Friday, May 23, 2008

Oroonoko by Aphra Behn

Oroonoko (or the royal slave) tells the story of an African prince who falls in love with a woman Imoinda. However, as a result of the King's jealousy both of them are sold into slavery. Despite their new status, both their attitudes and the treatment they receive remains regal.

I have mixed feelings about this book.
It is undeniably a beautiful piece of writing. The narrator describes Oroonoko in such as a way that the admiration she has for him becomes contagious. He is magnificent and charismatic: treated like a King even by those who do not know his status. He never once loses his composure even when the most horrible things are done to him. Both Oroonoko and Imoinda appear as an African Mars and Venus.
However, I disagree with those who view this text as abolitionist. I think this novel is about the nature of Kingship. Oroonoko was written at a time of political turmoil in England and Aphra Behn's novel seems to focus on that. Through Oroonoko she expresses the idea that a king is a king no matter where he is or what country he is from and that he should be treated as such. The narrator's sadness and shock at the ending of the novel seems to be due to the killing of a King rather than that of a slave. In fact, at no point in the novel do either Oroonoko or Imoinda act like slaves: they seem to lead decent lives and are not forced to do any manual work.
Oroonoko is an unlikely portrayal of the life of a slave and is to be viewed as entirely fictional. As such, it is an amazing novel which I would recomment to anyone.

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