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Is Alpha Behn’s Oroonoko or the Royal Slave Abolitionist Writing? Essay

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Updated: Nov 28th, 2019

Introduction

Slavery still remains one of the main problems of mankind. Even though it has been abolished many years ago, this issue will always be the part of human history.

The period of slavery occupies a very lengthy period of time, therefore, it is impossible just to forget it. Many books have been written about this period, a lot of events occurred, therefore, speaking about slavery, it is possible to consider the problem from different angles. During the time when slavery was legally allowed, many people fought for the rights of slaves and wanted this cruel law to be rejected.

Alpha Behn is one of the authors who fought for the rights of slaves on the pages of the book. Having written Oroonoko or the Royal Slave, Alpha Behn wanted to show the whole world that the problem was urgent and deserved much attention. Alpha Behn’s short novel Oroonoko or the Royal Slave is a good example of abolitionist writing as being about love, this story perfectly shows the destiny of a slave and the author expresses her thought about slavery abolishment through descriptions and dialogues in her story.

Abolitionism

Abolitionism is the movement aimed at ending slavery, no matter whether formally or informally. There are a lot of supporters of this movement who tried to support slaves and to make sure that they are free. Alpha Behn was one of those who fought for the rights of slaves on the pages of her books. She understood that having good abilities in writing, she may support those who have appeared in a complicated position.

Her writing and especially Oroonoko or the Royal Slave is purely abolitionist one as the author focuses her attention on the life of slaves, difficult and sometimes unbearable. This movement started in the 17th century, the time when the book was published, therefore, it may be stated that Alpha Behn was the pioneers in abolitionist writing.

Oroonoko or the Royal Slave by Aphra Behn: Plot Summary

The story is actually about love of two people who appeared in complicated circumstances. Having fallen in love with Imoinda Oroonoko wants to be with her, however, the king also falls in love with Imoinda.

He unwillingly brings her to his harem, however, Imoinda and Oroonoko continue seeing each other and when the king gets to know about their meetings, he sells Imoinda as a slave having told Oroonoko that she is dead. Once after a fight, Oroonoko is captured by one English captain who sells him as a slave. As a result, both Imoinda and Oroonoko appear in Surinam as slaves.

The destiny unites them again. When Imoinda is pregnant, Oroonoko asks to give them freedom and send back home. They are refused. After long and complicated fights for freedom Imoinda and Oroonoko pretend to die. The rebellion is depressed, however, Imoinda dies at the hands of Oroonoko while he is executed in public. Thus, the love story is finished. People could be happy together, however, being unable to do whatever they wanted, they decided to die than to live as slaves all their life.

Abolitionism in Alpha Behn’s Oroonoko or the Royal Slave

Alpha Behn’s Oroonoko or the Royal Slave is abolitionist writing which is seen from the first lines of the story.

I do not pretend, in giving you the history of this Royal Slave, to entertain my reader with adventures of a feigned hero, whose life and fortunes fancy may manage at the poet’s pleasure; nor in relating the truth, design to adorn it with any accidents but such as arrived in earnest to him: and it shall come simply into the world, recommended by its own proper merits and natural intrigues; (Behn 3).

These are the first lines of the story and only after having read the whole story up to the end one understands the main meaning of this phrase. It is obvious that the author’s main idea is not to cover the love story or to speak about the heroic actions of the Afro-American prince, the meaning of his short novel is deeper.

The author tried to share her experience, she wanted the readers to know what it means to be a slave. This specific beginning is very important for the reader and opening the story in such a way, they author clarified that his is a serious work which deserves much attention. It is not about love or adventure, it is a remarkable and painful for those who cared about the main characters. Further, the author writes,

I was myself an eye-witness to a great part of what you will find here set down; and what I could not be witness of (Behn 3)

The author writes that the story she is going to present to the reader was told her by the chief actor. She calls him the hero who speaking about the situation told about his youth. The very fact that and the author omits these stories is the proof that the main idea of the novel is not to tell about the prince and his love, but to show the period of slavery life.

These two lines are crucial as the author states both the main idea of writing and her attitude to it. Being a witness of the situation, she managed to deliver all the feelings and emotions to the reader. The main idea of this first statement is to say that this is not a simple story written by a women writer, it is a story which contains an explicit theme, clear and understood for those who managed to solve her symbols.

Liberty for the family is the only desire of the main character. It does not mater for him whether he is going to be a slave or not, it is important for him that Imoinda and their child are free. However, it is impossible, therefore, he states “No, he could not live a moment under that apprehension, too insupportable to be born” (Behn 43).

People are ready to die in order to be free. This is the main idea of Alpha Behn’s Oroonoko or the Royal Slave story as well as this is the confirmation that it is abolitionist writing. If people are ready to die for something, it is important to think that maybe the actions are wrong and something should be changed.

Alpha Behn’s short story calls people to think about slavery as about the problem, but not as about an opportunity to get free labor power. Slaves are also people and the author has perfectly shown it. These are the same people are whites, they also can love, they also want to have families and children and the most important issue is that they want to be free. Isn’t a desire to die a good argument in favor of slavery abolishment? Of course, it is.

Therefore, in conclusion it should be stated that having used a tragic love story as the center of the discussion, Alpha Behn’s Oroonoko or the Royal Slave appears the abolishment writing in many reasons. First, showing great love of slaves, the author showed that even though that they are people with limited freedom and of different color, they are also people who deserve being free.

Second, the very desire to be free and the lack of fear before the death support the author’s idea. It is better to die than to be slaves, thus, slavery is much worse than death. The idea of this novel is to show how difficult slaves live, how much they suffer and what they are ready to do to be free. Death is not the end, death is just the beginning for those who want to be free. Freedom for people is the main desire, it is the main idea of human lives.

Finishing the story, the author writes, “died this great man, worthy of a better fate, and a more sublime wit than mine to write his praise: yet, I hope, the reputation of my pen is considerable enough to make his glorious name to survive all the ages, with that of the brave, the beautiful, and the constant Imoinda” (Behn 69). Expressing the ideas of slavery abolishment, the author wanted to make sure that her work was going to be published, therefore, the writing is full of symbols which are to be understood.

Works Cited

  1. Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko or the Royal Slave. New York: Echo Library, 2009. Print.1. What kind of things does Swift do in Gulliver’s Travel to convince readers his travel story really happened. Give examples and explain.
    Swift in his Gulliver’s Travel convinces the readers that his stories really took place by describing the events which happened in England and Ireland. Commenting those events, involving his friends and himself, and interpreting those events from the peculiarities of the story, the author refers to different political and economical aspects of Britain. For example, Tory ambassadors signing of the Treaty of Utrecht is described in the story.
  2. Chapter 10, 17, & 18 from Johnson’s Rasselas. Discuss whether knowledge and wisdom were the same things. Give examples and reasons.
    Knowledge and wisdom are not the same things and reading Johnson’s Rasselas it is possible to consider the difference. The author shows that knowledge is something people get from others and it is impossible to be happy based on the knowledge of others, it is important to draw personal conclusions out of universal knowledge. The author tries to express this idea stating the following, “whatever be the general infelicity of man, one condition is more happy than another, and wisdom surely directs us to take the least evil in the choice of life” (Johnson 75).
  3. Is Oroonoko abolitionist writing? Give examples and evidence from the story.
    Oroonoko is an example of abolitionist writing, as the author focused the discussion on the life of slaves trying to show that they are the same people as others. The death of the main heroes is used as the protest against slavery and this is one of the examples of abolitionist writing.
  4. Johnson, Samuel. The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
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IvyPanda. "Is Alpha Behn's Oroonoko or the Royal Slave Abolitionist Writing?" November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/is-alpha-behns-oroonoko-or-the-royal-slave-abolitionist-writing/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Is Alpha Behn's Oroonoko or the Royal Slave Abolitionist Writing?" November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/is-alpha-behns-oroonoko-or-the-royal-slave-abolitionist-writing/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Is Alpha Behn's Oroonoko or the Royal Slave Abolitionist Writing'. 28 November.

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