Oroonoko

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Narrator (Aphra Behn) Character Analysis

The narrator is a female Englishwoman, and possibly the direct voice of the author, Aphra Behn, who lived in Suriname for a while and may have had similar experiences to the narrator. Almost the whole of Oroonoko is told in the narrator’s voice and from her perspective. For the most part, the narrator is open-minded (for her time) and not entirely bigoted in her opinions of the native peoples of the European colonies. She sees these “natives” as close descendants of Adam and Eve before the Fall of Man, but her opinions toward black Africans seems to be a bit murkier. While she highly esteems Oroonoko, there is a sense that he is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to African. While the narrator abhors how Oroonoko is treated, she never admits that she has a problem with the institution of slavery itself—the main injustice she decries is that a natural king like Oroonoko should be treated so disrespectfully. The narrator admires the foods and customs of the ethnic groups she comes into contact with, and in general she has a keen sense of adventure. She describes her health as poor, and is very sensitive to all kinds of odors. Her closest friends include Oroonoko and Imoinda, who often dine at her table.

Narrator (Aphra Behn) Quotes in Oroonoko

The Oroonoko quotes below are all either spoken by Narrator (Aphra Behn) or refer to Narrator (Aphra Behn). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism Theme Icon
).
1. Oroonoko in Coramantien Quotes

I do not pretend, in giving you the history of this Royal Slave, to entertain my reader with adventures of a feigned hero, whose life and fortunes fancy may manage at the poet's pleasure; nor in relating the truth, design to adorn it with any accidents but such as arrived in earnest to him.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), Prince Oroonoko

They are extreme modest and bashful, very shy, and nice of being touched.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker)

He was adorned with a native beauty, so transcending all those of his gloomy race that he struck an awe and reverence even into those that knew not his quality; as he did into me, who beheld him with surprise and wonder, when afterwards he arrived in our world.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), Prince Oroonoko

The whole proportion and air of his face was so nobly and exactly formed that, bating his color, there could be nothing in nature more beautiful, agreeable, and handsome.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), Prince Oroonoko

And I have observed, 'tis a very great error in those who laugh when one says, "A negro can change color": for I have seen 'em as frequently blush, and look pale, and that as visibly as ever I saw in the most beautiful white. And 'tis certain that both these changes were evident, this day, in both these lovers.

He sent a messenger to the camp, with orders to treat with him about the matter, to gain his pardon, and to endeavor to mitigate his grief; but that by no means he should tell him she was sold, but secretly put to death: for he knew he should never obtain his pardon for the other.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), King of Coramantien

To describe her truly, one need say only, she was female to the noble male; the beautiful black Venus to our young Mars; as charming in her person as he, and of delicate virtues. I have seen a hundred white men sighing after her, and making a thousand vows at her feet, all in vain, and unsuccessful.

2. Kidnapped Quotes

Some have commended this act, as brave in the captain; but I will spare my sense of it, and leave it to my reader to judge as he pleases.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), Prince Oroonoko, The Captain

He was very sorry to hear that the captain pretended to the knowledge and worship of any gods, who had taught him no better principles than not to credit as he would be credited.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), Prince Oroonoko, The Captain
3. Slavery in Suriname Quotes

He saw an honesty in his eyes, and he found him wise and witty enough to understand honor: for it was one of his maxims, A man of wit could not be a knave or villain.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), Prince Oroonoko, Trefry

He begged Trefry to give him something more befitting a slave, which he did, and took off his robes: nevertheless he shone through all, and his osenbrigs…could not conceal the graces of his looks and mien; and he had no less admirers …the royal youth appeared in spite of the slave, and people could not help treating him after a different manner, without designing it.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), Prince Oroonoko, Trefry

But as it was more for form than any design to put him to his task, he endured no more of the slave but the name, and remained some days in the house, receiving all visits that were made him, without stirring towards that part of the plantation where the negroes were.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), Prince Oroonoko

I was infinitely glad to find this beautiful young slave (who had already gained all our esteems, for her modesty and her extraordinary prettiness) to be the same I had heard Caesar speak so much of…we paid her a treble respect; and though…we took her to be of quality before, yet when we knew Clemene was Imoinda, we could not enough admire her.

Much more to this effect he spoke, with an air impatient enough to make me know he would not be long in bondage; and though he suffered only the name of a slave, and had nothing of the toil and labor of one, yet that was sufficient to render him uneasy; and he had been too long idle, who used to be always in action, and in arms.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), Prince Oroonoko

And it's by a passive valor they show and prove their activity; a sort of courage too brutal to be applauded by our black hero; nevertheless, he expressed his esteem of 'em.

Related Characters: Narrator (Aphra Behn) (speaker), Prince Oroonoko
5. Oroonoko’s Revenge Quotes

All that love could say in such cases being ended, and all the intermitting irresolutions being adjusted, the lovely, young, and adored victim lays herself down before the sacrificer; while he, with a hand resolved, and a heart breaking within, gave the fatal stroke, first cutting her throat, and then severing her yet smiling face from that delicate body, pregnant as it was with the fruits of tenderest love.

He tore, he raved, he roared like some monster of the wood, calling on the loved name of Imoinda. A thousand times he turned the fatal knife that did the deed toward his own heart, with a resolution to go immediately after her; but dire revenge, which was now a thousand times more fierce in his soul than before, prevents him.

I hope, the reputation of my pen is considerable enough to make his glorious name to survive all the ages, with that of the brave, the beautiful, and the constant Imoinda.

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Narrator (Aphra Behn) Character Timeline in Oroonoko

The timeline below shows where the character Narrator (Aphra Behn) appears in Oroonoko. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Oroonoko in Coramantien
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
In the beginning of Oroonoko, the narrator (an unnamed Englishwoman) directly addresses the reader to explain that the tale she is about... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Before she begins the story of Oroonoko’s life, the narrator makes one further aside. She explains that it is necessary to first give the reader... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
According to the narrator, the white colonists in Suriname apparently live with the natives in “perfect amity,” and don’t... (full context)
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Next, the narrator details what the natives look like. Their exotic beauty, which is so different from the... (full context)
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For the narrator, the natives represent “an absolute idea of the first state of innocence, before man knew... (full context)
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Betrayal Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
The narrator relates an important anecdote that illustrates the strong moral code governing the simple but virtuous... (full context)
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
The narrator wraps up her digression on the customs and cultures of the natives of Suriname by... (full context)
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The narrator then briefly explains how the slave trade works. Those looking to purchase slaves make a... (full context)
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With this background, the narrator at last comes to the story of Oroonoko’s life. She begins by outlining his royal... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Here the narrator makes another digression from the narrative to describe Oroonoko’s intelligence, morality, and beauty—the traits he... (full context)
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Love and Obedience Theme Icon
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The narrator assures readers of the truth of Oroonoko’s merits by describing her own impressions of him,... (full context)
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Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
Slipping back into the chronological sequence of the narrative, the narrator reminds readers that the death of Oroonoko’s mentor (Imoinda’s father) has huge consequences other than... (full context)
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
...the greatest honor the gods could do her.” The couple hold a ceremony, which the narrator forgets “to ask how ‘twas performed,” and both decide that they need the blessing of... (full context)
Betrayal Theme Icon
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The narrator then provides some details about the old King, who is not like Oroonoko at all.... (full context)
Betrayal Theme Icon
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...cover herself with the veil and come to the King’s bed. Disobeying this signal, the narrator warns, is not only an immediate cause for execution, but also “a most impious disobedience.” (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
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...the first time since she’s been taken away, he blushes deeply and almost faints. The narrator interrupts to confirm that it is indeed possible for dark-skinned people to blush—she’s seen it.... (full context)
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The narrator again interrupts the narrative to describe Onahal’s position in the court. No longer beautiful, she... (full context)
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Returning to the narrative, the narrator describes what transpires between Aboan and Onahal in the window seat. Aboan is a beautiful... (full context)
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...Imoinda and awakens her with his caresses. Imoinda is still a virgin, and this, the narrator says, makes the ensuing consummation of their marriage all the sweeter. (full context)
2. Kidnapped
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
The narrator notes that some readers might consider the Captain’s act “brave,” but she leaves out her... (full context)
3. Slavery in Suriname
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During Oroonoko’s boat ride, the narrator describes Trefry, the young Cornish gentleman who has purchased Oroonoko. Trefry manages the plantation of... (full context)
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
...referred to as “Caesar,” a name chosen to reflect his martial and leadership skills. The narrator remarks that Caesar’s “misfortune” was to come to an obscure world, a world in which... (full context)
Love and Obedience Theme Icon
Honor  Theme Icon
...pledge their love to each other, he rushes back to Parham House to tell the narrator the good news. The narrator is then impatient to meet Caesar’s love and befriend her.... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
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...will lead the other slaves, who greatly outnumber the whites, to rebel. They tell the narrator to placate Caesar, and so she comes to spend much time entertaining the two royal... (full context)
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The narrator tells Caesar and Imoinda stories about the lives of the Romans, which Caesar enjoys, and... (full context)
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Through these conversations, the narrator gets to know Caesar much better. She realizes that he likes the company of women... (full context)
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Before Caesar leaves the narrator that day, she makes him promise to be patient a little while longer until the... (full context)
Betrayal Theme Icon
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...are showing him increased respect, particularly as more gentlemen come to pay him visits. The narrator takes an important role in babysitting Caesar as well, planning several expeditions that allow him... (full context)
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With Caesar in tow, the narrator and her friends search for “wonderful and strange things,” from exotic, aromatic flowers to new... (full context)
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...and some colonists fear the natives will attack. This later happens under the Dutch, the narrator notes. In retribution for their mistreatment, the natives invade the Dutch settlement, hanging women and... (full context)
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...simplicity of the natives, whom the English allow to touch their body parts, charm the narrator, and the natives likewise admire the white visitors. Through the interpreter, they learn about each... (full context)
4. Oroonoko’s Revolt
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The narrator diverts Caesar through these outings for some time. However, as Imoinda enters the late stages... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Betrayal Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
Betrayal Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
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Love and Obedience Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
5. Oroonoko’s Revenge
Racism Theme Icon
Freedom and Slavery Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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...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.” (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Around this time, the narrator falls ill and leaves Parham House to stay at Colonel Martin’s. While she is away,... (full context)
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The narrator’s mother and sister remain by Caesar’s side during his execution, but they don’t dare to... (full context)
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The narrator concludes her story by expressing her hope that her tale will preserve Caesar’s “glorious name,”... (full context)