Oroonoko is a tragic story revolving around themes of death, racism, love freedom and even slavery. Aphra Behn's explicit in making the story to touch on all issues that affect humanity through the use of fantastic detailing which gives us the interest to read. Furthermore, the choice of the characters is what adds the test to the story in a way that each one of them plays the role that adequately contributes to the world of literature as a whole. The ability for Behn to detail us on the natives, for example, is what adds much to the afflictions they face, and this highly contributes to the themes of racism and freedom. Therefore, this paper will look at how ideas of freedom and racism are developed in Behn's story alongside other works of literature.
At the beginning of the story, Behn describes how slaves are received in the English colony. You might think the gentle way they are treated portrays the life they will live in the settlement. However, their innocence is yet to change into a thirst for freedom. The European's superiority over the natives leads to the themes of racism and freedom. On page 54, the natives receive savage like treatment because of their beliefs and color. In this case, the unfair and in inhumane treatment is what causes them to strive for freedom even if it meant death. For instance, the British slave trade captain befriends Oroonoko promising him of freedom, an assurance that only leads to betrayal and lies when he sells Oroonoko out to Trefry. Byam too the deputy -governor of Surinam pretends to like Oroonoko and just like the captain he promises Oroonoko freedom. However, due to Byam's greed and dislike for people of color, he hunts Oroonoko down, beats him and makes orders for his death (70). Slavery was only for the inferior races like Africans whose color was a scare to the Whites. Racism was the order of the day for blacks who were treated more of animals and not human beings. Families were separated, and rival African tribes began selling their fellow blacks to Europeans to make money. In contributing to the themes of racism and freedom too, Stowe in her Novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, shows how the stereotyping of blacks highly contributed to slavery in the 19th century. The dominant whites cruelly treat the blacks as evident through the character, Topsy a black girl. People of color are killed while in slavery, and those that are lucky to stay alive strive for freedom from slavery and mistreatment by their masters. Stowe points out the fact that racism is a complex system that major on domination and immoralities that the whites subject to blacks (p.103). In writing his novel, Aphra Behn, Martin reinterprets Behn's Oroonoko by arguing on the fact that male dominance is the cause of racial and gendered dynamics. Through the anti-racist discourse, the black woman Imoinda though having gained agency within the colony through her beauty, she is still treated as the black woman that she is and the need for them both (Oroonoko and Imoinda) to look for freedom (p. 57).
Like with Joyce Green and her book, Race, women, and the Sentimental in Thomas Southerne's 'Oroonoko, Behn's racist view on the blacks complicate the treatment of slaves struggling to get free. For instance, the issue of racism is visible in the Suriname setting starting from Behn's white colonists such as Byam, Banister, and Trefry who are comfortable with the acts of enslaving blacks who are imported from as far as Africa. Behn shows how white colonists are on top of the social ladder while the blacks are down. In the beginning, the colonists in Suriname treat the natives in a friendly manner not because they considered the natives to be their social equals but because they were in large numbers. Colonists think that blacks are physically conditioned to handle any hardship and maintain plantations due to their race and where they come from. However, this is only a justification for their enslaving to benefit from the blacks' survival skills and even trading abilities. Green looks at racism and women from Thomas Southerne's dramatization of Behn's Oroonoko. Imoinda's color is changed from black to white to understand the issue of race and sexual indent in the American cultural discourse. The treatment Imoinda gets because of her white color is different f in the sense that she gets respect from her fellow whites (p.556). This shows the depth at which the white color has concerning understanding humanity.
A black person is treated as less of a human being but more of an animal. When Oroonoko's thirst for freedom reached the peak, he is ready to be treated in any way the whites wanted provided he gets the freedom he longed for. The English captain betrays his trust but did not kill his dream of obtaining freedom from slavery. In this sense he strategies on how his word will be taken seriously and get what he wanted. In exchange for his surrendering, Oroonoko wanted freedom, and he believed that only that could be achieved through writing. On page 87, it says, "because he had perceived that was the common Way of Contract between Man and Man amongst the Whites." Here, the reason why Oroonoko had so much value placed on his word is because of the society he lived in neither used nor believed in writing. March is another work of literature that contributes to racism and freedom through the picture of how black families suffered in the hands of the whites. In the struggle to get freedom through civil rights movements and other means, Lewis and Aydin talks of how reconciliation can bring hope even in the face of violence and setbacks. While growing up, Lewis narrates of how racism had taken root to the extent of them only being allowed to use " colored-only" bathrooms and were not allowed to use restaurants meant for the whites (p. 16). Schools were no different since older books were given to black students while new ones used by the white students. Civil injustices and segregation surrounded the black community, and they had no freedom to use anything as the whites.
Like Oroonoko story, Anderson through King elaborates more on the issue of racism and freedom through the character of Young King. Anderson strategy of using color symbolizes the theme of racism that continues to exist between blacks and white. At the beginning of the story, the "Witness" introduces us to the struggles encountered by Martin Luther King Jr and his struggle in the Civil Rights Movement. The effort to bring freedom for the Negros is facilitated by the thirst for liberation and the reason why Young King mobilizes people to protest and through courage stand for what they believed in as well as their rights (p.13). This is similar to Behn's Oroonoko in the sense that despite the colonialists wanting to treat him differently from other slaves, Oroonoko is aware of his color and is ready to face all the tribulations with his fellow blacks; an act that later on contributed to the courage to fight for freedom from the brutal feet of the colonialists' oppression. It says on page 67, " when they thought they were sufficiently revenged on him, they untied him almost fainting with the loss of blood, from a thousand wounds all over his body..... and led him bleeding and naked as he was, and loaded him all over with irons and rubbed his wounds, to complete their cruelty, with Indian pepper which had like to have made him raving mad." These descriptions are enough to show the horrible acts committed towards the blacks as slaves and the reason for them to avenge for the sufferings and get freedom even if it meant brutality or ultimate deaths.
Ellen Levine in her, Henry's Freedom Box contributes on the themes of freedom and racism through the young Henry who is taken away from his family and forced to work as a slave in a particular plantation. Oppression and brutality make Henry gain courage and fight for his rights and escape slavery. Levine's explores issues of slavery, racism, and freedom as an ideological purpose of the book by demonstrating the extreme oppression the blacks are subjected to and their struggles for liberation. Unlike Oroonoko and others who fight to get freedom, Henry squeezes himself in a crate and gets the chance to escape from slavery after safely reaching Pennsylvania (p.43). Even though Oroonoko was ready to help his fellow blacks to have their freedom back by running away, it is so unfortunate that the torture subjected to the people overcame the courage they had and maybe the reason for their abandonment of Oroonoko. It is visible that all slaves had a thirst for freedom, but due to lack of creating a supportive community that trusted each other is the reason behind the failed efforts that made the freedom to be mere illusive. Grimes talk of liberty and slavery through the imaginative fiction story of Chasing Freedom. Harriet and Susan talk of their struggles through civil rights to achieve freedom for African Americans and the female gender. It is thus concluded that racism and liberty are themes that most of the literal writers focus on to show the events that preceded these themes and how people were affected and the need to avoid repetition.
Anderson, Ho Che. King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Fantagraphics Books, 2010.
Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko: Or, The Royal Slave, A True Story. Melville House, 2014.Bush, Elizabeth. "Chasing Freedom: The Life Journeys of Harriet Tubman and Susan B. Anthony Inspired by Historical Facts by Nikki Grimes." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 68.7 (2015): 355-355.
Levine, Ellen. Henry's freedom box. Scholastic Inc., 2016.
Lewis, John. March [set]. , 2016. Print
MacDonald, Joyce Green. "Race, Women, and the Sentimental in Thomas Southerne's" Oroonoko"." Criticism 40.4 (1998): 555-570.
Martin, Judith E. "Luise Muhlbach's Aphra Behn (1849): Auto/Biography of a Woman Artist." Neophilologus 90.4 (2006): 585-600.
Stowe, Harriet Elizabeth Beecher. Uncle Tom's cabin. Prabhat Prakashan, 1922.
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