Premium Essay

Racism and Slavery in Oronooko

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ohokaythank
Words 1147
Pages 5
Even works of literature that intend to have a good message can be interpreted and read the wrong way. The novella, Oroonoko written by Aphra Behn, is a great example of this. Oroonoko is the story of the Royal Slave. It is written in the perspective of a white colonial woman in the eighteenth century. I found the novella to have a lot of subtle racial undertones despite the fact that during that time it was seen as an anti-slavery novel.(1) There have been debates on whether this novella is pro-slavery or anti-slavery? While reading, I decided that it was neither, but more so a novella from a revolutionist point of view. One of the first things that sticks out is the way in which she described Oroonoko physically. Behn stated that his face “was not of that brown rusty black which most of that nation are, but of perfect ebony, or polished jet.”(2) Pause. Using the word “rusty” to describe someone’s skin tone is never good, but when one thinks of rusty, it is something that was once white/shiny and now has just become old and discolored. His nose “was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat” and lastly his mouth “the finest shaped that could be seen; far from those great turned lips which are so natural to the rest of the Negroes”(2). With describing him physically she has reinforced negative African stereotypes by generalizing the look of the population. Not only that but these qualities she is giving him are all ones used to being seen in European societies. By giving Oroonoko these qualities, she completely white-washes his African identity and culture. Historically white washing means completely erasing a culture to adapt to the more standard normal western culture. Behn even gives him a European education in that he was tutored by a Frenchmen(3), and he speaks both English and French, but no mention of his own language. She portrays him as a prince...

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