Sunday, 29 March 2015

Review of 'Oroonoko'

When I think about literary texts on slavery, I never really consider English 17th Century ones, however, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko is radical for this alongside many other reasons. It is written by a woman, and was one of the first novels, albeit more of a novella, in English literary history. The quotation above highlights the inherent racism in it, however, as a 17th Century text it is often very forward-thinking, and approaches the issue of slavery in a much more sympathetic light than many 19th Century American texts written by a white author. 

Oroonoko is a mighty and beautiful prince. He comes back from a war and falls in love with a beautiful and intelligent woman Imoinda. He makes his intentions to have her as his wife clear. However, the king of the land insists that she becomes one of his concubines. Oroonoko and Imoinda are heartbroken at this shameful separation and eventually succumb to their desire for one another. When this happens the king sells Imoinda as a slave and she is sent overseas, yet tells Oroonoko he has had her killed. Later, Oroonoko is captured as a slave. When the pair meet once more on a plantation who knows what they will do?

This was a very powerful text for me as I mentioned in the beginning. Many critics have argued about whether this book is a celebration or critique of slavery. I found it more erred on the side of a critique, but what did you think?

Steph x

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