Aphra Behn


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Oroonoko Major Character Analysis


Oroonoko is an African prince and no ordinary man. On top of his startling physical beauty and intellect, Oroonoko’s social status is important in the text: he is a Prince, next in line to the throne of Cormantien. The narrator emphasizes Oroonoko’s greatness throughout the text and, in doing so, emphasizes his difference to other men. While Behn has been praised for her sympathetic portrait of African people, Oroonoko is admirable because he is not like other Africans. In fact, he is most often compared to Europeans. This is further emphasized by his education; he is tutored by a French gentleman and can speak several European languages. At one point the narrator notes that he is “more civiliz’d according to the European Mode, than any other had been, and took more Delight in the White Nations” (43).

Oroonoko is driven by honor and he has a number of exchanges—with the English captain, for example—in which he discusses the nature of honor and the importance for a man to keep his word. His love for Imoinda is another motivating factor, one that leads him to risk his grandfather’s wrath and his inheritance in order to consummate his marriage to her. His promise to remain monogamousaligns him with European cultural norms rather than the polygamy traditional in Cormantien. For Oroonoko, slavery is the antithesis of honor: although he is not forced to labor as a slave, he cannot bear to be enslaved. Even then, his slave name—Caesar—emphasizes his greatness and his compatibility with European values. In the end, however, he kills Imoinda and their unborn child rather than face a life of bondage. 


Imoinda is the woman Oroonoko loves and whom he eventually marries. Like her husband, she is extraordinarily beautiful, exceptional among African women. While her role in the novella is largely limited to being the object of Oroonoko’s affections, there are moments where she acts courageously and which show her to be a suitable wife for such a great man. This is particularly evident towards the end of the novella when, alone out the slave women, she stands with Tuscan and…

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