Oroonoko

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Oroonoko 5. Oroonoko’s Revenge Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The women do not travel very far when the news of Caesar’s whipping reaches them. On the river, they meet Colonel Martin, a great friend of Caesar’s, who is very angry to hear about his mistreatment. The women transport him back to Parham House to intervene on Caesar’s behalf. When they arrive, they find Caesar in great pain. While they nurse him back to health, he confides his plan to kill Byam, whatever it takes. Caesar pledges to do no harm to the women and Trefry, who had no idea of Byam’s evil plans. They try to talk him out of this idea, but fail.
As fast as gossip spreads through the colony, truth travels just as fast. No doubt the women feel outraged at the turn of events, and may even feel some shame for abandoning their victimized friend. Caesar has lost hope in returning home or living happily with Imoinda, and now only hopes to avenge his honor by killing his enemy.
Themes
Honor  Theme Icon
Byam, meanwhile, has been recovering from Imoinda’s poisoned arrow, and has also been planning his own revenge against Caesar. He calls his council, which is made up of men whom the narrator describes as “notorious villains” and ex-convicts. They conclude that Caesar must be made an example of to all the other slaves, so that they submit to their masters. They make a plan to hang Caesar.
The Parhamites reason that killing Caesar would send the ultimate message to the slaves, especially since he is their leader and a symbol of hope to the slave community. They do not believe that slaves will respond to kindness, unlike more merciful masters like Trefry. Behn again suggests a hierarchy even among the white colonists, with Parham’s gang consisting of convicts and lower-class “villains,” while the nobility are portrayed as more virtuous.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
At the same time, Trefry goes to Byam and tells him to stay away from his Lord’s servants (meaning Caesar) and that his authority does not extend to the plantation—Parham is a sanctuary. Trefry reminds Byam that men with more authority than Byam have an interest in Caesar, and would not let anything happen to him. Trefry has Byam’s council kicked out of Parham House, where they had been convening, and a guard is posted to only allow in friends of Caesar. Byam is allowed to stay until he is recovered.
The meeting of the Parhamites is the foil to the gathering of Caesar’s friends. While the former want Caesar dead, the latter are trying to keep him alive. Importantly, both of these meetings are taking place in Parham House, now a house divided against itself over the issue of a slave’s life.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
As Caesar recovers, he begins to think about his next move. He realizes that he will never go back home to Coramantien, and accepts that he will be killed for murdering Byam. These thoughts do not trouble him, but what makes him truly sorrowful is thinking about what will happen to Imoinda and his child. He imagines that Imoinda will be raped by all the men and then killed. Caesar vows to prevent this from happening. He resolves himself to commit a dire act—a deed that first horrifies the narrator, but which she later comes to think is “brave and just.”
Though the narrator leaves readers in suspense as to what Caesar is planning to do, it is easy to guess from the tone of the narrative and the narrator’s apprehension that Caesar is planning to take a dire and irreversible step: murdering his wife and unborn child, rather than leaving them to the mercy of their enemies.
Themes
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
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To carry out his plan, Caesar gets Trefry to let him take a walk with Imoinda, alone. They walk to a secluded forest, where Caesar gazes at his wife longingly. Then, crying heavily, he tells her of his plan—he is going to kill her to protect her from a disgraceful fate after he kills Byam. Hearing this news, Imoinda kneels before Caesar and begs him not to leave her a prey to his enemies. Caesar embraces her and then pulls out his knife. While he cries, Imoinda looks at him with joy because, as the narrator relates, she reveres Caesar like a deity. In their culture, when a man has any occasion to quit his wife, if he loves her, he kills her (if not, he sells her).
Both Caesar and Imoinda’s reactions to Caesar’s plan are surprising. Caesar, who has usually been stoic and strong, reveals his emotional vulnerability in a way he never has before, despite the many tragedies of his life. Imoinda, rather than being shocked and horrified, as a British woman might be, is supportive and encouraging. Imoinda’s calmness more than Caesar’s meltdown demonstrates how vastly different Coramantien culture is from British culture—or else shows how Imoinda is truly Caesar’s partner, and the only one who shares his strict sense of honor, virtue, and courage. This is the ultimate reconciliation of love and obedience for Imoinda.
Themes
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Caesar stabs Imoinda, and then lays her body on a heap of leaves and flowers. His grief swells into a rage and he turns the knife on himself. He wants to follow Imoinda into the afterlife, but only stops when he thinks of his vendetta against Byam—which cost him the life of his beloved.
Caesar’s vendetta is now the driving force behind his will to live. Whereas killing Imoinda was an act of love, killing Byam will be an act of justice, which he needs to complete so that Imoinda’s death was not in vain.
Themes
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Though still bent on revenge, Caesar finds that he cannot leave Imoinda’s side. He lies down beside her and does not stir for two days. He is slowly weakened by hunger, thirst, and—most of all—grief. Six more days pass.
Once again, Caesar’s emotional distress wreaks havoc on his physical health. Unlike his previous bouts of malaise, however, he has finally reached his breaking point because now he has lost everything. His grief, like everything else about him, is epic in proportion.
Themes
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Back at the plantation, the colonists begin to worry when Caesar and Imoinda don’t return from their walk. They think that some accident has befallen the pair. A search party heads out, including Tuscan, who is now perfectly reconciled with Byam. They don’t travel far when the powerful stench of Imoinda’s rotting corpse leads them to Caesar. As they get closer to the source of the smell, they think they will find Caesar dead.
Tuscan’s reconciliation with Byam proves that Tuscan to is a “degenerate” like the other slaves. This is yet another kind of betrayal, and means that any hope for a future resistance (without Caesar) is gone.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Hearing the search party approach, Caesar is finally able to stand up, having failed to do so for the past eight days. He staggers to a tree to support himself, and calls out to the search party not to come closer. The men are shocked to see the state Caesar is in, and inquire what he has done to Imoinda. He points to the pile of leaves, and they call him a monster for murdering her. Ignoring their questions, Caesar tells them to go back, and to tell Byam that he is lucky that Caesar’s body is too weak to exact revenge.
Though Caesar may look the part of a monster, Behn suggests that Byam is the true monster because of his treachery and sadistic cruelty. Caesar’s overwhelming grief has sabotaged his own quest for revenge, but even in his weakened state he is still dangerous.
Themes
Honor  Theme Icon
When the search party returns, Byam’s Council decides that now is the perfect time to seize Caesar and carry out their plan. They return to the forest, but are wary of approaching him, and ask which man will dare try to capture him. Caesar warns that he will kill any one who approaches. He cuts off part of his own throat and throws it at the men. Caesar tells them he knows he is dying and won’t achieve his revenge, and will be whipped again. A bold Englishman then tries to capture Caesar, but Caesar kills him with his knife.
Again Behn emphasizes the moral degeneracy of the Parhamites by showing their cowardice here—they are afraid to attack Caesar even in his weakened state. Caesar apparently adopts the war practices of the natives to prove his fearlessness, or else he has just been driven mad by rage and grief, and wants to destroy something, even if it is himself.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Tuscan is moved by Caesar’s determination, and cries out that he loves him and won’t let him die. He runs toward Caesar and tries to take him in his arms, but Caesar stabs Tuscan in the arm. Then six men carry Caesar back to Parham House and have a surgeon attend to his wounds. Caesar’s friends rush to his side, but only see a disfigured and decrepit man who hardly resembles their beloved Caesar.
Tuscan’s apology for his disloyalty comes too late. Caesar has never before had the chance to confront someone who has double-crossed him and the fact that he tries to kill Tuscan by whatever means he can shows that Caesar considers betrayal the greatest possible offense. Tuscan, for his part, at least shows remorse and redeems himself through this act of desperate courage.
Themes
Betrayal Theme Icon
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Six days later, because of the diligent care of his friends, Caesar is able to talk again. He demands that they let him die, or else he will cause death to a great many others. While his friends try to encourage him to live, the surgeon comforts Caesar by informing him that he won’t survive.
Caesar won’t survive his wounds, but the surgeon keeps him alive long enough for him to be tortured again. At this point Caesar only wants to die, hoping to avoid further indignity and to be reunited with Imoinda.
Themes
Honor  Theme Icon
Around this time, the narrator falls ill and leaves Parham House to stay at Colonel Martin’s. While she is away, Byam sends Trefry on a hoax errand upriver. Then a wild Irishman named Banister, who is a member of Byam’s Council, kidnaps Caesar from Parham house. He brings Caesar back to the same whipping post as before. The Council ties Caesar up and lights a great fire before him.
It is interesting that the only man willing to take preliminary action in Caesar’s death is Irish, not English. This could be indicative of Behn’s prejudice against the Irish, or a stereotype of them as “wild” or violent. The whipping post and the fire are ominous signs that Caesar’s end is near. Once again Byam tricks even his fellow colonists as part of his vendetta against Caesar.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
Banister tells Caesar that he is going to die like the dog he is. Caesar responds that this is the “first piece of bravery Banister ever did,” and he says that Banister is the only white person he’s met who told him the truth.
Banister is now openly hostile towards Caesar, which Caesar ironically appreciates after all the deceitful white colonists he has met. Banister leaves Caesar no doubt about his fate, and this is a comfort the dying man.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Turning to his persecutors, Caesar asks them if he is going to be whipped or killed. The men of Byam’s Council cry out that he won’t escape with only a whipping. Caesar blesses their decision, and promises to stand still without flinching for his execution. But, he warns, if they intend to whip him, they should bind him tightly.
Caesar wants to be murdered both because he longs for death and because accepting his death with honor is the last way he can rebel against his captors. That he is able to goad his captors by warning them to bind him demonstrates his calmness and his pride even in such a dire situation.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
Before the Council begins to torture Caesar, he asks for a pipe (he has learned to smoke while in Suriname). Caesar smokes as the executioner first cuts off his genitals and throws them onto the fire. He continues smoking calmly as the executioner then uses an “ill-favored knife” to cut off his ears and nose, throwing both into the fire. Caesar continues to smoke even after they cut off one of his arms. After they cut off the other arm, however, Caesar stops smoking and his head sinks. He dies without a groan or a word of reproach.
Caesar’s last act is to defy Western culture by showing up the colonists and mocking their leisurely pursuits. By smoking a pipe while the executioner slowly cuts him up, he proves his bravado and courage even through passive action. The “ill-favored” knife the executioner uses is likely rusty and dull, probably chosen by Byam to cause Caesar the most pain possible.
Themes
Honor  Theme Icon
The narrator’s mother and sister remain by Caesar’s side during his execution, but they don’t dare to intervene because the Council is so wild and angry. The Council later makes the women pay dearly for their “insolence,” but the narrator does not say how.
Though Byam is ruthless and cruel, the punishment he inflicts on the women won’t be as bad as what he could inflict on a slave. After all, the women are English subjects with human rights.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
To conclude their barbarity, the Council cuts Caesar’s body into quarters, and then sends the sections of his body to the chief plantations of the colony—hoping to scare the other slaves into subservience. Colonel Martin, for his part, refuses his share of Caesar’s body, and swears he would rather have a quarter of Banister’s body instead. Besides, Colonel Martin argues that he can govern his slaves perfectly well without scaring them with the body of a “mangled king.”
While he was alive, Caesar’s body represented the pinnacle of beauty and nobility, and people flocked to see his beauty. Now that he is dead, however, his body has become a tool to repulse and instill fear in others. Though the kinder slave-owners deplore these scare tactics, Caesar’s death is still not enough to make them reconsider their participation in slavery.
Themes
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
The narrator concludes her story by expressing her hope that her tale will preserve Caesar’s “glorious name,” as well as that of “the brave, the beautiful, and the constant Imoinda.”
Ironically, the narrator ends her narrative by continuing to call Oroonoko “Caesar,” despite the title of the work and her proclaimed quest to preserve his “glorious name.” The name “Imoinda,” on the other hand, the narrator uses consistently throughout, and even chooses as the last word of her work. Perhaps this is Behn’s way of subtly commenting on a surprising difference between her hero and heroine: Imoinda is, in some ways, even braver and more constant than Caesar himself. Once again, Behn makes no effort to condemn slavery as a whole, but only deplores Caesar’s fate as a tragedy because he was so “glorious” and royal.
Themes
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon