Oroonoko

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Summary
Analysis
After the war, Oroonoko decides to stay in his camp rather than return to court, the site of his grief. Jamoan, his French tutor, Aboan, and all his troops try to cheer Oroonoko up. In time, his heartache lessens. After ignoring numerous summonses from the King to come home, Oroonoko reluctantly returns. He is received with great pomp, and is honored for his victory. Now a changed man, the prince is not interested in “any sort of amour” anymore.
By staying in camp, Oroonoko is avoiding his memories of Imoinda and their last night, which are associated with the court. Furthermore, he no doubt feels anger towards his grandfather, who ruined his life in the first place. But in returning in his own time and on his own terms, he regains some of his independence and sense of dignity.
Themes
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Not long after Oroonoko’s return, an English slave trader arrives in Coramantien’s port. The Captain of the ship has a good rapport with the generals of Coramantien, having purchased many slaves from them before. The Captain is also friends with Oroonoko, who esteems his intelligence and elegance, and receives him as a royal guest. The Captain’s visit continues for some time, and both men seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
The Captain’s arrival marks the second section of the narrative, during which betrayal again changes Oroonoko’s life. Despite their different races, the Captain and Oroonoko seem to view each other as equals and friends. The Captain deals in the slave trade, but we have seen that Oroonoko himself takes slaves as well. It is noteworthy, however, that in Coramantien people are not enslaved because of their race, but because they have been defeated in battle.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
As the date for the Captain’s departure draws near, he invites Oroonoko to dine with him onboard his ship, in order to repay the prince’s generosity. Oroonoko accepts the invitation, and the Captain prepares the ship for a royal reception. Oroonoko, his French tutor, Aboan, Jamoan, and around 100 of the noblest male courtiers come aboard the ship that night. The Captain plies them all heavily with wine.
Oroonoko is too trusting to believe that the Captain could be capable of great evil. In addition to his respect and esteem for the Captain, his love of learning about the West likely influences his decision to accept the invitation to tour the slave ship. No matter how nicely it might be decorated, nothing could disguise the ship as anything but transportation for an evil institution.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
The Coramantiens get drunk and explore the ship with delight. Suddenly, the Captain gives a signal, and his sailors seize all the guests and chain them up. The ship then sets sail, bound for the New World, where the Captain plans to sell the kidnapped men into slavery.
The curiosity and confidence of the drunken free men prove to be their undoing, as another great betrayal affects Oroonoko’s life. The Captain’s long con of Oroonoko—months of winning his trust—has lost him a trading partner, so he must think the potential profits from Oroonoko and his men will be quite significant.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
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The narrator notes that some readers might consider the Captain’s act “brave,” but she leaves out her opinion, letting her reader “judge as he pleases.”
Though the narrator loses a great opportunity to decry slavery here, her pointed silence regarding this scene (particularly after idealizing Oroonoko so much) suggests that she does not agree the Captain was right—contrary to the prevailing views of her day.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
During the journey, Oroonoko is kept apart from his men and is tightly bound to prevent his escape. Greatly resentful of this treatment, he refuses to eat. His men do the same, and they begin to starve to death, resolved to die rather than become slaves. This hunger strike vexes the Captain, who stands to lose a fortune if his cargo dies. He sends a sailor to apologize to Oroonoko, because the Captain is too ashamed to see him himself. On the Captain’s orders, the sailor lies to the Prince, telling him that the Captain has decided to release the men at the next port, if they will promise to eat.
With no opportunity of escaping, choosing death over slavery gives the captured men a greater degree of agency than passively accepting their uncertain future as human property. Having stayed with Oroonoko for a while and observed Coramantien customs, the Captain knows that the men are serious about whatever they set their minds to accomplish, and that they find death a far better fate than being enslaved.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Believing that the Captain will keep his promise, Oroonoko agrees and swears an oath. Oroonoko is a man of honor and would never break a promise—something the Captain has planned for. For his part, Oroonoko expects that in making this promise, he will be freed from his shackles. But the Captain denies him this, because he doesn’t trust that the Prince won’t try to take revenge. Oroonoko then makes another promise: that he will be friendly and obey the Captain if he can be released from his chains.
In his dealings with the Captain, Oroonoko experiences an early form of slavery by making binding promises that limit his freedom and give the Captain ultimate authority. Oroonoko’s rigid sense of honor makes him extremely vulnerable against the Captain, who is deceitful and conniving and can use Oroonoko’s moral code against him.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
The back-and-forth between Oroonoko, the messenger, and the Captain continues. The Captain again refuses to release Oroonoko, saying that he can’t trust the oath of a non-Christian. Oroonoko is sorry to hear that the Captain does not know “to credit as he would be credited.” Oroonoko explains that to break an oath in his religion means he would be considered dishonorable for the rest of his life, and would experience eternal torment in the afterlife. After explaining this, Oroonoko refuses to negotiate through the messenger anymore.
Though he is a “heathen,” Oroonoko upholds many Christian principles, such as the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” His beliefs also resemble the Christian notion of the afterlife, namely that there is a place of paradise for good people and eternal torment for bad people. The Captain, who claims to be a pious Christian, is actually much further from practicing Christian virtues than Oroonoko.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Realizing that he has no choice but to free Oroonoko if he is to sell healthy slaves, the Captain relents. He also concludes that Oroonoko must be able to visit his men in order to keep up their morale. Meanwhile the Frenchman has been secured to prevent him from aiding the Prince, but the Captain does not consider him a prisoner because he is white.
The Captain uses Oroonoko as bait to keep the other slaves healthy because he knows that Oroonoko has complete authority over his men, just as the Captain now has authority over Oroonoko. As the crew gets closer to the New World, any equality between whites and blacks disappears, as the Captain’s treatment of the Frenchman demonstrates.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
The Captain finally visits Oroonoko and removes his irons, leaving him to rest and eat, but encouraging him to visit his men. The Captain reassures Oroonoko of his word. The Prince, who has no reason to suspect further treachery, visits his men, and they rejoice at the sight of him. They are not released from their chains, but they bear their load bravely and with more ease, knowing that their dear leader is safe.
The Captain’s plan works so well because of the trusting nature of Oroonoko and the complete, unquestioning faith Oroonoko’s men have in him. The Captain’s betrayal cuts all the more deeply because he undermines the trust the Coramantien people have for each other.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
After this all the captured men eat, and the Prince’s attendants are even “pleased with their captivity” because by it, they hope to redeem the Prince. Oroonoko, however, considers his capture to be punishment for leaving Imoinda behind to be murdered. Needless to say, the Captain reneges on his promise to free the men.
While Oroonoko’s men are happy despite still being physically chained, Oroonoko is free but still emotionally shackled to his guilt over Imoinda’s death.
Themes
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Finally the ship arrives in Suriname, an English colony in South America. Oroonoko and each of his men are put in separate lots along with other slaves. A man named Trefry buys the first lot, which contains Oroonoko and 17 more slaves.
As was common with the slave trade, the Coramantien men are separated to prevent them from organizing an insurrection or running away. Separation also demonstrated to the slaves the power of their new masters.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
On his way off the ship, Oroonoko gives the Captain a furious look, which makes the Captain blush. Oroonoko shouts that he now knows the truth about the Captain and the gods he swears by. As he leaps into Trefry’s boat, Oroonoko urges his fellow slaves to not resist, because they might “meet with more honor and honesty” in the New World.
Oroonoko now realizes just how treacherous white men can be, but he still clings to his own inflexible code of honor. With the act of jumping into Trefry’s boat, Oroonoko surrenders to his new and unknown future. His last princely act—issuing words of comfort to his men—further demonstrates his moral superiority to the Captain.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon