Aphra Behn introduces her characters in Oroonoko as beautiful people who possess a pure, innocent love. Behn does this in an effort to make her readers feel and question. Her poetic description of their emotions magnify the horror of the final scene. Behn's romantic love story is brought to a tragic end through brutality and death. Why did she choose such an ending? Her decision to have Oroonoko take the life of his wife and unborn child leaves her audience questioning. Was what they had love? If not, what was it? What had killed their innocence?
The story of Oroonoko and Imoinda began with him approaching her and ended with the cut of his knife. Oroonoko both began and ended the story that was "theirs." Therefore, when analyzing their relationship it is most important to examine Oroonoko's behavior. Oroonoko is the one who determined what path their story would take. What drove him to end "their" story in such a brutal way? What caused him to act so uncontrollable? The truth is that his heart couldn't stand to lose her again. He couldn't risk not finding her. He was scared because he realized that he could not protect her. Even the strong, powerful Oroonoko was not able to rescue her and her unborn child from slavery. His hope and innocence were killed by fear. He finally met a force that could beat him.
Throughout the story, Oroonoko exhibits his power and control. In order to once again prove his courage, Oroonoko goes hunting to kill a tiger that had been too fierce and powerful for others to conquer. When Oroonoko comes upon the tiger, she is devouring her new kill. Upon Oroonoko's approach, the tiger stares at him with a "very fierce rag...
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...heaven. This is a beautiful image. Does it really matter how they chose to exit this world? The truth is that it does.
Aphra Behn's tale of Oroonoko is not only a tragic love story. It is also a story about slavery and how it can kill a person. The relationship between Oroonoko and Imoinda is described as pure and innocent. Their story compliments the point that Behn was trying to make about slavery. Slavery can kill hope, purity, and innocence. Slavery does not only kill the human spirit. It slaughters it.
The student may wish to begin the paper with the following quote:
"And these two People represented to me an absolute Idea of the first State of Innocence, before Man knew how to sin." (pg.10)
Behn, Aphra. “Oroonoko.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.
Ed. AH Abrams. New York. WW Norton and Company, Inc 2000.
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