The Narrative Style of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko Essay
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Oroonoko is an intriguing and epic story of a young African prince who gets tricked into becoming a slave for a workers plantation written by the first professional woman author, Aphra Behn. As the story is told by the narrator (who the reader will presume to be the author Aphra Behn) the reader gets a sense of a first hand perspective from the narrator. This allows the reader to only get a perspective from the narrator's point of view. As the story is told to the reader, the narrator seems to favour or share sympathy with Oroonoko and even in some cases, throw in a biased opinion. This is why the story of Oroonoko and his misfortunes should not be taken as a true account, but rather as a narrative biased opinionated tale.
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As Behn describes him as "of a shape the most exact that can be fancied" the reader can truly have it engraved in his or her mind that the author is most definitely favouring the physical body of Oroonoko.
As the reader can clearly seen the favouritism that Behn has with the physical part of Oroonoko, one can also capture from the writings of Behn that a strong sense of emotional favouring is had by the narrator with the Prince. A good example of that emotional favouritism is when Oroonoko and his fellow tribe mates are tricked into having a dazzling feast on board such an immense and wonderful ship by the Captain. When Behn describes the way that the Captain takes the many tribesmen and Prince Oroonoko into custody as slaves she uses harsh words that would seem almost to condemn the acts that the Captain had ordered. "The same treachery was used to all the rest "she says, describing the harsh and emotionless forces and that the Captain and his shipmates administer to betray the trust of their guests. Even though the author later states that "some have commended this act, as brave in the captain; but I will spare my sense of it, and leave it to my reader to judge as he pleases", there are still a few feelings that show that Behn is secretly (to the untrained reader) feeling sympathy towards Oroonoko and utter disgust towards
Below you will find three outstanding thesis statements / paper topics that can be used as essay starters. All three incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 : The Theme of Betrayal in Oroonoko by Aphra BehnMuch of the action that takes place throughout Oroonoko is based on acts of betrayal. From the initial betrayal by the king in stealing Imoinda, to the slave ship in disguise, to the Governor’s betrayal of Oroonoko, the plot is continually propelled forward by one betraying act after another. While it would make an interesting enough essay to simply detail and explore these many betrayals, this essay might also include some less formalistic speculation such as Aphra Behn’s own feelings on slavery and how the very institution might have been a betrayal. No matter what course you take with this essay, keep in mind that it is the main source of momentum for the book—there must be reasons for this, so do some digging and discover why.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: An Analysis of Narration in Oroonoko
Part of what makes Aphra Behn’s style so unique is her repeated insistence that everything she has written down has credibility and is valid. She goes out of her way to convince the reader that what she’s saying is true and says that she knows the parties involved and was a witness to the events. Aside from these blatant admissions, she incorporates realistic details such as descriptions of animals in Suriname and other aspects of life that only a “witness" would know of. Because she is so specific and makes such overriding claims of authenticity, the story reads more like it was written with a journalism focus rather than a fictional one. This of course complicates our understanding of the tale. For this essay, consider why it might have been so important to have a credible and reliable narrator. You could offer details about Behn herself (she was the first real woman novelist—and really had to “stand up" to her male counterparts) or you could look at the effect this has on the narrative as a whole.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Oroonoko as an Anti-Slavery Text
Although from a modern perspective, there are instances of racism, particularly evident because of the outmoded use of language and descriptions of Africans, this is essentially an anti-slavery (and for that matter, anti-racist) text. Behn presents a hero who proves that black men can be educated and noble (a new and novel concept for the 17th century, for sure) and she actively seeks to show the reader the way families are ripped apart because of it. In addition, by presenting a story containing a classic case of romantic love, this too is destroyed because of the evils of slavery. Slavery and the issues surrounding it make people betray, hurt, and kill one another and this is the image Aphra Behn wants to leave with her readers—two beautiful people dead because of the institution of slavery. For this essay, find examples and conclude with an overall statement about the ways Behn seeks to change the minds of her readers. For a challenge, consider this in the context of essay topic #2 and the meaning of her being a “reliable" narrator.
** Note **If you are writing a comparison essay, there are a number of possibilities since many texts, some of which aren’t even from the seventeenth century, have similar themes. For example, examining the theme of the “noble savage" would be pertinent in Othello and Titus Andronicus (both by Shakespeare, of course) and several interesting compare and contrast themes could be explored. If you are working with Othello, not only is the “noble savage" topic worth exploring, but so is the theme of revenge **
The following are sources that can be used to assist you in a research paper on Oroonoko. All of these references can be found through most research databases at university and other libraries and many can be also be found in print as well. Some of these apply to the essay prompts above while others offer radically different ways of thinking about the text. These, along with the above essay ideas and important quotes from Oroonoko will at least get you started.
Quotes Section is Under Construction Today
Ortiz, Joseph M. “Arms and the Woman: Narrative, Imperialism, and Virgilian Memoria in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko.” Studies in the Novel 34.2 (2002), 121-140
Martin. “Oroonoko in Nineteenth-Century Germany: Race and Gender in Luise MüHlbach's Aphra Behn.” German Life and Letters 56.4 (2003): 313
Hunter, Heidi, ed. Rereading Aphra Behn: History, Theory, and Criticism. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993
Link, Frederick M. Aphra Behn. New York: Twayne, 1968
Pigg, Daniel. “Trying to frame the unframable: Oroonoko as discourse in Aphra Behn's Onoonoko.” Studies in Short Fiction 34.1 (1997), 105-111
Pacheco, Anita. “Royalism and honor in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko.” Studies in English Literature (Rice) 34.3 (1994), 491-506
Chernaik, Warren. “Captains and Slaves: Aphra Behn and the Rhetoric of Republicanism.” Seventeenth Century 17.1 (2002), 97-100
(All quotes refer to the 2000 Bedford Cultural Edition)