What are Aphra Behn's attitudes towards race in the beginning of "Oroonoko" where she describes the native inhabitants, as opposed to in the end where she describes the native again quite differently?

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mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oroonoko is the tragic story of slavery, love, and death. Behn's ability to describe the natives in such amazing detail, gives us interesting details about how she felt about race. At the beginning of the story, the natives are described in a beautiful, friendly manner. She describes in a very gentle way, how the slaves are brought to the English colony, giving us the impression that they were all treated good and fair. She goes on to describe how she and the other missionaries had such a good relationship with the natives:

"Tis fir I tell you the manner of bringing them to these new colonies; how they make use of not being natives of the place: for those we live with in perfect amity, with out daring to command 'em, but, on the contrary, caress 'em with all the brotherly and friendly affection in the world."

At the beginning of the story she talks about how the natives and the slaves live in unity together. She does go on to tell us the story of when she met Oroonoko. He was a beautiful man and seemed to demand authority wherever he went. She tells us his tragic story. Oroonoko was tricked into slavery and ended up in an English colony, working on a plantation. We see at the beginning of the story, that Behn's attitude towards the slaves, was one of indifference in a way. She thought they worked together and they were treated well. Not until she meets Oroonoko, does she realize exactly what it is like for these people. They are stripped away from their native lands, stripped of their names and forced to abandon their beliefs. When she sees the love between Oroonoko and Imoinda, does she fully grasp what these people suffer.

Towards the end of the story, we are told of the tragic outcome for Oroonoko and his true love. Oroonoko and Imoinda have married and are going to have a child. Oroonoko wants his child to be born free, so he make the choice to take off into the woods and try to get their freedom. We are shown a different side of the natives now. They are full of anger and hatred. They go to any lengths to get Oroonoko back where they think he belongs. Oroonoko, knowing that he is faced with the most horrible choice ever, decides he has to kill Imoinda and his unborn child. This was they will be truly free.

" He took her up, and embracing of her with all the passion and lanquishment of of a dying lover, drew his knife to kill this treasure of his soul, this pleasure of his eyes; while tears trickled down his cheeks, hers were smiling with joy. She should die by so noble a hand, and be sent into her own country by him she so tenderly loved, and so truly adored in this."

Behn tells us this story to show us what it was really like for the people that were tricked into slavery. Oroonoko was a fierce warrior and an African prince, yet he was faced with having to do the one thing that would kill his soul. Behn shows us the true nature of he natives, in what they do to Oroonoko. Instead of letting the man die a peaceful death, they instead have him quartered and his four quarters sent to other plantation owners. She shows us that the natives were not living in harmony with the slaves, they were, in fact, mistreating them and threatening them. They were also holding freedom over their heads. They would offer them freedom in the coming days, if they would just their work good, knowing full well that their freedom would never be had again. In the end, Oroonoko and Imoinda had the truest since of freedom. Behn tells us that Oroonoko changed her life. She had an intense connection with him and his death made her realize the horrors of what was really happening.

"Thus died this great man, worthy of a better fate is a more sublime wit than mine to write his praises yet, I hope, the reputation of my pen is considered enough to make his glorious name to survive all the ages, with that of the brave, the beautiful, and the constant Imoinda." 

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