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Oroonoko - the narrative shifts

Uploaded by mARISTOTLE on Apr 12, 2002

A black African is captured and sold into slavery. It’s an unfortunate story, but one with approximately eleven million equivalents. Aphra Behn, however, brings this common piece of history to life in her story Oroonoko, the tale of an African prince tricked into slavery in the West Indies. As the storyteller, Behn makes use of two common forms of narration, the third person and the first person. She recounts what she is present for in the first person, while relying on the words of Oroonoko himself to explain what she did not see. The effectiveness of each of these modes of narration can be judged by two standards, the ability to effectively convey action and by the ability to portray emotion. Examining two separate passages of Oroonoko, each depicting Oroonoko in battle, can best illustrate these standards. The first of these passages, from page 2187-88(“While he was speaking….wounded him almost to death”), is a third person account of one of Oroonoko’s battles, while the second passage, from page 2199-2200(“sometimes we would go surprising…strong limbs”) is a first person narratative about Oronooko’s encounter with a tiger. Though in Oroonoko, both first and third person narration modes are necessary to complete the story, the third person narration serves only the purpose of exposing relevant details for which Behn was absent, and is less desirable than the first person narration.

The first area of assessment for these passages is their ability to accurately and effectively portray action. The first passage recalls Oroonoko overcoming personal despair, joining his men in battle, and turning an entire battle around to claim victory. An occurrence such as this has virtually unlimited possibilities for description and excitement, if one was there to witness it. Unfortunately, Behn was not, and thus has to rely on Oroonoko’s account of the battle. As a result, the detail is, while attempting to entice excitement, quite vague. Behn writes that Oroonoko was responsible for “turning the tide of victory”(2188). This line is vague and clichéd and serves only the purpose of omitting much action, action which Behn was not present to observe, and action which Oroonoko was likely too involved to accurately observe.

By contrast, a look at the second of the passages, the one written in the first person, reveals a much more accurate and precise presentation of action. This is because Behn is not required to rely on someone else’s memory to tell...

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Uploaded by:   mARISTOTLE

Date:   04/12/2002

Category:   Literature

Length:   4 pages (956 words)

Views:   1916

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