Can someone please explain the significance of European colonisation on Oroonoko and how the author is influenced by it in her book when describing the natives.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Even though Behn herself was broadly sympathetic towards slaves and this text is regarded by many as an early form of an anti-slavery text, it still bears the mark of the time in which Behn lived and wrote. European colonisation at the time of the writing of this text (believed by many to be 1688) was based on the inherent supremacy and superior development of the European race over the "ignorant natives" who were perceived by Europeans to be base, savage and ignorant. Although Behn clearly challenges such dualistic notions through her descriptions of indigenous people, at the same time, it is still possible to view stereotypical notions in her descriptions. For example, she compares "them" to "our first parents before the Fall" and says the following about indigenous people:

And these people represented to me an absolute idea of the first state of innocence, before man knew how to sin. And 'tis most evident and plain that simple Nature is the most harmless, inoffensive, and virtuous mistress. 'Tis she alone, if she were permitted, that better instructs the world than all the inventions of man.

Even though Behn presents the natives in this text as being uncorrupted and pure in a way that distinguishes them from Europeans, it is possible to argue that her views have gone too far the other way, and she imbues them with a childlike innocence that is as equally demeaning as regarding them as savages and ignorant. Such descriptions of the "innocence" of natives paints them in two dimensional terms, and only serves to demean their humanity in a different way as they are only described through the imagination of a European white woman and not allowed to assert their own humanity. Behn therefore does challenge stereotypical notions of colonialism of her day through her descriptions, but she does this only to replace them with other stereotypes that can be viewed as being equally as demeaning.


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