To discuss the tragic ending
The second class on Oroonoko will continue our focus on heroism, but
the context shifts to one of slavery. What does it mean for the Royal Prince to be
a slave? How can a hero be a slave? We will examine some of the narrative features,
including the use of realism (in contrast to the dominant tropes of romance in the
parts of the narrative placed in Coramantien) and the tragic ending.
Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:
The second half of the novel is characterized by a striking
verisimilitude or realism. We might understand this to include:
representations of a recent past, recognizable setting,
plausible narrative in chronological time, based in fact or
"news," having ordinary or believable characters. How does
the second half of the story demonstrate these things?
Why does Tefry treat Oroonoko so freely? What does it mean to endure
"no more of the slave but the name"(2205)? Why, eventually, is this
insufficient for Oroonoko?
Why do the colonists change Oroonoko's name?
What is the significance of Oroonoko's Christian name --
Caesar? (2205) Note also that Caesar was a common name for Charles II
in the poetry of the era.
After Oroonoko is "betrayed to Slavery" a curious thing happens.
Everyone around him recognizes the prince within the slave.
How do they recognize his "quality"? What does this suggest
about nobility? How do the African slaves of Parham House
treat Oroonoko? Why? Is this related to heroism? How or why not?
Compare the case for Imoinda. Why does she appear to
live in luxury, with all her cooing lovers and her very
own shock dog? How does she avoid becoming the subject
of sexual violence (which the men readily talk about)? (2206)
Note the complexity of their response to one another:
"They soon informed each other of their Fortunes, and
equally bewailed their Fate; but, at the same time they
mutually protested, that even Fetters and Slavery were Soft
and Easy, and would be supported with Joy and Pleasure,
while they could be so happy to possess each other, and
to be able to make good their Vows" (2207). Comment.
What changes when Imoida becomes pregnant? Why can't their love survive in Surinam?
Note the narrator's attitude toward Oroonoko/Caesar:
"After this, I neither thought it convenient to trust him
much out of our view, nor did the Country who feared him"
(2209). Why is this so? What does it indicate about the
Note the level of grim violence that lies just beneath
the surface of civility she constructs in the novel.
How do you explain, for instance, the description of the
voluntary dismemberment of the native Indians? What do
they accomplish by such display? Why does the narrator
include this? pp. 2215.
Examine the development of Oroonoko's insurrection, pp. 2216-2219. Why
do the African slaves initially object to the revolt? What role do the women
play in the failed revolution?
What is the significance of Oroonoko's diatribe against
Christianity on p. 2220? Why does he eventually yield to Byam?
What happens as a result?
What are Oroonoko's reservations regarding taking revenge on
the colonialists? Why does he eventually decide to kill Imoinda (2223)?
Consider Behn's characterization of Imoinda's choice to die.
What are the implications of this action? In what sense is it justified?
In what sense can it never be justified?
Again, we are struck by the gruesome reality of Imoinda's
death. How does this aesthetic of realism (horror) fit
with the earlier exaggeration of romance? What is the
effect of this graphic description? (2223-4)
self-mutilation is graphically described (2225). Is this an act of heroism?
How do you understand the narrator's abandonment of
Oroonoko/Caesar in the end? (2225)
What are the implications of the form of execution Oroonoko
undergoes? What purpose does it serve the colonies? 6. In what sense
oes Oroonoko become "exemplary" in the conclusion of the novel?
What is he a symbol of? (2226)
Evaluate the closing lines of self-reflection and praise
for Oroonoko and Imoinda (2226).
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