Uncle Tom's Cabin

Rising and Roman, African and Flat: Aphra Behn's Oroonoko

In the 19th century novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe portrays Uncle Tom, a black slave, as an heroic figure. Written shortly before the American Civil War, the novel attempts to change negative moral attitudes towards blacks. However, in order to accomplish this, Stowe makes Uncle Tom appeal to Southern Plantation owners, who would otherwise dismiss the book as abolitionist nonsense. Stowe makes Uncle Tom appeal to Northerners and Southerners alike by depicting him not as a typical slave, but rather as a devout Christian with a "white moral code." Similarly, Aphra Behn's 17th century composition Oroonoko was written in response to the growing African slave trade. Like Stowe, Behn makes her black hero appeal to a greater audience, which she accomplishes by describing Oroonoko as having European and royal attributes. One of Behn's primary objectives is to make Oroonoko clearly distinguished from the rest of his race, as in: "a beauty so transcending all those of his gloomy race" (2174).

She can do this with relative ease for two reasons: 1) she writes a reportage, in the first person narrative, and 2) she is conscious of herself as a writer (i.e. "This prince, as I have described...

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