Oroonoko by Aphra Behn


In an earlier post I blogged briefly about Girlebooks and selecting my very first ebook to read.

Oroonoko is the story of an enslaved African prince. Our narrator recounts the events from Oroonoko’s coming into princedom, his enslavement, and his struggle for love. After becoming a prince, Oroonoko meets the beautiful Imoinda and immediately falls in love with her. The King learns of Imoinda and would like to have her join him as one of his wives so he sends her an invitation which she can not refuse because he is the king. In efforts to get Imoinda back Oroonoko infuriates the king and is banished. He is then tricked and sold into slavery. Oroonoko is handsome, tall, and strong. He is a prince, he falls in love with a very beautiful woman. He fights wild beasts and armies single-handedly. He is captured and he escapes only to be captured again. Oroonoko puzzles over the white man and his Gods. He is at once very human and vulnerable yet has a superhero quality.

It took a while to get started but soon I found that I was intrigued, much occurs in this short novel. There are commentaries about slavery and race, social class, gender, colonialism, and religion. The actions and imagery of our hero are reminiscent of Greek mythology. He survives armies, beasts, and brutal whippings. His story is also tragic: he faces loosing his love, he can not understand the ways and lies of his captors, and he must make life-changing choices.

A female narrator recounts the events of our hero. We really do not know much about her. She wants us to believe that her account is accurate because she says that she was there to witness it first hand, however I was suspicious of her. Her story is told from a very safe distance…safe from slavery, safe from the fighting, safe behind her social class. She seemed to conveniently disappear during the uncomfortable parts of the story and managed to reappear just in time to tell us what happened. A particular instance stuck out in which Oroonoko is fighting for his freedom and the narrator says: “This apprehension made all the females of us fly down the river to be secured and while we were away they acted this cruelty…” And later returning from hiding says:

    “We said all things to him that trouble, pity, and good-nature could suggest, protesting our innocency of the fact, and our abhorrence of such cruelties; making a thousand professions and services to him, and begging as many pardons for the offenders, till we said so much that he believed we had no hand in his ill treatment: but told us, he could never pardon Byam…”

This narrator seems to act just as Oroonoko’s captors act. They will say anything to make him comfortable and unsuspecting before they do or allow something to happen to him. So, how much of her story can we believe, and generally how much of history can we believe as told by the eyewitnesses?

A quick search for Aphra Behn returns that she was a dramatist and one of the first professional English female writers.

I started out reading my ebook using my laptop but I quickly tired of that. I even tried to have the software read to me but it was slow, the voice unnatural, and I found that I had to read along to understand. So I printed it out and finished rather quickly.

Have you tried ebooks? If so, how did it go?


4 responses to “Oroonoko by Aphra Behn

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