What elements in the story line of Oroonoko are life-like? What elements in the story line are far-fetched?
The author of this ground-breaking novel has often been accused of romanticism in her portrayal of Africans and the African slave trade. However, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko is also replete with fantastic descriptions of the West Indian landscape in Surinam and portrayals of life in the West African nation of Coramantien.
In the story, Oroonoko is a prince of Coramantien. Infatuated with the beauteous Imoinda, he soon finds that he isn't the only one who wants to bed her; he has a rival in his grandfather, the king of Coramantien. As a king's suit often gains precedence over one from a lesser official, Imoinda finds herself initiated into the king's harem. However, both Oroonoko and Imoinda reunite in Suriname later. Aphra Behn characterizes the Coramantiens as a noble people:
They have a native justice, which knows no fraud; and they understand no vice, or cunning, but when they are taught by the white men.
Of Oroonoko himself, Aphra Behn lavishes an almost worshipful description of his physical majesty, prowess, and sexual potency.
He was pretty tall...His face was not of that brown, rusty black...but of perfect ebony...His nose was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat...His mouth the finest shaped that could be seen...The whole proportion and air of his face was so nobly and exactly form'd...There was no one grace wanting that bears the standard of true beauty. His hair came down to his shoulders...a brave and gallant man...
Because of this romanticized portrayal, Aphra Behn has been accused of superimposing a blatantly Anglicized perception of male physical beauty onto an African template. Behn further anglicizes her protagonist's view of marriage by imposing Western standards of fidelity on Oroonoko; although she admits in the story that West Africans are often polygamous, she portrays Oroonoko as a monogamist, who pledges to remain faithful to Imoinda. Behn also highlights her hero's Western education (unusual for the historical period); indeed, she tells us that it delights her that he can speak both French and English and that she can converse with him.
Yet, Behn manages to imbue historical reality into her story as well. Oroonoko, a West African prince, is also a man of war. As such, he has no problems selling his prisoners of war to European colonialists. Many of these prisoners of war become slaves on sugar plantations in the West Indies. African rulers and traders become wealthy through the selling of human labor.
Olaudah Equiano , an ex-slave, described in his memoirs published in 1789 how African rulers...
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