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A close reading of an extract from Aphra Behn's "Oroonoko".

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Introduction

Close reading of an extract from Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, based on language, structure, and narrative position. This extract, from Aphra Behn's controversial Oroonoko, presents the prince's reaction to his capture after a slave uprising is foiled and he is apprehended. Since Behn is writing in a third person narrative, something which can be limiting, I will be discussing the way in which in she exposes his mental agony through use of linguistic devices, punctuation and structure. I will also be contemplating how Behn's use of binary opposites and narrative, which are developed throughout the novel, entwine and unite to reveal a deeper meaning with in the text. The portrayal of this emotional experience is developed in a number of ways and builds an engrossing portrait of his volatile mental state. It also confirms a number of moral themes which Behn has highlighted throughout the novel. One aspect which is initially striking, is the extracts structure. The whole item is made up of two sections, each of which is constructed from one complex compound sentence. Each sentence is extensive and includes several semicolons. Behn begins each paragraph with an introductory statement. ...read more.

Middle

Many of the words have certain moral or ideological associations which, in the context, cannot be ignored: 'Faith', 'Gods', 'Principals', 'Honour', 'Action'. Above, I have selected words which hold positive connotations, however there are also those which suggest the opposite: 'Rashness', 'Rogues', 'Weapons', 'White Men', 'Masters' and 'Christians'. They can, in fact, be grouped into a number of contrasting concepts, such as: moral or immoral, strength and weakness, good and bad, right and wrong. These paradoxes are significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, they act in enhancing the moral weight of what is taking place. They are there to highlight notions of injustice and immorality present in the very nature of the slave trade and are mirrored in the treatment of Oroonoko throughout the novel and within the extract: "They fed him...with promises and delay'd him". The word 'fed' suggests some sort of falsehood or trickery is being performed, that he is a unknowingly being fed lies. They say they respect him yet treat him like a fool. The concepts featured in this extract are also important as they come to mirror Oroonoko himself - a character who is constructed almost entirely through Behn's use of binary opposition. ...read more.

Conclusion

This is where Behn's use of the third tense becomes truly important. Because of this, the reader is at a removed perspective, and is therefore unable to reconcile Oroonoko's true feelings with the events that take place. The depth of his character suffers as result and Behn must employ binary opposites to make up for this. Behn was clearly a gifted woman and writer who, as Felix Shelling said, 'catered habitually to the lowest and most depraved of human inclinations'. Whilst I have never read her other works, this is clearly the case in Oroonoko. She uses numerous devices throughout the novel to suggest a deeper moral message, all of which culminates in the extract I have focused on in this essay. Her masterful grasp on narrative technique and linguistic devices, have enabled Behn to convey a genre bending tale of romance, travel and tradgedy. She creates an unreliable narrator, who we begin to question and powerfully reveals the paradoxical nature of the slave trade through a simple system of binary opposties. Behn creates a dewy ecosphere in the reader's mind which dares us to question the British way of life in the seventeenth century; Religion and Imperialism. It is these aspects which enable us to decipher her tale as a profoundly important one, one which questions the moral code concerning slavery and those who perpetuate it. ...read more.

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