Oroonoko is a short work of prose fiction by Aphra Behn (1640–1689), published in 1688, concerning the love of its hero, an enslaved African inSurinam in the 1660s, and the author's own experiences in the new South American colony. Behn worked for Charles II as a spy during the outset of the Second Dutch War, ending up destitute when she returned to England, and even spending time in a debtors' prison, because Charles failed to pay her properly, or at all. She turned her hand to writing in order to survive, with remarkable success. She wrote poetry that sold well, and had a number of plays staged, which established her fame in her own lifetime. In the 1670s, only John Dryden had plays staged more often than Behn. She began to write extended narrative prose toward the end of her career. Published less than a year before she died, Oroonoko is one of the earliest English novels. Interest in it has increased since the 1970s, critics arguing that Behn is the foremother of British women writers, and that Oroonoko is a crucial text in the history of the novel. -------------------------------------------------
Plot summary and analysis
Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave is a relatively short novel concerning the Coromantin grandson of an African king, Prince Oroonoko, who falls in love with Imoinda, the daughter of that king's top general. "Coromantee people" were Akan slaves brought from present-day Ghana, a polyglot band known for their rebellious nature. the sacred veil, thus commanding her to become one of his wives, even though she was already married to Oroonoko. After unwillingly spending time in the king's harem (the Otan), Imoinda and Oroonoko plan a tryst with the help of the sympathetic Onahal and Aboan. They are eventually discovered, and because she has lost her virginity, Imoinda is sold as a slave. The king’s guilt, however, leads him to falsely inform Oroonoko that she has been executed, since death was thought to be better than slavery. Later, after winning another tribal war, Oroonoko is betrayed and captured by an English captain, who planned to sell him and his men as slaves. Both Imoinda and Oroonoko were carried to Surinam, at that time an English colony based on sugarcane plantation in the West Indies. The two lovers are reunited there, under the new Christian names of Caesar and Clemene, even though Imoinda's beauty has attracted the unwanted desires of other slaves and of the Cornish gentleman, Trefry. Upon Imoinda’s pregnancy, Oroonoko petitions for their return to the homeland. But after being continuously ignored, he organizes a slave revolt. The slaves are hunted down by the military forces and compelled to surrender on deputy governor Byam's promise of amnesty. Yet, when the slaves surrender, Oroonoko and the others are punished and whipped. To avenge his honor, and to express his natural worth, Oroonoko decides to kill Byam. But to protect Imoinda from violation and subjugation after his death, he decides to kill her. The two lovers discuss the plan, and with a smile on her face, Imoinda willingly dies by his hand. A few days later, Oroonoko is found mourning by her decapitated body and is kept from killing himself, only to be publicly executed. During his death by dismemberment, Oroonoko calmly smokes a pipe and stoically withstands all the pain without crying out. The novel is written in a mixture of first and third person, as the narrator relates actions in Africa and portrays herself as a witness of the actions that take place in Surinam. In the novel, the narrator presents herself as a lady who has come to Surinam with her unnamed father, a man intended to be a new lieutenant-general of the colony. He, however, dies on the voyage from England. The narrator and her family are put up in the finest house in the settlement, in accord with their station, and the narrator's experiences of meeting the indigenous peoples and...
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