Close Reading of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko

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The rise of the novel occurred at the time Oroonoko was written in the late 17th century. Its form literally means ‘new’ which parallels to the description of the natives that are strange to Behn’s readers. Here the discourse of romance is employed which occupied most early forms of novels. She idealizes their lifestyle through her exotic portrayal; they are ‘gods of the rivers’ and their skills depicted as ‘so rare an art’ and ‘admirable’. The amount of intricate detail builds up a clear image and engages sympathies for the readers, who were unlikely to have encountered them before. This Edenic picture of life within nature reflects their innocence before they are corrupted by colonialism; Behn even compares them to Adam and Eve before the fall earlier in the novel. However it could be said this description puts them on show because they are so different, distancing them from the reader. Behn further separates the natives by changing discourses to an economic description of commerce with the African slaves. Matters of how to ‘bargain with a master’ and ‘contract to pay him so much apiece’ are far from literary and appear to be aimed directly at colonists who want to trade themselves, with second person pronouns ‘you are obliged to be contented with your lot’. This juxtaposition of discourses further emphasizes the simplistic lifestyle of the natives contrasted against the forward, industrial actions of the European colonizers. These contrasting discourses are therefore one way of representing the underlying tensions between the natives and settlers. There are further issues concerning whether the narrator is Behn herself as she did have experience in travelling to Surinam. The use of first person achieves an intimate and conversational tone with interjections ‘as I said’ and ‘as he did into me’. These personal insertions and colloquial terms like ‘em’ for ‘them’, draw interest to the storytelling which increases authenticity,...
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