Oroonoko, the Royal Slave - A Literary Essay

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Aphra Behn is known to be one of the leading prose writers of the period of restoration. Her short novel Oroonoko or The History of the Royal Slave (1688) is an English narrative that is written to an English-speaking audience. The novel is about her account the kind of life lived by the slaves coming from Africa to an English plantation in Surinam in South America. The narrator sets into motion social questions about issues relating freedom and slavery. The role of this essay is to give a story of Oroonoko, an African prince who comes out boldly and fights for the abolition of slave trade and slavery among his people as given by the narrator in the novel.

Oroonoko or The Royal slave gives the story of the African prince Oroonoko a son to the Coramantien king and his beloved wife, Imoinda. They were both captured as slaves by the British and brought as slaves to Surinam. The primary setting of the tale is during the 1640s on the northern coast of South America before the surrendering of the colony by the English to the Dutch. The narrator is a young English woman that resides on Parham Plantation as she waits for the transportation back to England. She is the daughter of the new deputy-governor who died unfortunately during the voyage of the family to take up his new post. She gets an opportunity to meet Oroonoko and his beloved wife Imoinda as she waits. There is a provision of great detail about the colony and the inhabitants by the narrator before the introduction of the primary character. She first presents a list of multicolored birds, myriad insects, flora and exotic fauna that are high colored and then an account of the natives with whom trading is done by the British and according to the narrator seems to be as innocent as Adam and Eve in the first state of innocence, before man knew how to sin. The narrator insists that there is happy living between the British and the natives and therefore due to their vast numbers, they are not able to be enslaved by the colonies and therefore have to look for some other place where they can get the slaves to work for them on the sugar plantations. They, therefore, resort to looking for the slaves in Africa.

After having an overview of Surinam, the setting is then changed, and a focus is made to Coramantien on the west coast of Africa. It is in this place that the protagonist Oroonoko is about to meet the beautiful Imoinda the daughter of the general who has just died in the process of trying to save Oroonokos life. The Coramantien king who is the grandfather of Oroonoko is 100 years and has fallen in love with Imoinda the young and beautiful girl, and as a result, Oroonoko is beaten to the punch when the king sends the girl to the royal veil. Imoinda could not refuse the gift from the king and therefore could show that she is now the wife of the king. She will then have to spend the rest of her days in the ocean locked by the king, and the king is the only one that could visit the place. However, the ocean is broken into by the Oroonoko by the help of his friend Aboan who is responsible and involved in keeping the senior wives of the king by the name Onahal occupied with lovemaking. As Oroonoko breaks into the ocean, he is then caught by the king, and he flees away.

There is a wide use of some styles in the narration which makes the story flowing and creates an avenue for a better understanding of the story. For instance, in the description of the Prince Oroonoko, a simile has been used when the narrator says that he has eyes and teeth like snow which makes one be able to get a picture of the appearance of Oroonoko. Symbolism as well has been used when the narrator says having a face and hands like a human creature. There is also the use of metaphors in the story such as when the narrator equates Imoinda to a beautiful black Venus to our young Mars. Exaggeration is also used in the description of Oroonokos ability and power that he can kill two tigers singlehandedly that may not be possible in real life. The irony is also seen in this novel where the British fail to keep the promises they make. For instance when Byam promises to take Oroonoko back to Africa together with his family but he ironically turns and sees him whipped brutally. It is also an irony to say a sort of monkey as big as a rat and as big as a kitten.

Slavery is a theme which seems to take the major part in this novel. It is practiced widely by the British and is seen when they arrive at Coramantien to trade for the war captives. They act brutally when they invite the Oroonoko together with his friends as their guests but then surprisingly turn and take them captive. Oroonoko is seen as having advanced the cause of abolitionism. When they get a child, he desperately desires that the child not is born as a slave. The deputy-governor Byam lied to Oroonoko when he promises him amnesty after having a negotiation with him. He also promised him that he and his family would be freed and returned to Africa but he later failed to keep the promise and resulted in Oroonoko being brutally whipped. It, therefore, shows how dishonest they were as compared to the Africans known for being human and behaving modestly.

There are some other themes that are presented in the novel by the narrator such as the European or Native Superiority. The natives of Suriname the place where the British live are depicted by Behn as being in perfect peace, as innocent as Adam and Eve. The native innocence described is the absence of corruption which is known to exist in this work with the Europeans. The portrayal of the native people is as having basic human virtues such as creative artistry and modesty and that there is no improper or indecent behavior seen among them. They are far much better than European traders who are known to be liars. Oroonoko, therefore, becomes a model of nobility and honor. Anti-colonialism is also a theme evident in this novel where Oroonoko is regarded highly as an anti-colonial text.

To realize the advancement of abolitionism, Oroonoko decided to honorably kill her beloved wife Imoinda and take revenge on Byam and kill himself after the revenge. He, therefore, cuts her throat and used a knife to remove her face. However, he is then prostrated and gripped with grief and lost the energy to go for Byam. The body of his wife was then discovered by the Byams men eight days after her death when the stench of a corpse struck them. Oroonoko was then set to be killed through painful mutilation of cutting his nose, ears and a leg and eventually Oroonoko died.


The novel describes a scenario in which the hero Oroonoko strives desperately to stop the slavery but to no avail. However, it shows that one of the most important issues for the hero is slavery and freedom. The admittance of Oroonoko in the first part of the novel as a love-sick slave and expresses his unwillingness to disobey the custom is what continually made him fight for the realization of freedom and slave trade abolition among his people. He made a heroic decision of fighting against the enemies of his country. In contrast to falsehood seen among the English people, he declares his principles of honor. With the constant brutality and cheating from the English authorities, he decides to free himself, his wife and the child to be born. Although, Oroonoko strived to fight for the people he failed because of his idealism and treatment that is too abstract of human nature.

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