Oroonoko Summary

A female narrator tells the story of Prince Oroonoko of Coromantien, whom she claims to have met during his captivity in Suriname. The narrator relates how a young Prince Oroonoko is named commanding general of the army after Coromantien's previous general dies in battle. Oroonoko visits the general's daughter, Imoinda, and immediately falls in love.

  • Oroonoko's grandfather, the elderly king, wants to marry Imoinda. He forces her to denounce her secret marriage to Oroonoko. When the young lovers consummate their marriage anyway, the vengeful king sells Imoinda into slavery.
  • One day, the captain of a slave ship tricks Oroonoko and his army into boarding the vessel. Oroonoko is taken to the British colony of Suriname, where he's sold into slavery to a relatively kind man who sees him as a friend.
  • Oroonoko and his wife Imoinda are reunited in Suriname. The governor of the colony tricks the slaveowner into believe he'll set Oroonoko free. When Oroonoko realizes this will never happen, he leads an unsuccessful slave revolt, then kills Imoinda to prevent her from being raped by the victors. Oroonoko is captured and decapitated.


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Oroonoko: Or, The Royal Slave, a True History, Behn’s most significant novel, resembles The Fair Jilt in that she attempts to achieve verisimilitude by first-person commentary and an abundance of concrete detail. She asserts at the outset that the story is factual and claims to have known the characters and witnessed much of the action. She injects numerous details to enhance the realism, foreshadowing the narrative technique of Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift. She describes, for example, South American creatures such as the armadillo and the anaconda, and her account of the indigenous tribes idealizes their primitive and simple lives in the wilderness.

The narrative has two distinct parts. The first, set in the African country Coramantien, introduces the young prince Oroonoko, grandson of the country’s aged king. Oroonoko is a Restoration love-and-honor hero, capable of intense passions. In love, Oroonoko knows no half measures, for Behn embraces the assumption of heroic love that great love implies a great soul. A man of natural nobility, he is not a primitive, but a well-educated, charismatic youth who can read Latin and French and speak English. He achieves rapport with all types of people, including the natives of the New World.

Trouble in his native land begins when he falls in love with Imoinda, the beautiful daughter of a general who has sacrificed his own life in battle to save Oroonoko’s. After Oroonoko has secretly married Imoinda, his aged grandfather, king of Coramantien, decides to make her his wife and summons her to the palace. Deprived of his wife for months, Oroonoko conspires with friends at court to arrange a clandestine meeting. When the king discovers this, he decides to sell Imoinda into slavery because of the betrayal and tells Oroonoko that she has...

(The entire section is 743 words.)