Aphra Behn's short novel Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave, published in 1688, tells the fictional story of Oroonoko, an African prince from Coramantien sold to British colonists after being duped into slavery. Upon his enslavement, Oroonoko is taken to a British colony in the West Indies called Surinam. Oroonoko is reunited with his love Imoinda in Surinam. The two conceive a child, but a failed slave revolt precipitates their tragic demise, and the novel culminates in the deaths of both Imoinda and Oroonoko.
Oroonoko can be read through a post-colonial lens as a representation of the disastrous effects of British colonization and slavery upon African nations and peoples. Oroonoko: or, the Royal Slave is a heroic tragedy built around the contradiction inherent in its subtitle: "royal slave." Behn describes Oroonoko as a dignified, noble, and courageous leader, establishing Oroonoko as a sympathetic hero early in the text. His enslavement is devastating for both himself and his beloved Imoinda, resulting in their deaths, and it serves as the great tragedy of the novel. His community of Coramantien is represented as a great paradise ripped apart by British colonizers, with Coramantiens "know[ing] no fraud...no vice or cunning, but when they are taught by the white men" (2315). Oroonoko upholds a code of virtue that the deceitful European colonizers do not, demonstrating that the ideals of civilization are not exemplified by slavery or Western imperialistic values.
"Oroonoko: or, a Royal Slave." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: by Stephen Greenblatt and M. H. Abrams, C, W.W. Norton, 2012, pp. 2307-2358.