Oroonoko: or the Royal Slave

Posted on July 31, 2008

Oroonoko: or the Royal Slave is a conceptual narrative about a royal slave. Aphra Behn, the author of this narrative is considered to be a fine novelist who wrote both poetry and story writing. Born in 1640 and she died at the age of forty eight, she decidedly wrote the factual account of Oroonoko as a royal slave, as one of her novels, during her writing career (Whisler.)

The paper carries on to discuss the fact whether the story is fictitious, real or does it really matter whether it really is true or fictitious? The paper aims to emphasize on the idea whether the story was really a part of a life experience of the author. This can only be explicated at the end of the paper whether any of these facts matter for the reader to build interest in the book.


Oroonoko: or the Royal Slave is a short novel, penned by Aphra Behn, the first ever written by a female author in the history of literature. The novel’s concept is about an African slave, placed in Surinam, in the era of 1660’s, along with the experiences of the author in the colonies of the South America.

The account is of a slave who was treated very inhumanly in those times. The background of the story aims to actually emphasize on this theme and poses a lesson for people. The idea of the story, as Behn put it was actually to expedite the fact that slaves in those times were not considered as human as the people who owned those slaves. The story or the true account of the slave encompasses the main character which is Oroonoko himself as well other characters in the narrative (Behn)

The account of the novel is about an African prince that falls in love with a slave called Imoinda. This story goes on to say that the prince had fallen in love with the girl but then the king, which was his grand father, had also had eyes for her. The paper is aimed at emphasizing each and every aspect of this novel and explains whether in the eyes of the critics, this novel is considered a fictitious story, or a true account of a royal slave (Behn)
The falling in love of the grandfather was a tragedy for Oroonoko and then another tragedy that he had to face was that he heard that Imoinda was sold and sent to a place which was under the British rule. The prince’s tribe then set sail to a destination. His tribe was actually a supplier of slaves for trade purposes (Behn)

“One day an English ship arrives and the captain invites prince Oroonoko to come aboard for a meal and drinks. After dinner, the captain takes advantage of Oroonoko’s trust and takes Oroonoko and his men prisoners. The ship then sets sail.” (Behn)

Oroonoko: or the Royal Slave – True account or fiction?

When we read Oroonoko: or the Royal Slave and then read accounts of critics evaluating this novel, we can come to a certain conclusion that the novel might be actually real life experiences of the author herself rather than fictitious accounts. However, it can be stated quite aptly that the author would be only presenting real life accounts if she had visited the places herself. Donald, a critic identifies that Behn has positioned at a number of times that she was an eye witness to a number of events as outlined in the book. And then she has at times stated that whatever accounts that were not her own, they were of the hero of the story. In this way, Donald emphasizes on the fact that some life accounts in the book were those which had never been recorded for the history of Behn and thus there might be an element of fiction in the narrative. (Donald)

In the whole account, Donald emphasizes the fact that the narration is not of silent observation in case of the novel and its writing Behn in some cases, as Donald states, emphasized this fact that she was had in some way or the other, been an active participant and had an active role in the entire series of events. This enables us to actually reach a mindset that the novel’s narrative might actually be true rather than be a simple fictitious narrative based on some creative ideas of Behn (Donald)

One of the things upon which ti should be concentrated is the fact whether or not she did go to Suriname which was the place where Imoinda had gone after she was sold. According to the author, she had gone there and thus had been inspired by the place. Donald in this regard states that Behn might really have been visiting Surinam during the years of the 1666’s. Along with that, she states that she might have indeed encountered a slave who might have been an African prince. She says: “Whilst the setting of the novel, the detailed descriptions of the Carib Indians and mention of contemporary figures, such as Trefry and Byam, involved in the colony suggests a certain familiarity with Surinam, the plot of the novel was not entirely original.” (Donald)

This gives us an idea that the narrative might indeed have been true.
However, according to critics, this might be considered a baffling contradiction that there could be a possibility that the author could be lying about her life and about all her experiences that she has been inspired by, for the novels and for the stories that she has written. The researchers have decided that there is an extremely high probability that the author never really visited Surinam and that she has been lying about it all her life and about her inspiration (Donald; Donaldson)

Donaldson on the other hand, does not aim to emphasize on a particular stand whether the narrative is true or a fictional account. On the contrary, she states that the entire account of Oroonoko is full of contradictions. The traveling accounts, the accounts of people, the different situations and scenarios present in the narrative are actually such that it is actually hard to believe that the entire account be true. However, there are certain elements in the book that make it seem real as well (Donaldson)

One of the critics puts it aptly as “It is of particular interest to literary history that such contradictions as these are situated at the beginning of modern novelistic discourse, and that they find their expression in such a seminal work as Behn’s Oroonoko.” (Nestvold)

However, it must be stated that there could be a possibility that the entire recollection or narrative true but it cannot be completely stated for sure, until there are facts and figures from dependable sources, who can claim to put up a stand to augment or contradict the entire argument.

Even though the entire paper has provided quotations and research findings about how the author may have actually lied about her experiences and her inspirations for the novel or the factual account, I would still conclude that there is no requirement to know whether the story is false or true. There is just the need to understand that the narrative is a source of learning and knowledge about how the slaves were treated at those times. The reader need not understand or try to prove whether the author is guilty for lying. As a researcher says, “The places and characters changed and the happy interlude was not present for most, but the basic story line was a common plot and hundreds of thousands of would-be princes suffered a fate similar to Prince Oroonoko. It is because of these others that we must stop spending time on the truthfulness of a single account and instead concentrate on the actuality of the accounts of the hordes of African men and women who suffered through the effects of slavery.” (Whisler)

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