Continued: Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (1688)
DUE: Post #9 England and Wales groups
Demaria, p. 245
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?
What happens to the characters of Immoinda and Oroonoko in
the second half of the story? What do we learn about them?
Note the importance placed on truth-telling in the narrative.
Why do the native Indians, for instance, not understand a lie?
Why does Oroonoko believe the captain of the ship at first?
After he is sold into slavery, why does he say: "'Tis worth
my suffering, to gain so true a Knowledge both of you, and
of your Gods by whom you swear" (261)?
On the other hand, when is it feasible to tell a lie?
Why does Tefry treat Oroonoko so freely? What privileges does Oroonoko have?
What is the significance of Oroonoko's Christian name --
Caesar? 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?
The narrator assures us that eventually Oroonoko "endured no
more of the Slave but the Name" (262). Why is this the case?
How does this come about? Why, eventually, is this
insufficient for Oroonoko?
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)?
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" (263). Comment.
What changes when Imoida becomes pregnant?
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"
(265). 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. 269-270.
Examine the development of Oroonoko's insurrection. 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. 273? Why does he eventually yield to Byam?
What happens as a result?
Consider the Council's decision to make an example of Oroonoko.
What are the implications of this form of justice?
What are Oroonoko's reservations regarding taking revenge on
the colonialists? Why does he eventually decide to kill Imoinda?
Consider Behn's characterization of Imoinda's choice to die.
What are the implications of this action?
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?
How do you understand the narrator's abandonment of
Oroonoko/Caesar in the end?
What are the implications of the form of execution Oroonoko
undergoes? What purpose does it serve the colonies?
What purpose does it serve the author?
Evaluate the closing lines of self-reflection and praise
for Oroonoko and Imoinda.
Remember that Behn's story of the Royal African Slave was written in 1688, about events that
ostensibly took place nearly three and a half centuries ago. As such the story represents
a distant and unfamiliar past. Still, the quality of Behn's writing allows
the twenty-first century reader a sympathetic identification with its characters.
What does the story have to say to you, today's reader? What thematic, historical, or
literary value does it impart?
How does this literary work fit into our discussion of heroism in this class? To
what extent (and more importantly why) is Oroonoko a hero? How does Immoinda figure
in the context of heroism? Is she heroic? Why? How does this work, published some twenty
years after Paradise Lost comment on Milton's representation of heroism?
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