England. Setting of the novel’s present-time narration. In 1688 England was a nation in crisis. After issuing a series of unpopular laws and producing an heir to his Roman Catholic throne, King James II struggled to retain power. In December, he fled the country and was replaced by the Protestant prince William of Orange. Although many people feared James, Behn remained fiercely loyal to him. Her novel, which chronicles the tragic destruction of a heroic prince, reflects the sorrow she felt during James’s political struggles.
Suriname. European colony on the northeastern coast of South America (now independent Suriname) to which the African prince Oroonoko is taken after he is enslaved in Africa. Behn probably visited Surinam during the early 1660’s. By the time she wrote Oroonoko, the colony had been ceded to the Dutch, a fact that would have underscored for her contemporary readers her themes of futility and loss.
Within the novel, Surinam is not only an exotic land filled with unusual wildlife, but also an edenic paradise. Behn describes the colony’s inhabitants, who live without shame or deception, as “so like our first Parents before the Fall.” They represent the “first State of Innocence, before Man knew how to sin.” In depicting Surinam as a prelapsarian world, Behn follows the satiric tradition of writers such as Michel de Montaigne, who contrasted the primitive virtue of “savages” with the corruption of European society.
By the time Behn wrote Oroonoko, Surinam was no longer an entirely primitive land. It had been colonized by the British and participated in the...
(The entire section is 696 words.)