Narrative Reliability in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe College

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe leaves home to see the world, only to find himself in a shipwreck, leaving him stranded on a deserted island for years, while Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko is a royal prince turned slave who meets his ultimate demise in the African country of Surinam. Both Defoe and Behn employ similar techniques of first-person narration in their respective stories, and while this position is advantageous to each narrator’s status within their texts, the reliability of each narrator differs significantly.

Behn’s narrator’s absence from the majority of the events she depicts serves to seriously discredit her narrative reliability. Though the female narrator claims to “have often seen and conversed with [Oroonoko], and been a witness to many of his mighty actions” (2140), it is the detailed accounts she provides the reader of “what [she] could not be witness of” that becomes increasingly problematic. Aside from the events that she personally witnesses, Behn’s narrator is only able to convey a second-hand account that she receives “from the mouth of the chief actor in this history, the hero himself, who gave us the whole transactions of his youth” (2137). At one point, when speaking of Oroonoko and Imoinda blushing upon...

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