Oroonoko, the title character and protagonist of Aphra Behn’s historical novel, is an African prince who is unjustly deprived of his heritage and his bride. Oroonoko repeatedly proves himself to be a hero by overcoming numerous hardships and confirming his natural leadership qualities. While Prince Oroonoko is still in his native (fictional) country of “Coramantien” in Africa, his grandfather tries to seduce and marry Imoinda, as he is enraged that Oroonoko had secretly married her without permission. After a period of despair, when his country is attacked, the prince rallies to lead his people to victory in battle. Oroonoko in his splendid battle gear
flew into the thickest of those that were pursuing his Men; and being animated with Despair, he fought as if he came on Purpose to die, and did such Things as will not be believed that human Strength could perform; and such, as soon inspir’d all the rest with new Courage, and new Ardor. And now it was that they began to fight indeed; and so, as if they would not be out-done even by their ador’d Hero; who turning the Tide of the Victory ... gain’d an entire Conquest.
A series of misfortunes, however, leads to the enslavement of Oroonoko and Imoinda, who are separately transported to Surinam in South America. When serendipity or fate reunites them on the same plantation, the romantic aspect of his heroism is confirmed, as he has remained true to their love and marital bond. Once she becomes pregnant with their child, chafing at the injustice of slavery, Oroonoko (renamed Caesar) becomes determined that the baby will not be born into slavery. His heroism is once more demonstrated as he arranges not only for the two of them to escape, but also rouses other enslaved people to join them:
“And why (said he) my dear Friends and Fellow-sufferers, should we be Slaves to an unknown People? Have they vanquished us nobly in Fight? Have they won us in Honourable Battle? And are we by the Chance of War become their Slaves? This would not anger a noble Heart; this would not animate a Soldier’s Soul: No, but we are bought and sold like Apes or Monkeys ... And shall we render Obedience to such a degenerate Race, who have no one human Virtue left, to distinguish them from the vilest Creatures? Will you, I say, suffer the Lash from such Hands?” They all reply’d with one Accord, “No, No, No; Cæsar has spoke like a great Captain, like a great King.”
The goal is to create an independent community. Although the plans end in tragedy, Oroonoko’s heroism is shown by killing Imoinda so she will not be captured, after which he is executed.