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In the theater things are always seen from somewhere. Here we have the geometrical foundation of representation: a fetishist subject is required to cut out the tableau.
Aphra Behn, born on July 10, 1640 and died on April 16, 1689, was one of the main playwrights, poets, and fictionists of Restoration era. She was, as inserted in The Age of Milton, “The first recognized professional woman writer in English, Behn was popular during her career, and her plays and poems represented the Restoration ideals of political expediency and sexual frankness” (25). Behn was a well-educated person and access to high-ranking officials in the court of Charles II, may access a higher-class status, and is one of pioneer women who earn her live through authorship and her works were under a great influence of William Shakespeare. Her first play was a successful tragicomedy in the name of The Forced Marriage (1670), following with The Dutch Lover (1673) which was not received well; Abdelazar (1676) and The Rover (1677) was the other appreciated plays by Behn, which were performed before Charles II. A poem on Several Occasions (1684) was a poem by her that investigates the sexual relationship between men and women in pastoral setting. Her later works were Oroonoko (1688) and The Widow Ranter (1689) which emphasized on political pragmatism. Behn depicts the correlation between racial and gender oppression, female subjectivity, and female political and sexual agency in her writings and her consideration of gender and frank expression of sexuality made her as a target for male author’s critiques. In her book A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf praises her and says “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”
The reading of Oroonoko that follows concentrates on white female narrator (author-narrator). This novel is produces at the end of Behn’s life as a short realistic fiction which is a story of a noble prince, Oroonoko, who had been enslave, brought to Britain, revolted against British and prefered to die rather than bear the name of slave and his fatal horrible death. Written by a white female author and using a white female narrative voice, Oroonoko can be a story based on Behn’s experience as a young woman living in Surinam. What is different, most interestingly, in Oroonoko, is the narrative position. All descriptions on Oroonoko’ land, appearance, feelings, thoughts, events in his life, both in his native land and in Britain, and his revolution is narrated through a female word and world, the female author. Behn is considered to had a travel to Surinam between 1663-1664 with her family and as Alan Hager mentions in his book The Age of Milton
Her presence in the West Indies and her espionage in Antwerp for the Crown have been documented. When Lord Willoughby was granted royal permission to explore Surinam in 1663, Behn may have traveled there with her father, the “Lieutenant-General” of the islands. Apparently he died on the voyage, but Behn stayed in the colony.( Hager,56)
Therefore, as documented her traveling to West Indies, there is a possibility that whatever she, the author-narrator, explains and depicts in Oroonoko, especially her detailed knowledge of Surinam, is her own experience while abroad and should be considered as truth. Behn establishes her authenticity within the opening of the story and reminds her readers her position as a narrator as she wrote herself in Oroonoko that “I was myself an eye-witness to a great part of what you will find here set down”(2). Since this story is a memoire of Behn’s travelling to Surinam in past, probably she forgot some eaters and her memoir mixed with true events in Surinam so how much of this novel is fact and how much is true remains in shadow. “No longer does the novel originate from a first-person recounting of the self, but,” as Ferdous Azim said in his book The Colonial Rise of The Novel, “from a first-person account of someone else’s life”(35-36). According to Elin Diamond’s statements in the book Unmaking Mimesis that
In the Western theater (Gr. theatron or ‘seeing place’), pleasure is never far from
the market and its mystifications. The spectator sees what is not there- an illusion,
a sign of an absent original-and fails to see what is there-a constructed series of
images so polished and coherent that the ideological and human labor of their
making is hidden from view.(Diamon, 56)
Pursuant to Diamond’s words, theater is not supposed to perform reality on the stage but an allusion, showing the presence of absent to its audiences. This paper intends to see whether the narrator is a reliable and authentic narrator and analysis to what extent this female white narrator can be reliable and considered her words as truth in this story; and examine if an author is contaminated by its dominated ideology of power in society or can be remain out of her white powerful world. Furthermore, it has a purpose to see what is shown in this story is real or only an illusion like theater as Diamond said. It should be kept in mind that the narrator is a woman, white, Britain, and author; a white female Britain author.
This story presents in a mixture of first-person and third-person narrators which can be regarded as the memoires of a traveler narrative; narrated by an English white woman who travelled to colony in Surinam in past. At the opening of the story, first-person narrator, a female British colony, gives us a detailed account of Surinam, the native land of the prince Oroonoko and its people’s way of life as a prelapsarian world
The beads they weave into aprons about a quarter of an ell long, and of the same breadth; working them very prettily in flowers of several colors; which apron they wear just before ’em, as Adam and Eve did the fig-leaves; the men wearing a long stripe of linen, which they deal with us for’. This adornment, with their long black hair, and the face painted in little specks or flowers here and there, makes ’em a wonderful figure to behold. Some of the beauties, which indeed are finely shaped, as almost all are, and who have pretty features, are charming and novel; for they have all that is called beauty,'(Behn, 1-2)
and then the narrator shifts to the third-person narrator and shows us the local life of Oroonoko who is enslaves and carries to Britain colony of Surinam and once more the first-person narrator appears when she meets Oroonoko.
Narrator is a feminine, Alpha Behn, who sometimes observes Oroonoko passionately, explain him as an ideal man. When the narrator is describing the prince Oroonoko’s appearance for reader, It seems that her gender defines her description and Oroonoko is pictured by a woman as an ideal man; an ideal man from a woman’s perspective. The gender of this female narrator limits her fair depiction of Oroonoko since this man is “beyond all report I found of him” and maybe her fascination toward the appearance and manner of the prince Oroonoko makes an obstacle and prevents her from seeing the true character of him; anything in this man is as perfect as a Greek’s gods.
But though I had heard so much of him, I was as greatly surprised when I saw him as if I had heard nothing of him; so beyond all report I found him. He came into the room, and addressed himself to me and some other women with the best grace in the world. He was pretty tall, but of a shape the most exact that can be fancied: the most famous statuary could not form the figure of a man more admirably turned from head to foot. His face was not of that brown rusty black which most of that nation are, but of perfect ebony, or polished jet. ‘. there could be nothing in nature more beautiful, agreeable, and handsome. There was no one grace wanting that bears the standard of true beauty’.Nor did the perfections of his mind come short of those of his person’.This prince, such as I have described him, whose soul and body were so admirably adorned, ‘as capable of love as ’twas possible for a brave and gallant man to be; and in saying that, I have named the highest degree of love: for sure great souls are most capable of that passion.(Behn, 6-7)
The first-person narrator seems to see her ideal man in prince Oroonoko and elevate her with white man. He is the man who addresses women in the best grace and no statuary can made a man as admirable as Oronnoko is; even she describes her face not as dark brown as other negroes, he is something special in their land. Firdous Azim wrote, “It is in this context that Oroonoko is introduced. Seventeen years old and grandson of the King, he is at once simultaneously differentiated and brought on centre-stage. Immediately, Oroonoko’s physical beauty is described in great detail (48). On the other hand, her explanation of Imoinda only emphasis on her outward beauty and he presence is never shown in the story. Imoinda is pictured through old conventions of a woman as
This old dead hero had one only daughter left of his race, a beauty, that to describe her truly, one need say only, she was female to the noble male; the beautiful black Venus to our young Mars;’ I have seen a hundred white men sighing after her, and making a thousand vows at her feet, all in vain (Behn, 7).
Even when Oroonoko suggest her to be killed by him because of being in dangerous of the white’s savagery in his absent, she accepts it immediately without any objection at least for her child and she scarifies both herself and her unborn child for him. She is an example of a complete respect woman for her husband; the ideal woman for a husband.
Seemingly, the author-narrator, first-person narrator, intends to make a god and goddess out of Oroonoko and Imoinda and maybe she, herself, fall in love with him since in the other part, she said that she is the great mistress of the narrator as wrote in her book “So that obliging him to love us very well, we had all the liberty of speech with him, especially myself, whom he called his Great Mistress; and indeed my word would go a great way with him”(34). None of these characters have voices through the story and whatever is understood passed through narrator’s lenses and interpretation. ” the man is under the purview of the narrative gaze,” according to Ferdous Azim in his book The Colonial Rise of The Novel, ” is being objectified and rendered visible through the machinations of the dominant European female’s voice, and being brought under the gaze of a European audience” ( 49). All the portray of Oroonoko, as a black character, is in conflict with white European. It is obvious that she, as a woman, draws this prince through a “constructed series of images” which are “so polished and coherent” according to her wishes; as her ideal man. As Elin Diamond said, what she shows her readers about the Oroonoko does not exist in reality but is an illusion.
Regarding the female narrator as a English settler of Surinam, she is the teller of “a true history” and should be unbiased and authentic in telling the truth on history of these black natives since “I was myself an eye-witness to a great part of what you will find here set down”(2). Although the female narrator told the prince Oroonoko that she will save him and will not let anyone torture him or behaves as a slave , she could not help him at all and Oroonoko die in a horribly way. Although she maintains her authority to save Oroonoko, she is unable to do so since there is a contradiction between the narrator’s assumed social position and her actual powerless as a character within the framework of power. At first, she resists against the British world but later on she failed to save him because it is revealed that she herself is a victim of ideological power of white world and takes their side. She is absent when the white are torturing and dismembering Oroonoko and like other whites the female narrator is afraid that Oroonoko cut her throat one day so she behaves like others toward the Oroonoko, which she once described as the best and graceful man in the world, and agrees with what they do in silent. Ferdous Azim continues that “Aphra Behn, or the authorial voice, is unable to follow Oroonoko in his rebellion, and the text can only portray the disintegration and dismemberment of the Black subject, instead of examining the causes of his rebellion”( 44), the narrator resistance fails and she does not follow the destination of prince Oroonoko and later on support what she once rejected; she submits to her inside world and narrates according to the dominant world of whites.
This female perspective tried to stay out of white boundaries, saves the Oroonoko, and lets him live like a prince not a slave but she cannot perform what she wanted to do totally. As Joel Pfister declared in his essay “Hawthorne as Cultural Theorist” that the authors themselves are not only a part of discourse but also a way of performance of power through them so this female narrator cannot escape this discourse of power. This resistant narrator, according to Michel Foucault, is a part of power and this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power. She has to narrate her world of story within the omnipresent power, there is no way to move away from it, and she finally behaves toward the prince Oroonoko as the others. Author is the representation of the discourse of power.
Narrator is surrounded by the dominant world of hers and can not steps out of this territory and whatever she did to keep the prince Oroonoko alive was in vain since she was controlled by the world oh the white she lives in. Although she can be titled as a traveler narrator and she is supposed to tell the reality of native land and reports her readers the true history of this land, she is incapable of performing what she is presumed because she herself is a prison of white world and their dominant superiority over black people. Her dominant world shadows on her thoughts, felling, and words and she has to live within this world and all narrator says is what is dictated to her unconsciously and she cannot stop it.
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