Study Guide

Oroonoko

by Aphra Behn

Oroonoko Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Oroonoko: Or, The Royal Slave, a True History, Behn’s most significant novel, resembles The Fair Jilt in that she attempts to achieve verisimilitude by first-person commentary and an abundance of concrete detail. She asserts at the outset that the story is factual and claims to have known the characters and witnessed much of the action. She injects numerous details to enhance the realism, foreshadowing the narrative technique of Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift. She describes, for example, South American creatures such as the armadillo and the anaconda, and her account of the indigenous tribes idealizes their primitive and simple lives in the wilderness.

The narrative has two distinct parts. The first, set in the African country Coramantien, introduces the young prince Oroonoko, grandson of the country’s aged king. Oroonoko is a Restoration love-and-honor hero, capable of intense passions. In love, Oroonoko knows no half measures, for Behn embraces the assumption of heroic love that great love implies a great soul. A man of natural nobility, he is not a primitive, but a well-educated, charismatic youth who can read Latin and French and speak English. He achieves rapport with all types of people, including the natives of the New World.

Trouble in his native land begins when he falls in love with Imoinda, the beautiful daughter of a general who has sacrificed his own life in battle to save Oroonoko’s. After Oroonoko has secretly married Imoinda, his aged grandfather, king of Coramantien, decides to make her his wife and summons her to the palace. Deprived of his wife for months, Oroonoko conspires with friends at court to arrange a clandestine meeting. When the king discovers this, he decides to sell Imoinda into slavery because of the betrayal and tells Oroonoko that she has...

(The entire section is 743 words.)

Oroonoko Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In the African kingdom of Coromantien, the ruler is an old man more than one hundred years of age. His grandson, Prince Oroonoko, is the bravest, most beloved young man in all the land. When the commanding general is killed in battle, Oroonoko is chosen to take his place, even though the prince is only seventeen years old. After a great victory in battle, Prince Oroonoko presents himself at the court of his grandfather, the king. His noble and martial bearing makes him an instant favorite with lords and ladies alike.

Oroonoko also visits Imoinda, the daughter of his dead general, a girl as beautiful and modest as he is handsome and brave. The two noble young people immediately fall in love. They marry, but before the marriage can be consummated, Oroonoko makes known his plans to his grandfather the king. Although the old man already has many wives, he had heard of the loveliness of Imoinda and wants her for his own. When Oroonoko is absent one day, the king sends his veil to Imoinda, a royal command that she is to join his harem. Since it is against the law for even a king to take another man’s wife, the old man makes her forswear her marriage and acknowledge him as her husband.

When Oroonoko returns and learns of the old man’s treachery, he renounces all pleasures in longing for his lost wife. The lovers dare not let the king know their true feelings, for to do so means death for both of them (even though Oroonoko is of the king’s own blood). While pretending not to care for his lost Imoinda, Oroonoko is again invited to the royal palace. There he learns from some of the king’s women that Imoinda is still a virgin. Oroonoko plans to rescue her. With the help of his friend, Aboan, and one of the older wives of the king, Oroonoko enters the apartment of Imoinda and takes her as his true wife. Spied upon by the king’s orders, Oroonoko is apprehended and forced to flee back to his army camp, leaving Imoinda to the mercies of the king. Enraged because he had been betrayed by his own blood, the old man determines to kill the girl and then punish Oroonoko. To save her life, Imoinda tells the king that Oroonoko had raped her. The king then declares that she must be punished with worse than death; he sells her into slavery.

The king gives up his intent to punish his grandson, for Oroonoko controls the soldiers and the king fears they might be turned against him. Instead, he takes Oroonoko back into his favor after telling the boy that Imoinda had been given an honorable death for her betrayal of the king. Oroonoko holds no grudge against the king and does not act against him; for a long time, however, he pines for his lost wife. At last, his grief grows less, and he once more takes his place at the royal...

(The entire section is 1122 words.)