Oroonoko Summary and Analysis of Section Three--Oroonoko in Surinam

When the ship arrives in Surinam, the captain orders the slaves to be put into groups or lots for the merchants and gentlemen who had purchased them, taking care to separate families and acquaintances in case "rage and courage should put them upon contriving some great action, to the ruin of the colony" (37). Despite the captain's promise to free him, Oroonoko is also seized and sold to the overseer of the plantation, whom the narrator happens to be visiting. His look of hatred directed at the captain causes the slave trader to blush: "farewell sir, it is worth my sufferings to gain so true knowledge both of you and of your gods to whom you swear" (37). He jumps into the boat and sets off with his new master, Trefry, "a man of great wit and fine learning," for the three-day journey to his new home at the Parham-hill plantation.

Trefry, the overseer of Lord Governor Willoughby's plantation, is enormously surprised by the superior physical appearance of the new slave who, he happily finds, can speak English. Although Oroonoko attempts to be humble, in time Trefry realizes he has a great mind and a superior education. The men become such good friends that Trefry "ever after loved him as his dearest brother and showed him all the civilities due so great a man." Oroonoko has had good fortune: "he had a man of so excellent parts and wit for a master" (38). In time he informs Trefry of his background, and Trefry promises upon his word of honor that he will find a way to return Oroonoko to his own country and that he will find out what happened to Oroonoko's enslaved friends. Oroonoko believes Trefry is sincere. The fame of Oroonoko precedes their journey upriver to the plantation. Wherever they stop they are met with crowds of people eager to view the richly robed African prince. So much fuss is made that Oroonoko asks for plain clothes, but even the plain brown suit he is given cannot "conceal the graces of his looks and mien," because his nobility shines through (39). There can be no doubt he is a prince, and admirers continue to congregate at every stop.

At this point the narrator points out that it was the common practice for Christians to rename their newly acquired slaves, "their native ones being likely very barbarous and hard to pronounce" (40). She explains that Trefry gave the name of Caesar to Oroonoko for this reason and that from now on she must refer to him as such. Upon his arrival at the plantation, Caesar is received "more like a governor than a slave." Indeed, if the King of England himself showed up he could not have claimed so much attention. Caesar is given a small house and a piece of land apart from the other slaves. When he does visit them, they all fall down and adore him. They recognize the prince who took most of them in battle and sold them into slavery, and now they kiss his feet and call him "king."

Later Trefry tells Oroonoko of a wondrous female slave who came to the plantation about six months earlier. Every man, including himself, he confesses, "is undone in love" with her, but she is too modest and cold and will have no part of any of them (42). When Caesar asks Trefry why he does not take advantage of his position as master, Trefry admits even he is far too intimidated. The next day Trefry walks with Caesar past the cabin of the pretty young slave. Suddenly, a young woman of wondrous beauty darts out of the door chasing a small dog. Caesar finds himself beyond joy, and his heart almost bursts when he beholds his beloved Imoinda come back to life. Imoinda, who is now called Clemene, faints into Caesar's arms, and when she revives the lovers are reunited, swearing that all their terrible troubles have been worth the price now that they are reunited: "what ecstasies of joy they both withheld each other, without speaking, then snatched each other to their arms" (44).

The narrator, meanwhile, has been staying on the same plantation. Having heard of the lovers' reconciliation from Trefry and Caesar's French tutor, she now looks forward to visiting the couple. The whole colony waits for the lord-governor to arrive from England so Caesar can be freed as Trefry has promised. The narrator visits Caesar and Clemene, where she finds that although the former Imonida is covered with carved "fine flowers and birds all over her body," she treats the girl with great respect and is delighted that Caesar has found his lost love. And, "from that happy day, Caesar took Clemene for his wife, to the general joy of all the people...and in a very short time after she conceived a child" (45).

All these happy events make Caesar even more desirous of liberty. He bargains with Trefry to provide some sort of ransom for himself and his new family. They "fed him from day to day on promises" and delayed him until the governor returned. At this point, Caesar begins to distrust Trefry and the others in charge, and he becomes worried that Clemene will give birth before he is set free so that his child will be born a slave, "for all the breed is theirs to whom the parents belong" (45). Caesar becomes increasingly upset, and those in charge fear a slave revolt. The narrator is asked to visit him to calm him and to pass the time.

She entertains him with tales of the Romans and shows Clemene "all the pretty works that [she] was mystery of"--in other words, feminine arts such as embroidery and perhaps painting. She also attempts to convert the couple to a "knowledge of the true god," but Caesar cannot reconcile himself to the idea of the trinity and calls it "a riddle" (46). Nevertheless, the couple finds the encounters with the narrator entertaining and diverting, and Caesar enjoys her, his "great mistress," better company than the men because "he could not drink" (46). He confesses to her that although he had "only the name of a slave and nothing of the toil and labor of one," he has doubts that he will ever be set free. Once again she reassures him that he and Clemene will indeed be freed as soon as the lord-governor arrives. Caesar promises the narrator that he will attempt to be patient and that no matter what happens, he will never doubt her sincerity.

The whites begin to feel increasingly uncomfortable that Caesar might start a slave revolt. For this reason they decide to keep an eye on him and continue to divert him so he does not become too friendly with the other slaves. All the white men in the country come to visit him and reassure him that the lord-governor will free him.

Before describing the diversions set up for Caesar, the narrator digresses by explaining that she and her brother are only in Surinam for a short while because their father, who was named to the position of lieutenant-general, died at sea. Also she states that if the King of England had known what a "vast and charming world" he could have been master of, "he never would have parted with it so easily to the Dutch" (48). Next she provides a sort of catalog of the wonders of this vast continent: the overgrowing, ever-blooming flowers; the miles of bloom-covered trees as big as "English oaks" surrounding St. John's Hill, her house; the fragrant wood; the oranges, lemons, figs, and so on; the perfumed air and the exotic animals that include armadillos; and "all the diverse things this wondrous country affords (49). The group, which includes the narrator and her brother, her servant, Imoinda, and Trefry, search daily for more natural wonders to behold. With Caesar as their guard, they show no fear. For even more exciting diversion, they look for tiger cubs. One day when they remove a cub from its den, the angry mother returns and attacks, but Caesar "ran his sword quite through her breast down to her very heart, home to the hilt of the sword," and he then presents the narrator with the cub.

Another time, we learn, Caesar kills a tiger that was impossible to kill even with guns and poisoned arrows. Caesar shoots an arrow directly into its eye, and later the tiger is found to have seven bullets in its heart. One time he goes fishing upon hearing of a creature called a numb-eel (an electric eel). Anyone in the past who caught the eel ended up dropping the rod because of the shock. But Oroonoko catches the eel and never lets go of the rod although he almost drowns. He eats the eel for supper (53).

Next, the group decides to visit a native village to pass the time. Here, the narrator discusses the "disputes the English are having with the Indians" and explains that they could not travel without going in a group to any of the native towns "for fear they would fall upon us as they did immediately after [her] coming away" (54). Caesar, the narrator, her brother, and her maid set out. They are joined by a native fisherman as a guide familiar with the village inhabitants. The guide remains hidden with Caesar while the others approach the village to surprise the natives. The naked natives welcome them with cries of "wonder and amazement," especially over their clothes, shoes and hair, touching them all over and calling out "amora tiguamy," which means "welcome friend" (55). The natives place leaves the size of tablecloths in front of the group, cut others to form plates, and feed them a wonderful meal of meat which the narrator observes is good but too spicy. After the narrator and her brother play their flutes, the visitors are taken to observe the native healer, who cures "more by fancy than through medicine"--through the power of suggestion--although he also has some effective remedies. Then they visit the captains or leaders of the army, and the narrator is chagrined to find that the men have disfigured themselves to demonstrate their bravery, some by cutting off their nose or ears and such: "they had formidable wounds and scars or rather dismembering" (57). The natives, who wear aprons of leaves and carry bows and arrows, are so innocent and simple that they "adored as a god" an earlier white visitor who showed them fire made from a magnifying glass. After they leave the village, the group meets people from another native tribe carrying bags of gold dust, which they say comes streaming down the mountains after the rains. They bring these men back to the plantation, inform the lord-governor, and send him some of the gold.

Although the lord-governor is later killed in a hurricane after the narrator leaves for London, he commands at this point that a guard be put at the mouth of the Amazon River which leads to this gold region to keep others out. The Dutch, the narrator insists, instead of the King of England will have the advantage of the gold--"it is to be bemoaned what his majesty lost by losing that part of America."


In this section, the horrors of slavery and the harsh attitudes and blindness of the European colonists become increasingly apparent. Slaves were given new names by the plantation owners, separated from their families and friends and given no hope whatsoever of seeing them again. They were forced to do menial jobs and to live in the direst of circumstances without any hope of freedom. Attempting to escape, the narrative suggests, resulted in severe punishment including whipping, and sometimes slaves who made more than one escape attempt were put to death as an example to the other slaves who might be nurturing the same ideas. Because of her cruel depiction of slavery in the Americas, Behn has been given credit for writing an anti-colonial, abolitionist tract (though many parts of the narrative suggest different motivations).

As soon as they arrived in the Americas, captive slaves were renamed, partly because it hurt them psychologically by severing them from a primary source of personal identification. Being denied their original name signified that they did not belong to themselves anymore but to their masters. Their families and homes faded into memory. In addition, it was far more comfortable for masters to pronounce names of their own choosing.

The slave name chosen for Oroonoko is Caesar, the name of the Roman emperor ruler who was betrayed by his friends when he was stabbed on the steps of the Roman Senate. At the end of the work, the allusion to Julius Caesar will become clearer when Oroonoko is literally cut to death by those who promised to free him. Behn utilizes this name also to further embed the idea of Oroonoko as a royal and mighty leader. Furthermore, upon his arrival in Surinam, Oroonoko finds himself separated from the African friends he was taken hostage with on the slave ship. Now he finds himself alienated from all that is familiar. It is a stroke of luck that he encounters the goodhearted overseer Trefry who, upon viewing his superior physical prowess and mental skill, takes to him and treats him like a brother, and it is further good fortune that he encounters the narrator, who becomes his advocate and friend.

Yet, Trefry and the narrator never question the institution of slavery as a whole. Indeed, Trefry is an overseer in charge of hundreds of slaves who labor daily on the sugar plantation. The narrator, while she effectively records the horrors of slavery, never takes action or cries out against it during the events of the narrative. Indeed, she is missing when Oroonoko needs her most.

Moreover, there is no sense of outrage on the author's part or on the part of any other characters when Trefry confesses his infatuation with the beautiful but haughty slave Clemene (the slave name given Imoinda). Even Oroonoko, by now Caesar, says to Trefry that while he can understand why Clemene will not have anything to do with the other male slaves, he does not understand why she "escapes those who can entertain her as you can do, or why, being your slave you do not oblige her to yield" (42). Oroonoko here suggests that Clemene should give herself to Trefry because he is the master and could treat her well--and that if she will not submit sexually then Trefry would be right to force her "with the advantages of strength." When Trefry insists he would be too intimidated to do so, the company "laughed as his civility to a slave" (42).

Overall, the focus remains on the gorgeous young prince Oroonoko, whom Behn highly eroticizes in her descriptions of his physical body. There is no further mention of the other "seventeen more of all sorts and sizes," who are also sold as slaves with Oroonoko (37). And the other slaves on the Parham plantation are marginalized to a nearby slave village, while Oroonoko is kept apart from them and is welcomed to reside in the plantation house. Neither he nor Imoinda are portrayed as performing work of any sort.

As she did earlier when she first introduced her readers to Oroonoko as a royal, cultured person of quality, Behn similarly imbues his wife Imoinda with genteel qualities. Imoinda in Africa is the most fair but also the most modest maiden in all of Coramantien. She keeps her eyes cast down and never speaks out of turn. When her long-lost love Oroonoko encounters her once more in Surinam, she is chasing a small dog out the door to her cabin, and she faints into his arms when she sees her African prince. To seventeenth-century readers, Imoninda would from these actions be perceived as a lady. Little lap dogs were carried with pride and joy by ladies of this era, very much like Hollywood starlets today. Also, ladies were notorious in this era for fainting, especially when there was an attractive gentleman around who could catch them. A lady who was so overwhelmed by the world that she actually passed out came to be viewed as especially delicate, sensitive and high-class in the same vein as a sensitive gentleman suffering from a bout of melancholia. Furthermore, we see the narrator "call" on Imoinda as she properly would call upon a British lady, teaching her fine arts such as embroidery.

The narrator here serves more strongly as a character herself, introducing what later becomes identified as the female narrative voice. The narrator is considered in literary terms as an "intrusive narrator" who generally interrupts the narrative when she deems fit in order to interject a personal aside. On the journey to the native village, for instance, she takes a rather long digression by informing the reader how she came to be in Surinam: her father died on the trip to his new post as lieutenant-general, and now she and her family must wait for transport back to England. Also, she provides her readers with a description of the local flora, fauna and cultural customs of the local Native Americans. Like all human beings, the narrator, despite being authoritative in some ways, is not altogether trustworthy. She says one thing and does another. She claims to love Oroonoko and begs him to trust her, but then writes: "after this I neither thought it convenient to trust him much out of our view" (48). By using an intrusive first-person narrator, Behn offers an account worthy of some trust--until close readers start to find contradictions.

Early on, Behn painted Surinam as a paradise like the Garden of Eden, and the native people who are uncorrupted by civilization were thus 'noble savages,' as innocent as Adam and Eve before the Fall. But later, because her social group needs protection to go the native village, the narrator claims to be "in many mortal fears...they should fall upon us" because of disputes the English have had with the natives: "they cut into pieces all they could take, getting into houses and hanging up the mother and all her children about her"-hardly, we could say, a picture of innocents frolicking in paradise (54). Perhaps this change is less of a contradiction than a demystification of a people with whom the narrator is becoming more familiar.