Oroonoko

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Oroonoko 4. Oroonoko’s Revolt Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator diverts Caesar through these outings for some time. However, as Imoinda enters the late stages of her pregnancy, Caesar grows more restless. One Sunday, while the whites, including Caesar’s spies, are drunk, Caesar steals away to visit the slave houses. He organizes a feast for them, during which he picks out 150 men able to bear arms. The narrator notes that few colonists have functioning weapons. Most do not oil their swords, which quickly rust because of the humidity, and most guns are corroded, unless they are brand-new from England. The slaves, on the other hand, are handy at using a bow and arrow, just like the natives.
The English clearly have no real way of protecting their colony. The weapons they do have are mostly for show, and few are actually functioning. The poor condition of the weapons not only suggests that their authority has gone untested until now, but also that their power over the slaves rests on empty threats, tradition, and fear. The natives and slaves outnumber the English and have the martial skills to defeat their oppressors, but they do not realize their advantages.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
At the feast, Caesar gives a passionate speech about the evils of slavery, its dehumanizing effects, and the dishonor of working for a corrupt race. He asks the slaves if they are content to suffer “the lash,” and they reply “no” in unison. Then Tuscan, the tallest and most elegant-looking slave of the crowd, interrupts Caesar’s speech. Bowing at Caesar’s feet, he reminds Caesar that most men have wives and children who would find it difficult to undertake the required journey through the harsh terrain to escape slavery. Caesar replies that “honor was the first principle in nature to be obeyed.” Under his plan, he would also lead all who desired freedom, women and children included. Only “degenerate” women, who were too afraid to follow their husbands and would rather remain slaves, would be left behind.
Whereas before, Caesar believed that some blacks deserved to be enslaved (particularly his prisoners of war), after experiencing the effects of slavery firsthand, he now feels a strong sense of sympathy and brotherhood for his fellow slaves. This then influences his escape plan, which calls for teamwork and cooperation among all the slaves. The character Tuscan represents the voice of the “common” slaves—and once again Behn associates physical characteristics (his height and “elegance”) with leadership qualities. Caesar, as usual, places honor above all else.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Everyone agrees to this plan, and Caesar adds that they can help one another on the journey. Men can take turns carrying tired children, and they can collectively gather food. Tuscan then asks what they should do. Caesar replies that they will travel towards the sea and form a new colony, which they will defend from attack until they can find a ship to seize. The ship will take them all back to their respective countries. The men vow to follow him to death.
Caesar essentially reprises his military leader role in Coramantien as the leader of the escape in Suriname. The slaves naturally accept him in this role, as they have already tried to deify him ever since his arrival. After hearing his passionate speech, they come to believe in their own self-worth as well as to further respect Caesar as a great man.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
That very night, the men return to their homes and prepare for their departure, making weapons and gathering supplies. The enslaved men, women, and children then depart early Monday morning. Later that day, when the overseers arrive to collect the slaves for work, they are astonished to see their dwelling places empty.
The slaves organize their departure quickly and efficiently. This “escape” is remarkably easy—the difficult part will be defending their freedom against the colonists’ guns.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
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Six hundred so-called militia men, a rag tag group of whites, prepare to pursue the fugitives. The narrator notes that no “men of fashion” concern themselves with the affair, even though it could have fatal consequences for the whites. The reason is that these conscientious objectors are friends of Caesar, and some may have even helped him plan his escape. They also deplore the Parhamites, a faction of those who belong to the Parham House who don’t love the Lord Governor and who want to keep Caesar in slavery.
The colonists are apparently divided on the issue of slavery. While some may be quiet abolitionists, most of Caesar’s friends hold an inconsistent view of slavery, believing that Caesar should be free, but slavery itself is permissible. The Parhamites, on the other hand, are more consistent in their attitudes toward slavery: they think that all blacks should be enslaved, including the royal Caesar. However, the Parhamites hide this view from Caesar himself (just like the Captain did).
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Deputy Governor Byam, the leader of the Parhamites, leads a band carrying whips, rusted guns (for show), and clubs into the jungle after Caesar. The narrator thinks Byam is a detestable person. He is the only leader who wants to use violence against Caesar, though he has before pretended to befriend him. Trefry also joins the group to act as a mediator. He foresees a grim ending to the slaves’ freedom run, and he hopes to get them to surrender peacefully and prevent them from committing suicide. Byam, the narrator notes, has different plans.
Byam becomes the new villainous figure to betray Caesar in this final section, following Caesar’s betrayals by the King and the Captain. Not only does Byam trick Caesar, but he is also able to trick fellow white colonists like Trefry. In going after Caesar with violent intentions, Byam shows his true colors: he has always hated Caesar, and he wants to punish the figurehead of the slaves’ rebellion.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
The Parhamites easily find the slaves’ trail, which has been well cleared by the hundreds of runaways. Caesar soon realizes he is being pursued, and he adopts a “posture of defense.” The women and children file to the back and the men come forward. The slaves don’t waste time trying to “parley” with the English—instead they begin fighting immediately, guerilla style.
Despite Caesar’s practical defense strategies, the slaves are basically sitting ducks. There are too many of them, and the English search party is too close on their heels for them to run and hide. Fighting is their best and only option to escape.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Seeing their husbands being hurt and people dying all around, the enslaved women become frightened. When the English cry out, “Yield and live, yield and be pardoned,” wives and children rush into the fray and cling to their husbands and fathers, urging them to yield and leave the fighting to Caesar. Soon, only two fighters remain beside Caesar, Tuscan, and Imoinda. The rest have fled.
Apparently the fearful women and their husbands are what Caesar referred to as “degenerates”—those who would rather live as slaves than die in the pursuit of freedom. This is another kind of betrayal for Caesar, and a reflection of the narrator’s view that for some races, slavery and subservience are only natural—Caesar is the exception, not the rule.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Imoinda is quite skilled with her bow. She wounds several of the whites with her poisoned arrows, including Byam. The narrator notes that he would have died if his Indian mistress had not sucked the poison out of his wound. Caesar, Tuscan, and Imoinda all resolve to die fighting rather than surrender and be captured. Recognizing this and now thirsting for a more exacting revenge against Caesar, Byam changes tactics and tries to negotiate.
Imoinda is not only a pretty face and Caesar’s love interest—she is also resourceful and skilled at fighting. This is a departure from the typical representation of women in the seventeenth century as gentle and delicate creatures. Byam, like the Captain, relies on his deceitful nature to coerce Caesar into surrendering.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Byam tells Caesar that his decision to revolt was rash, and that Byam’s men have stopped fighting because they esteem Caesar. Byam then promises to abide by any terms Caesar demands, and says that if his child is born on the island, he or she will be free. Byam also promises to put Caesar and his wife on the next passing ship and send them back to Coramantien. Caesar agrees that he acted rashly—saying that he should not have tried to free those who are by nature slaves—but he tells Byam that he has no faith in the white men or their gods anymore. Trefry believes Byam to mean what he says, however, and he privately persuades Caesar to surrender and name his conditions. Trefry even cries a little. Overcome by Trefry’s emotions and considering his wife’s condition, Caesar relents and signs a treaty with Byam. He also asks that Tuscan be pardoned.
Byam realizes that Caesar does not know how to defend himself against psychological warfare, and so he uses Caesar’s weakness—his rigid code of honor—to his advantage. By telling Caesar what he wants to hear, he slowly regains Caesar’s trust and lulls him into a false sense of security. Byam is such a skillful liar that even Trefry believes him too. Still reeling from the betrayal of his fellow slaves, Caesar now gives up his optimistic view of mankind. He now returns to the idea that slavery is a necessary institution for those unworthy of freedom, because it is the only way he can reconcile the fearful actions of the slaves. This also plays into colonial beliefs, of course.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
After this is done, the colonists and the three slaves walk back toward the plantation. Upon reaching the place where slaves are whipped, however, the Parhamites grab Caesar and Tuscan, who are both surprised and exhausted. The colonists bind the men tightly and proceed to whip them, while Byam looks on.
For a prince in his own country, a whipping would have been unheard of. But in the New World, Caesar can be treated like just another slave. The whipping itself emphasizes the magnitude and gravity of his change in fortune. Again, Behn deplores this violence not for its own sake, but because it involves subjecting a natural-born king to a great indignity.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
During his lashing, Caesar makes no sound and does not struggle. He only looks angrily at Byam, and at each one of the runaway slaves who now take turns whipping him. The Parhamites then untie Caesar, and he falls to the ground, weak from the loss of blood. Next, they weigh him down with iron chains, rub Indian pepper on his skin to aggravate his wounds, and tie him to the ground, so he cannot move.
The whipping is not only physically painful, but the Parhamites go out of their way to make sure it is especially humiliating for Caesar by making his deserters deal him the blows they themselves might have received for running away. The betrayals Caesar has faced now seem numberless, and he has lost all hope in the rest of humanity.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Imoinda has not seen Caesar’s punishment, as the Parhamites made sure to lock her up inside Parham House to prevent her from the miscarriage that seeing such a gruesome sight would likely induce. Meanwhile, the narrator and the other English women have been evacuated upriver, after hearing of Caesar’s flight earlier that day. They have no inkling that Caesar has been captured and horribly mistreated. They believe that he has overcome the white colonists and will return to slit their throats. Reflecting on the unfortunate events that took place, the narrator laments that she was not present at the time, because she had the power and authority to stop the violence against Caesar.
Hiding Caesar’s whipping from Imoinda is no act of mercy. The Parhamites are a calculating, mercenary group that wants the mother and child to survive for their own purposes. Though clearly their survival ensures the growth of the slave population, it is also possible that the Parhamites could stoop to using the pair as leverage against Caesar. Caesar’s women friends are now apparently more swayed by gossip than by their past impressions of Caesar as a brave and noble man, suggesting that they never really trusted him in the first place, or else merely viewed him as an admirable but dangerous curiosity.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon