Women in Oroonoko

Through Oroonoko and other male characters, the speaker shows men as dominant leaders who are accompanied by strong female companions. In her text, The Romance of Empire: Oroonoko and the Trade in Slaves, Laura Brown emphasises the significance of female characters. Although men are obviously important in the novel, Brown states that “female figures—either Imoinda or the narrator and her surrogates—appear as incentives or witnesses for almost all of Oroonoko’s exploits”.[21] Throughout the novel, Imoinda supports Oroonoko in all of his decisions, even when he suggests that he kill her to escape their slavery. Furthermore, Brown claims that Oroonoko is not alone during his execution because “[the narrator’s] mother and Sister were by him”.[22]

In addition to Brown, Stephanie Athey and Daniel Cooper Alarcon also examine the influence of women throughout the novel. In their text, Oroonoko's Gendered Economies of Honor/Horror: Reframing Colonial Discourse Studies in the Americas, Athey and Alarcon state that to better understand the novel, the reader should “first see the white and black women who mediate the exchange between male antagonists".[23] Furthermore, they illustrate Imoinda’s strength because she “fights at Oroonoko’s side, while other slave wives urge their men to surrender”.[24]

Although Athey and Alarcon focus on the greatness of Imoinda’s character, they also illustrate the importance of the narrator as a white woman. Because the novel is mediated by a white woman and Imoinda is portrayed as having European features, the text “uses slavery, rape, and dismemberment to foreground an economic competition for the black female body and to outline an implicit competition between black, white, and indigenous females”.[25] The authors believe that the narrator attempts to illustrate competition between the women in the novel and the significant role that Imoinda plays throughout the novel. Similarly to Athey and Alarcon, Margaret W. Ferguson illustrates the competition amongst females in the novel. In Juggling the Categories of Race, Class and Gender: Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, Ferguson states that Behn creates “a textual staging of the implicit competition between the white English female author and the black African female slave-wife-mother-to-be”.[26] Ferguson explains that the competition between the narrator and Imoinda arises out of the desire for Oroonoko’s body and its ability to produce something extraordinary.[26]

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