Behn plays with trope in the scene where she and her companions visit an Indigenous village under the protection of Oroonoko. Beginning with the line "They had no sooner spied us, but they set up a loud cry, that frighted us at first," (p. 121), close read this scene, noting what stands out as strange to us, and give some suggestions for interpreting what is happening in the scene.

When the narrator and her companions visit an Indigenous village in Oroonoko, her fright turns to curiosity. The elements she portrays as strange include the Indigenous people’s nudity, admiration of the white strangers’ clothes, subsequent hospitality, and the language barrier. Though the scene presents mutual efforts to overcome cross-cultural misunderstandings, it also suggests the white people’s condescension based in their assumption of superiority.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When the narrator of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko visits an Indigenous village, their original intention was just to spy on the people from the village outskirts rather than to interact with them. The white strangers had enlisted as their guide Caesar, a trader who is familiar with the area and the language. The villagers initially cry out in fear when they spot the strangers, which in turn frightens the white people. The narrator states that they assumed the villagers would attack them, but soon realizes that they are both fearful and curious.

[T]hey set up a loud Cry, that frighted us at first; we thought it had been for those that should kill us, but it seems it was of Wonder and Amazement.

The narrator then describes the contrast in clothing, with the villagers being “all naked” while the Europeans and Euro-Americans are elaborately garbed. She assumes that the villagers had never before seen such “glittering and rich” items as silver trim or ribbons. The strangers advance peacefully and all join hands as the “swarming … wondering” villagers call to each other, “as if they would say …Numberless Wonders.” The strangers calmly accept being touched and generously give trinkets such as lacy garters to the villagers.

Caesar then steps forward, and their traders recognize him. So far, the white people have been silent, so the villagers wonder if they can speak. Through the translator, both groups now began to communicate verbally. The questions the Indigenous people ask include whether the strangers are intelligent and capable:

[they asked] if we had Sense and Wit? If we could talk of Affairs of Life and War, as they could do?

Once Caesar affirms this, the Indigenous residents invite the strangers to eat with them. The narrator and her brother then play their flutes, inciting “new Wonder” at the music.

The scene includes initial fright on both sides and mutual efforts to overcome language barriers and lack of cultural knowledge. Overall, however, the narrator asserts an attitude of superiority, assuming that the villagers’ ignorance of white ways indicates their intellectual inferiority. She further assumes that their curiosity equals their “admiration” for the strangers. This belief supports her assertion that the European people could both teach and trick the Indigenous residents.

I soon perceiv’d, by an Admiration that is natural to these People, and by the extreme Ignorance and Simplicity of ’em, it were not difficult to establish any unknown or extravagant Religion among them, and to impose any Notions or Fictions upon ’em.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial