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Literature / Oroonoko

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Oroonoko is a novel written by Aphra Behn. What's interesting is the fact that it is quite obviously a discussion of sexism and racism and tells the perspective of an enslaved African woman — in 1688. And it was published, making it possibly the first novel ever written in the English language and most definitely the first (probably the first novel, period) written by a woman. In 1688.

The basic plot surrounds an African tribe (the Camantee), and both the prince (Oroonoko) and his father fall in love with a girl (Imoinda). Imoinda marries Oroonoko, but the chief still forces her into his harem. Did we mention how it's all about polygamy, too? And published in 1688? All this, and by the first woman to not use a pseudonym, and to make sure all publications very expressly stated her gender.

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Trying to escape, Imoinda is discovered and sold into slavery. The chief tells Oroonoko that she was killed, which is much more honourable than being captured and a slave. The prince then leads a tribal war and is captured by an English colonist, who plans to sell him as a slave, too. Both Imoinda and Oroonoko are sent to a sugar cane plantation in Suriname, a colony on the North tip of South America. They are reunited, but called by Christian names. Imoinda still attracts a lot of men — all the men that see her, it would seem. She soon becomes pregnant and Oroonoko petitions for them to be freed and return to Africa, but the English are having none of it, and so he leads a slave's revolt. This is less than successful, causing the deputy to hunt down the slaves. Oroonoko plans to kill the deputy but, seemingly realising it's a suicide mission, asks Imoinda if it's okay if he kills her so that she won't be raped and tortured when he dies. She agrees, and he beheads her before spending a week mourning whilst he's hiding out from the deputy without food or water. This inevitably lessens his chance of success in killing the man, who then tries to capture him — but he cuts his own throat and disembowels himself first, still managing to fight off the people who are trying to finish the job. This guy sounds pretty stupid, but it's quite the social commentary. He then smokes a pipe and bleeds to death. The end.

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It was probably influenced by the time that Behn was living in Suriname — as the lieutenant general's English daughter, it would seem, though there is very little definite information of this time.


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