] chains as easy as we could”) – what was her role in slavery?

13 slavery - when Oroonoko/Caesar and Imoinda/Clemene are reunited, they are married and she gets pregnant - eager for their liberty, Oroonoko offers Trefry “either gold or a vast quantity of slaves” (944) - as Oroonoko begins to suspect deception again, it is the narrator who is “obliged, by some persons who feared a mutiny [which should have happened anyway because the slaves “exceed the whites in vast numbers”] to discourse with Caesar, and to give him all the satisfaction I possible could” (944) - incidentally, the narrator tells us, she talked at length with “Caesar” about “the lives of the Romans, and great men” (irony here?); further, she teaches “Clemene” “all the pretty works that I was mistress of, and telling her stories of nuns, and endeavouring to bring her to the knowledge of the true God” (which, for obvious reasons, Oroonoko doesn’t buy)

14 the noble savage - Behn reflects the interest of the English reading public in the “exotic” - browse the story to find a description of Oroonoko/Caesar and/or Imoinda – what do you find? (see 922 and 923 for a start) - notice the description of Indians (not Africans) on 919 in terms of “Adam and Eve” - bottom of 919: “And these people represented to me an absolute idea of the first state of innocence, before man knew how to sin. And ‘tis most evident and plain that simple Nature is the most harmless, inoffensive, and virtuous mistress. ‘Tis she alone, if she were permitted, that better instructs the world than all the inventions of man...” - note the natives in Surinam: “extreme ignorance and simplicity of ‘em” (950)

15 genres at work: “history”; novel; dramatic theatre; romance; biography; travel narrative - Oroonoko and Imoinda are both portrayed in the highly Europeanized terms of courtly lovers - 923 - Imoinda “tames” Oroonoko (in what would become the great Harlequin romance tradition): Oroonoko “admired by what strange inspiration he came to talk things so soft and passionate”; he discovers “some new and till then unknown power [which] instructed his heart and tongue in the language of love” - yet his “flame aimed at nothing but honor” (923) - 929 – the courtly/comic “romance” between Aboan and Onahal (she pursues him); 931: “he suffered himself to be caressed in bed by Onahal”

16 – the narrator in Surinam (939) - establishes colony as belonging to the “King of England” - the narrator is at one of the plantations: “where I then chanced to be” (notice her presence is not well explained here) - “they” sold off slaves to merchants and “gentlemen” - “they would separate [families and nationalities] not daring to trust ‘em together, lest rage and courage should put ‘em upon contriving some great action, to the ruin of the colony” - 943 – after the reunion: “I had forgot to tell you....”; here she describes the “nobly born” of Surinam - on 945-946 she finally discloses why she is in Surinam at all (“my father died at sea” (945)) - her father was to be a prominent ruler; the narrator seems to have taken up the language of colonialism that he too must have been steeped in: “’Tis a continent whose vast extent was never yet known...It affords all things both for beauty and use...the trees bearing at once all degrees of leaves and fruit...The very wood of all these trees has an intrinsic value above common timber...[they] bear a price considerable, to inlay withal” (946)

17 - the extensive hunting scenes play a number of roles, not least perhaps metaphoric; notice especially the “tiger” hunt that starts on 947 - on 947, other hunters had shot “her”; “she” might even be a “devil” (because the shots did not kill her) - Caesar vows to encounter “this monster” “this ravenous beast” (947) - top of 948, “she” is found eating, and she is “ravenous” - he shoots her with an arrow in the “eye” (recalling that Oroonoko had been saved when his general – Imoinda’s father – took an arrow in the eye for him - 921) - hit with another arrow “he fell dead upon the prey”; Caesar cut “him” open - and then the narrator: “I shall now relate a thing that possibly will find no credit among men...nothing can receive a wound in the heart and yet live; but when the heart of this courageous animal [courageous?] was taken out, there were seven bullets of lead in it...and she lived with the bullets a great while”

18 the conclusion - not until page 957 does the narrator mention her capacity to intervene (to what extent is unclear) - Caesar has escaped with “all the Negroes” (who will later betray him; or practice common sense, depending on your perspective) - “we” were scared of Caesar returning to “cut all our throats” (anachronistically, a classic case of Freudian projection) - “I suppose I had authority [political force] and interest [economic force] enough there, had I suspected any such thing, [that Byam would lie to Caesar] to have prevented it” (957) - the “piece of promotion” (according to the footnote) that follows is surely Behn taking an ironic dig at herself (at the shallowness of writers who are struggling to earn a living) for it is immediately after the narrator admits to having (substantial?) clout that she turns to self-promotion: “We met on the river with Colonel Martin, a man of great gallantry, wit, and goodness, and whom I have celebrated in a character of my new comedy by his own name, in memory of so brave a man” (957). - note that when the narrator returns to find Caesar she makes a point of “protesting our innocency” (957)

19 the conclusion - on 958, Caesar reclaims his real name: “you shall see that Oroonoko scorns to live with the indignity that was put on Caesar” (958) (the greatest indignity for Oroonoko is to be whipped as a slave – he would rather die, and will, along with Imoinda) - Oroonoko and Imoinda flee; Imoinda is sacrificed (notice the parallel of Oroonoko over Imoinda and the tiger over its prey; yet Oroonoko becomes feeble from lack of food) - Oroonoko is referred to: “Oh, monster! that hast murdered thy wife” (960). - on 947, it is Oroonoko who calls the tiger “monster” - Oroonoko declares that there will be “no more Caesars to be whipped” (961) - yet with Oroonoko’s execution his body is literally cut up and the pieces sent to other plantations; there turn out to be “more Caesars” - “Thus died this great man, worthy of a better fate, and a more sublime wit than mine to write he praise; yet, I hope, the reputation of my pen is considerable enough to make his glorious name to survive to all ages, with that of the brave, the beautiful, and the constant Imoinda” (962).

20 - “Thus died this great man, worthy of a better fate, and a more sublime wit than mine to write his praise; yet, I hope, the reputation of my pen is considerable enough to make his glorious name to survive to all ages, with that of the brave, the beautiful, and the constant Imoinda” (962). “greatness” seems to have been an unstable category at best (used to justify the enslavement of those not born into the right family) the narrator reasserts herself, even in the very last moment (false modesty); and we are reminded of the female pen at work to create the history for the slave/King his glorious name – naming was a key theme throughout bravery, beauty, and constancy: like “honor,” each of these virtues seems less straightforward than the narrator is entirely aware of Imoinda at least gets her own name back

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