Oroonoko was written in the seventeenth century by Aphra Behn, and she left the novel open to numerous interpretations containing various topics for discussion. Much critical acclaim focused on Oroonoko being an anti-slavery text due to Behn?s depiction of its main African characters?Oroonoko and Imoinda. This novel is very interesting based upon its conflicting views between the African and European culture. Behn is the narrator of the text but does not let her opinion about the matter of slavery known. Instead, a reader would believe she had conflicting views about slavery and the importance of a person?s race supposedly making him or her less than or better than another person. Oroonoko is said to be an African prince and is the protagonist of the novel. Though he is African, Behn portrays him as being heroic and worthy of praise as if he is a European white male. Her sympathy for him brings out her contempt and dislike of how her people?the Europeans?behave and she goes on to portray their moral values and actions in a dark light. The possibility that she is revealing her cultural preference and attitude towards slavery is quite possible based upon the way she romanticizes the relationship between Oroonoko and Imoinda through all the struggles they have to endure. But, she also acts in ways like her fellow Europeans being deceitful. Aphra Behn writes this novel about an African prince as the heroic protagonist because she wants to shed light on the unjustified treatment of Africans as slaves while also making a subtle comparison about the inequality of races.
Just as Europeans are revered and praised, she depicts an African man, Oroonoko, being just as worthy of such attention. In Oroonoko, he is described as being:
. . . pretty tall, but of a shape the most exact shape that can be fancied; the most
famous statuary could not from the figure of a man more admirably turned from
head to foot. (Behn 2140)
Never had a man of color been described in such a way, and Behn goes on to list his features as being likened to those of European descent along with the manner that he carries himself. She describes him as a good-looking, strong African man who appears worthy of being treated not only as a human being but also as a European male. The idea:
that Behn is repelled not by slavery per se, which is unobjectionable when it
involves common people, but by the enslavement of a prince, born and brought
up to command others (Pacheco 493)
is relevant based upon her novel portraying Oroonoko is a light more favorable than her European counterparts. Oroonoko is a man of strength having a title that demands respect but his character is what makes people so easy and unhesitant to treat him as if he is above other Africans that are around him.
Christianity and honor are at odds in Oroonoko because the two groups of people?Africans and Europeans?have different concepts about religion, but, more important to the Africans, the honor of a man?s word. Lying is the worst thing a person could do in the minds of Africans while not following Christian values was more important to Europeans. Though the Europeans describe themselves as being Christians, they lie to entrap Oroonoko and his men in slavery without their knowledge or consent. Ultimately, Oroonoko?s enslavement and death can portray him as being a Christian martyr based upon his conviction to die going to his ?. . . own country. . .? that he originally came from in a spiritual sense of the concept (Behn 2175). The speech he gave to his fellow men about allowing the Europeans to basically mistreat them can be said to be from the point of view of the narrator. Since the novel is a true history and narrative of a collection of events, it can be said that Behn is giving her thoughts about the Africans being forced to obey these Europeans with no just cause.
By portraying Oroonoko and Imoinda as two beautiful victims of unfortunate circumstances, she sheds more light on the cruelty and dishonorable actions of the white man. ?Behn used this romantic tale to prove a serious point?to attach the conventional ?respectable? morality that professes Christianity. . .? (Rogers 10) All the while, she highlights the strength and conviction of love Oroonoko and Imoinda have for each other