April 7: Oroonoko

How would you describe the role of the narrator? At what point do we understand the narrator is female? How does the first-person narrator affect the authenticity of the story?

12 thoughts on “April 7: Oroonoko

  1. I would describe the role of the narrator as very important. Within the opening lines it is stated how she was an eyewitness first hand. The readers start to understand the narrator is female when she starts to describe Oroonoko in a very passionate way and says how he is an “ideal man.” From that point we realize how Oroonoko is perfect from a women’s prospective. The first person narrator affects the authenticity of the story because it makes the things being told to be believable. We don’t know how accurate everything is but by stating how she was an eye witness and telling part of it in first person it gives her a credibility that she knew what was going on.

  2. I definitely agree with Tori in the fact that the narrator, being an eye witness to the life of Oroonoko, has more believability with her story rather than if it was told by someone who was not involved with Oroonoko and wasn’t told his story by the prince himself. I don’t think that there is an outwardly obvious part, at least from what we have read so far, that tells the reader that the narrator is a woman. It is true that one could assume that because the narrator is telling us what a perfect man would look like, but if we weren’t given the background information provided in the pages before the story, I don’t know that I would immediately assume that the narrator was female. She does hint at it by the way that she talks about Oroonoko and Imoinda’s passionate love for each other, as well as her meticulous description of his physical features which might not be as common for a male writer/narrator to bring to attention. She also goes into detail about emotion and the soul which are things that are usually more common for women to notice and call attention to I suppose.

  3. In this novel, the role of the narrator is somewhat sidelined, as Oroonoko is the real main character. Just as Nick Carraway is the narrator but Jay Gatsby is the main character, the narrator of Oroonoko is much less important than Oroonoko himself, though she plays even less of a role than Nick does. As her goal is to tell the story of this great man, she initially relates Oroonoko’s from before she ever met him, which she “received from the mouth of the chief actor in this history” (pg 1108). Our narrator is there to provide an eyewitness account, lending the tale credibility. Although modern readers might question the veracity of her claims, contemporary readers would likely trust her story, as she had direct contact with the people and cultures described herein. Because specific knowledge of Britain’s colonies were unknown to the general public, Behn and the narrator, with their first-hand experience, would be trusted sources of information on the topic.

  4. As Hannah emphasized, the narrator’s main objective is to tell Oroonoko’s story and her role in the narrative is secondary to his plot. That said, she makes a point to underline her own social position in order to highlight her position as an influential and credible source to narrate Oroonoko’s tale. We are first introduced to the narrator as a female figure when she discusses the first time she met Oroonoko, saying “He came into the room, and addressed himself to me, and some other women,” implying that she is a woman as well (1111). Her class is described when she explains the antique gifts she was given and proceeded to donate to the King’s Theater (1009). Her status is used to emphasize Oroonoko’s charming nature as an African, even in light of colonialism. Typically people of the narrator’s status would look down upon people like Oroonoko. Her acceptance and even admiration of him highlights his powerful nature.

    • I appreciate that you draw attention to the specific moment where we can understand that our narrator is, in all likelihood, an author insert – this allows us to interpret the text in light of Aphra Behn’s own views and get insight about her own worldview. To the extent that she is a credible source, we can be skeptical about how she narrates this tale, being a woman of higher, rather than lower social status. I think the “authenticity” of the tale isn’t undermined by the narrator’s felt presence, but rather it is influenced greatly with an English colonial perspective.
      We get a sense that our narrator’s respect of Oroonoko isn’t one of equality, but more of that trope of the “noble savage” the other blog question mentions.
      “[Oroonoko] He had an extreme good and graceful mien, and all the civility of a well-bred great man. He had nothing of barbarity in his nature, but in all points addressed as if his edcucation had been in some European court.” (1111)
      She later describes her “curiosity” heightened by his knowledge of French and English, which are desirable traits for the English colonizer. So take everything said with a grain of salt.

  5. I agree that while the first person narrator gives us some British societal authenticity, with that we likely get a historical inauthenticity. Because the narrator is a young British noble woman, we are presented with the details both with an eye of naiveté but also with a skewed perception. Certainly her description of Oorinoko as an ideal man, handsome, smart, and a king, appropriates him within British culture, particularly romantic narratives. We can thus think of this narrator as having grown up with stories such as Romeo and Juliet, and others within that sort of mood and urgency. This sentiment of tragic romance and unsurpassable odds is something our narrator seems to project on to the story of slave trade.

  6. I think that one of the most important aspects of the Oroonoko story is the fact that it is told through the eyes of a wealthy, white, slave owning, British woman. The narrator’s presence gives the reader a more realistic view of how some European colonists would have viewed African people during this time. The narrator looks at Coramantien and its people with a sort of naive curiosity, she’s intrigued by them and romanticizes them, but she still only knows what she’s been told about the country. Sentences like “he had many beautiful black wives; for most certainly, there are beauties that can charm of that colour” (pg. 1110) show that even though she wants Oroonoko to be free and sees some beauty in these people, there is still that unflappable sense of superiority that Europeans believed they held over Africans. I think that this is the best evidence of Behn wanting to tell a story that chastises Europeans as much as it sympathizes with slaves without beating the reader over the head with blatant social commentary.

  7. The Role of the narrator is a vital point in the entire story. The fact it is told from her point of view allows less bias in the story telling of how things occurred and the relationship of both Oroonoko and Imoinda. However the detail of surrounding circumstance may or may not come into question as these are the living conditions of a friend. She may have tried to either make his whereabouts look “better” for the story. We are aware the narrator is a female because of how she describes Oroonoko’s charm and presence compared to Imoinda. We also know from the beginning of the story were she describes how Orronoko approaches her and “other women” as previously stated above.

  8. From the very beginning, the narrator creates a sense of credibility by clearly stating that they do not intend on pretending or making up a story, or in the narrator’s words, “without the addition of invention” (page 1108). I feel that first person perspective creates a different relationship between the narrator and the reader because you feel more like a confidant that is being trusted with the story. We hear this when the narrator says things such as “before I give you the story”. But the eye witness aspect of this story also makes it far more authentic especially considering how foreign this story’s setting is to most of the readers of its era, and how they would probably be basing the characters and expectations of the story on stereotypes of slaves. Also, it would be harder to admire Oroonoko in the same way if the main character had been the one telling us this story. Imagine him saying “[my] mouth, the finest shaped that could be seen” and “the perfections of [my] mind [did not] come short of [my] person” (page 1111). He would sound pompous and we could think he was exaggerating this changing the authenticity of his perspective in the story. This was when I started to see the narrator as a female, (though slightly biased and making assumptions based on the writer’s gender). I also considered how it wasn’t common for characters to be openly homosexual in that era, so off we go with the assumption that she must be a woman with remarkable admiration for him. However, I don’t think that it is of much importance what she is.

  9. Although we don’t officially know that the narrator is a women until she describes meeting Oroonoko on page 1111, we can tell before this as she describes him. We can also tell that she is white and of British society by the way she desrcibes him, which sort of makes all she is saying more authentic to her readers at that time, making her, the narrator of this story, seem more credible. The narrator’s role is to tell Oroonoko’s story of a man “adorned with a native beauty” of “awe and reverence” quality (1110), but to tell in in such a way that her white, European readers will relate to it and enjoy it. Her being European is sort of the bridge between the two worlds, and also gives the story of Oroonoko more credentials in the readers’ eyes.

  10. I believe that the first person narration is important in that it gives the readers a first hand idea of what is going on in the narration. However, I think that because the narrator is a white British noble woman the story could possibly be skewed. The way she perceives an african man and his actions might be described differently from the way she would describe a man of equal status as herself. If the story was instead told by Imoinda or Oroonoko then we might be able to understand their actions better and unbiased.

    • I agree. Behn’s reliability is established for the reader pretty immediately, as she is from European decent and openly criticizes the European role in the slave trade. The story is, of course, limited to the narrator’s perspective and experiences. It would be interesting to know exactly what Prince Oroonoko was thinking and feeling (that is, if he existed as a real person).

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