In reading Oroonoko it might be easy to miss the criticism offered against the European culture. Upon studying the novel however, this criticism which had been presented subtly becomes quite clear. An important note is that the author and the narrator are not in fact the same. Although the author is out to provide a criticism of European culture and values, she is reluctant to let it come through the narrator. This critique comes through mainly in less direct forms, through her non-European characters, most often Oroonoko, and through comparisons between cultures and the characters encountered in each.
As a female writer trying to earn a living, and as the narrator of the story represented herself, Behn couldn't have the narrator offer too strong a criticism for fear of losing her audience. The narrator is presented as very European. She is very ethnocentric and seems to have no problem with the slave trade, only with the treatment of one specific individual (namely, Oroonoko). Occasionally, however, there will be a slip, a slight inconsistency in the narrators character, which offers a glimpse of Behn's true sentiments. For example, throughout the novel, the narrator is a strong believer in religion. She tells Imoinda ". . . Stories of Nuns and endeavour[s] to bring her to the knowledge of the true God."(41). She also tries to defend Christianity to an unbelieving Caesar. When discussing the natives of Surinam, however, she mentions that ". . . all the Inventions of Man . . . wou'd here but destroy that Tranquillity . . . and . . . wou'd teach ‘em [the natives] to know Offence . . . "(10). The first thing she includes as an "Invention of Man" is religion, implying that it is not essentiall...
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... Banister truly does kill him like a dog as he said, "he wou'd declare, in the other World, that he was the only Man, of all the Whites, that ever he heard speak Truth."(64)
Through each of these forms Behn is highly critical of European values, or maybe more precisely the lack there of. She criticizes religion, namely Christianity, for not enforcing morals in people; the most noble character in the novel, Oroonoko, does not believe in any God at all. She also criticizes those in the culture who do not hold themselves to their promises; the blacks and natives who are seen as so inferior are more true. She offers all this, yet, in a way that gives no offence and so keeps her audience for the next criticism she may offer.
Behn, Aphra. “Oroonoko.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. AH Abrams. New York. WW Norton and Company, Inc 2000.
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