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Binney, M. (2006). The Cosmopolitan Universalism of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko. PHILICA.COM Article number 29.

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The Cosmopolitan Universalism of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko

Matthew Binneyconfirmed user (English, Eastern Washington University)

Published in humani.philica.com

The author uses Martha Nussbaum’s notion of cosmopolitanism to highlight the emergent, yet solidifying moral aspects of the Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (1688). The text registers a clear separation from a medieval mindset towards an eighteenth-century idea of global interconnectivity. Benedict Anderson’s notion of nation-ness and Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory assist the argument by showing how Behn resolves the textual ambiguities through her moral vision that practices a form of self-reference and reciprocity in different cultural groups which, in turn, affirms her universalist cosmopolitan outlook.

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Competing strands of criticism on Oroonoko emphasize the destabilizing features in the text or argue for interpreting the text as a coherent whole, either maintaining that it propounds a formal structure or that it offers verifiable claims.  Richard Kroll’s “Tales of Love and Gallantry”: The Politics of Oroonoko,” strives to consolidate both of these perspectives by claiming that Behn’s neoclassicism engages with contemporary political circumstances to provide coherence to the work.1   That is, her neoclassicism functions, along with her political ends of supporting and warning James II of the impending problems threatening his rule, to provide cohesive structure to the work’s formal elements.  Like Kroll, I seek to combine the two critical views, but I argue that Oroonoko’s composition points beyond politics to posit a moral vision that encompasses the globe.  Behn accomplishes this perspective through her idealized application of aristocratic honor and Christian virtue where both function to engender self-reflectivity and reciprocity.2

Through the reciprocal relations of the three represented groups—Europeans, Coramantiens, and native Surinam Amerindians—we observe the destabilizing tensions within the text, but at the same time, the tensions between the groups produce solidifying consequences. The consequences point not only to Behn’s political intentions, but her encompassing moral vision, which extends beyond the sphere of English and European society to the sphere of Europe’s influence in the colonies during this burgeoning period of colonization and imperialism.  In essence, Behn proposes that certain characteristics should be applied universally to all cultures: a cosmopolitan universalism.

In “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism,” Martha Nussbaum appeals to “the very old ideal of the cosmopolitan, the person whose allegiance is to the worldwide community of human beings.”3   Traditionally, cosmopolitanism outlines a sentiment that seeks to expand the sphere of interaction between people, outside their local communities to a global community of humans.  When Diogenes the Cynic stated that “I am a citizen of the world,” “he meant, apparently, that he refused to be defined by his local origins and group memberships. … [I]nstead he defined himself in terms of more universal aspirations and concerns.”  This cosmopolitanism bases the sources of moral action within the community of humanity, rather than a local group: “One should always behave so as to treat with equal respect the dignity of reason and moral choice in every human being” (7).  Nussbaum maintains that an implied universalizing component exists to this form of cosmopolitanism, that people will treat all others based upon the moral standards that they apply to their local community.  This stress upon a universalizing outlook underscores the critique that Behn levels against the community of Europeans in Oroonoko

By using Benedict Anderson’s notion of nation-ness and Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory, I argue that Behn critiques provincial European attitudes founded upon the medieval notion of a Christian community inherent within the idea of “Christendom” and in the process conceives a cosmopolitan universalism.  In this critique, Behn uses external non-European communities—such as the Africans and the Surinam natives—to evaluate the internal actions of the Europeans.  The European slave traders perceive Oroonoko in terms of commercial interests instead of seeing him as a fellow human who is bound by the same moral principles as other Europeans.  Since he is not a Christian—in the mind of the Byam group—he does not deserve the same rights and privileges as other Europeans.  However, through using a traditional conception of aristocratic honor, Behn places the critique of the Byam group and their morality within the mouth of the “savage” himself, reinforcing his elevated moral position.  Oroonoko exposes the provincial and contradictory morals of the Surinam slave traders, and through his external perspective, Behn reinforces the Nussbaum’s “old ideal” of cosmopolitanism, that certain moral positions can be universalizable and applied to a global community.  Through Oroonoko’s interaction with the Europeans and their experiences with the Surinam natives, Behn voices the universalizing aspects of her ideal aristocratic/Christian virtue as it would apply to the community of humanity.  She expands the limited medieval scope of European virtue from the limited sphere of Christendom to the wide compass of the world.4

Behn introduces this cosmopolitan universalism in her references to the local Amerindians in the colony of Surinam.  She respects and appreciates the Caribs and their way of life:
<>"They are extream modest and bashful, very shy, and nice of being touch’d.  And though they are all thus naked, if one lives for ever among ‘em, there is not to be seen an indecent Action, or Glance; and beingcontinually us’d to see one another so unadorn’d, so like our first Parents before the Fall." (39)5

<><>The narrator praises the unconstrained actions of the Amerindians, especially as they walk around unclothed without lasciviously lusting after one another: “there is not to be seen an indecent Action, or Glance.”  The Amerindians respect each other and live in a state similar to Adam and Eve before their expulsion from the garden.  In this depiction, the author suggests that the Amerindians live in a prelapsarian condition in which petty interests and actions fail to intrude.6   She draws attention to this ideal through equating their everyday existence to an Edenic state of nature:

<><>"[T]hese People represented to me an absolute Idea of the first State of Innocence, before Man knew how to sin.  And ‘tis most evident and plain, that simple Nature is the most harmless, inoffensive and virtuous Mistress.  ‘Tis she alone, if she were permitted, that better instructs the World, than all the Inventions of Man." (40)

Here the narrator refers to the state of nature in which Adam and Eve first found themselves in relative innocence, which reflects the state of nature in which the Amerindians live.  Like Diogenes in Nussbaum’s reference, the narrator sees the Caribs existing within a natural order that all humans inhabit equally, and everybody possesses direct access to the instructions that nature offers.  In this respect Behn echoes the early natural law theorists of her time, such as Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, and Samuel Pufendorf.7   Because humans exist within nature, they can observe the natural world and interpret natural phenomena without the unwieldy intrusion of social institutions: “Religion wou’d here but destroy that Tranquility, they possess by Ignorance; and Laws wou’d but teach ‘em to know, Offence, of which they have no Notion” (40).   In contrast to the Edenic natural state in which the Caribs find themselves, Behn introduces impending corruptions in this condition: Europeans.  An English Governor promises to visit a group of Amerindians, but he does not keep his appointment nor does he send word of his absence.  The Caribs believe him dead:

<><><><>"When they saw he was not dead, they ask’d him, what Name they had for a Man who promis’d a thing he did not do?  The Governor told them, Such as man was a Lyar … Then one of them reply’d, Governor, you are a Lyar, and guilty of that Infamy." (40)

<><><><><>Based upon nature’s instructions, the Amerindians believe the Governor’s word absolutely, and when he fails to appear, they accuse him of a gross injustice (Oroonoko’s conversation with the Captain will mirror this incident).  Behn stresses that their moral practices emanate from nature, which all humans can access, and corruptions occur when people refuse to follow the dictates inherent within that state of nature: “They have a Native Justice, which knows no Fraud; and they understand no vice, or Cunning, but when they are taught by White Men” (40).  For Behn, the Caribs live in a state of natural innocence and uprightness, and their destructive habits spring from the negative and socializing influences of Europeans, “White Men.” 

Accordingly for Behn, nature provides the foundation by which universalizing elements within the Amerindians’ and Oroonoko’s actions assess the hypocritical and duplicitous actions of Europeans.  By using nature to connect the experiences of the foreign Caribs to the familiar Europeans, the text reevaluates the actions of the local community, the Europeans, through the external perspective of a foreign community.8   In moving from an internal to an external perspective, the author embraces the burgeoning universal cosmopolitan attitudes of the philosophes in the latter eighteenth century, and moves the reader away from the universalizing provincialism of the medieval mind.9

To understand how Behn achieves this internal/external cosmopolitan bearing, I will apply Benedict Anderson’s notion of nation-ness and Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory to account for Behn’s weight upon positive and negative means of analyzing the European mind through Oroonoko’s and the Byam group’s actions.  Luhmann’s theory helps us understand how the examination of European behavior and attitudes through the eyes of the foreign communities leads ultimately to an affirmation of cosmopolitan universalism.

<><><><><><>Nation-ness, Systems Theory, Self-referentiality, and Reciprocity

<><><><><><><>Benedict Anderson’s defines nation-ness in Imagined Communities as “an imagined political community” which is inherently “limited and sovereign.”10   Further, he uses “imagined” because the citizens of even a small nation will never know or meet their fellow-members, “yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”  People imagine that they are connected to people whom they will never see.  Further, it is “limited” because even the largest nation maintains a finite, if elastic boundary.  Finally, it is a “community” because, though inequality and exploitation of members occur, the nation still sees itself as a “deep, horizontal comradeship.”  Everyone within a particular group perceives herself as existing within a community that shares a general, loose connection.  This occurs not only within the nation but between those who believe that they share similar religious and cultural values—in this case, Christendom.11   These binding notions that create an imagined cultural community, Christendom, in Behn’s Oroonoko, take the form of heroic, aristocratic ideals embodied within Oroonoko and the idealized Christian virtues within the audience.12  Both of these values bind the Europeans within the text as well as the European readers.

To illustrate, in the Dedication Behn praises the idealized Christian and aristocratic virtues of Richard Maitland, who, like Behn, supported the Catholic Stuarts.  She states, “You hoard no one Perfection, but lay it all out in the Glorious Service of your Religion and Country; to both which you are a useful and necessary Honour.”  By focusing attention upon the characteristics that highlight Maitland’s allegiance to religion and country, Behn underscores his prominent position as a communal representative.  He reflects the idealized religious and secular traits that prove valuable to the English community.  She continues, “’tis only Men of so elevated Parts, and fine Knowledge; such noble Principles of Loyalty and Religion this Nation Sighs for.  Where is it amongst all our Nobility we shall find so great a Champion for the Catholic Church?”13   Behn portrays Maitland as a paragon of her society’s aristocratic and Christian values and compares him even to St. Augustine.  He possesses noble characteristics, such as his “fine Sence, Wit, Wisdom, Breeding, and Generosity (for the generality of the Nobility [in his nation])” (36).  By connecting Maitland to the foremost Christian philosopher that defines the notion of a medieval Christian community14  and by connecting him to traditional aristocratic ideals, Behn reinforces his position as a model of generalizable communal values. After she establishes these ideal virtues within the Dedication, we see some of these same characteristics reflected within the African, Coramantien Prince, Oroonoko.  He displays redeeming qualities that Western society traditionally upholds within its heroes: honor, duty, respect, skill in combat, etc,15  and these characteristics elevate the Prince within the mind of the narrator: “we … were perfectly charm’d with the Character of this great Man” (38).16  Consequently, Oroonoko proves a better representative of those virtues than many of the Westerners who he encounters.  The author shows the reader the possibility that a “heathen” more effectively bespeaks the ideals of Western heroic values and elements of Christian virtue (64).  In fact, the author notes that one “wou’d have been convinc’d of their Errors, that all fine Wit is confin’d to the White Men, especially to those of Christendom” (44).  That is, Oroonoko demonstrates the same ideal virtues that Westerners advocate in a traditionally aristocratic ideology, and these heroic virtues validate certain actions of Oroonoko within the mind of the European reader.  These aristocratic virtues show that the hero must not belong absolutely to the Christian community of “Christendom” to exhibit morally admirable traits.  In truth, a person can reside outside this community and still practice the qualities that reflect the generalizable ideals of Christendom.

These heroic and Christian virtues serve as bonding elements for Aphra Behn’s readers.  They recognize these cultural traits within certain characters as cultural ideals that loosely bind the European consciousness.17   That is, within Europeans’ minds, they see themselves as a loose, but binding, imagined community of comrades who subscribe to the same overarching values.  This sense of collective community permits the Europeans to experience the foreign outside of their local culture because the Christian sense of culture delineates itself from cultures founded upon alternate religions.  They observe the foreign from their rooted cultural perspective.  In turn, the sense of an imagined Christian community permits Europeans to interact and interpenetrate the foreign.  Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory provides the tools to discuss how the home culture, with these common communal values, interacts with and interpenetrates other cultures in such a way to engender reciprocity.

Luhmann’s theory involves four primary categories: system, environment, complexity, and autopoiesis.  His theory seeks to explain the relationship between a system and the complex environment surrounding that system.  Autopoiesis serves as the tool for a system to incorporate information from the vast complexity of the system’s environment.  Generally, systems must incorporate external information to ensure the continuation and evolution of the system.  If systems do not incorporate external elements, then systems cannot respond effectively to the evolving conditions within their external environment.  The system will become entropic.  For that reason, the system must maintain its overall coherence while incorporating elements from the environment into the system.  Unfortunately, this process creates a problem as the system attempts to select certain elements from a very complex, external environment.  How does the system know which elements to choose to maintain its overall structure, coherence, and integrity?  The answer: in some way the system needs to reduce this external complexity through selectivity, and this selectivity occurs through the process of autopoiesis.

Autopoiesis describes systems that at once regulate themselves and maintain an inherent network of self by establishing boundaries, but at the same time they incorporate the influences of their environment within their self-reflectivity.  Luhmann states that systems “must define their specific mode of operation or determine their identity by reflection to be able to regulate which internal meaning-units enable the self-reproduction of the system and thus are repeatedly to be reproduced.”18   That is, a system must examine itself to determine its boundary with the environment but also to determine its means of incorporating elements from the environment to maintain the overall integrity of the system.  Pointedly, the system maintains its internal makeup through closure, which is its internal organizing structure.  The internal organizing structure of the system determines or selects which environmental elements it can subsume; it determines this by accepting elements from the environment that the system recognizes and rejecting elements that threaten the system.  Important within this process is self-reflectivity; the system must examine its internal logic and structure to determine how it will subsume external information and how it will organize this information within its internal structure.19   This is a hallmark of autopoiesis: self-referentiality.  Self-referentiality helps reduce external complexity but increases internal complexity as more elements are incorporated from the environment and are situated within the internal structure.  Often, in this process, disjunctions are revealed in the internal logic as elements are discovered that are not congruent within the internal makeup of the system.  Hence, elements are brought into the system from the environment to regulate the internal logic in order to maintain integrity and ensure the overall evolution of the system.

The internal organizing structure of the European system in Oroonoko proves to be an idealized Christian virtue—the shared sense of Christendom—and aristocratic ideology.  This organizing structure allows the Europeans to interact with the foreign and reflect back upon their own consciousness.  Aristocratic and Christian virtues provide closure for the system of the European consciousness so that it may determine which elements it can incorporate from a foreign environment.20   Reciprocity occurs as Behn exposes the European readers and characters to the experiences of the foreign—whether through Oroonoko or the Amerindians.  In turn, she seeks to have the Europeans reevaluate the internal logic of their social consciousness, exposing disjunctions in how the internal elements relate to one another.  That is, the author seeks to show how the disjunctions between internal conceptions of virtue differ from the precepts established by externally imposed, universalizing ideals of virtue.  These corrupted disjunctions between internal conceptions and external precepts create problems in how the home culture internalizes attributes from the foreign.  And these disjunctions in behavior determine the plight of the hero, Oroonoko. 

In the foreign hero, Europeans perceive certain universalizing ideals, permitting them to weigh their own notions and ideas, evaluating their behavior based upon the narrative’s treatment of the foreign.21   At the same time, Oroonoko places his ideals against many of the corrupt leaders of the colony of Surinam to test his own values.  Further, both groups—the corrupt Europeans, Byam’s group, and Oroonoko—adopt external influences from the foreign cultures that they meet, the local Amerindians. Particularly, both groups internalize aspects of the Amerindians’ practice of self-mutilation.  Oroonoko adopts the Caribs’ habits in an attempt at heroic defiance, which reflects his proper internal regulation of aristocratic virtues, whereas the corrupt Europeans adopt the Amerindians’ practices in a violent and barbaric manner, which displays the deleterious effects of their own ideology of commodification.  This reciprocity between cultures illustrates precisely how the external becomes part of the internal in different positive and negative ways based upon the self-regulation of overarching, universalizable virtues.  If self-regulation occurs, then one rests in a better position to thrive; without self-reflection, the possibilities to adapt and evolve prove limited.

In order for the European consciousness to interpenetrate the foreign, it must first recognize the environment as a boundary, and Behn acknowledges this boundary between the three groups at the beginning of her work.  Behn’s narrator establishes a boundary between the Europeans and the foreign by focusing on abilities of the Caribs.  She states:

<><><><><><><><>"With these People, as I said, we live in perfect Tranquility, and good Understanding, as it behooves us to do; they knowing all the places where to seek the best Food of the country, and the Means of getting it; and for very small unvaluable Trifles, supply us with what ‘tis impossible for us to get." (41)

<><><><><><><><><>The Amerindians have a native sensibility or an intimate understanding of the local environment, whereas the Europeans do not.  Actually, the Europeans are dependent upon the Amerindians’ knowledge.  The narrator admires the Caribs’ specialized abilities in their native habitat:

<><><><><><><><><><>"in the water, one wou’d think they were Gods of the Rivers, or Fellow-Citizens of the Deep; so rare an Art they have in Swimming, Diving, and almost Living in Water; by which they command the less swift Inhabitants of the Floods.  And then for Shooting; what they cannot take, or reach with their Hands, they do with Arrows." (41)

<><><><><><><><><><><>The narrator respects the inhabitants because of their advanced abilities within the indigenous, natural environment—an ability that the Europeans have yet to master.  Indeed the Amerindians prove more adept than the foreign Europeans.22

Similar to the Caribs, Behn creates a boundary between the Europeans and Oroonoko because the prince originates from Coramantien, and importantly, he is non-Christian.  At the same time, Behn respects Oroonoko because he reflects, however, idealized heroic virtue communicated to him by a European.  Concerning these values, the narrator states that

<><><><><><><><><><><>"’twas amazing to imagine where it was he learn’d so much Humanity; or, to give his Accomplishments a juster Name, where ‘twas he got that real Greatness of Soul, those refin’d Notions of true Honour, that absolute Generosity, and the Softness that was capable of the highest Passions of Love and Gallantry, whose Objects were almost continually fighting Men." (42)

<><><><><><><><><><><>Part of his celebrated and exalted traits stem from “the Care of a French-Man of Wit and Learning; who finding it turn to very good Account to be a sort of Royal Tutor to his young, Black, & perceiving him very ready, apt, and quick of Apprehension, took a great pleasure to teach him Morals, Language and Science; and was for it extreamly belov’d and valu’d by him” (42-43).  A European instills the admired values within Oroonoko, and the values themselves are traditionally Western, which, in turn, endorse the foreigner’s personality and behavior for the readers, providing them with a means to accept the foreigner’s character.23   These traits are enough to validate Oroonoko to the narrator and, by extension, to the European public who read the text:

<><><><><><><><><><><>"I have often seen and convers’d with this great Man, and been Witness to many of his mighty Actions; and do assure my Reader, the most Illustrious Courts cou’d no have produc’d a braver Man, both for Greatness of Courage and Mind, a Judgment more solid, and a Wit more quick, and a Conversation more sweet and diverting." (43)

<><><><><><><><><><><>The foreigner comports himself in a garb of Western heroic ideals, often in a better manner than many in European courts.  It seems that Oroonoko would be at home in Africa or Europe.  The foreigner is not only versed in the courtly virtues of Western society, but he performs and applies them in his life much more so than representatives from Europe.  Behn advances this perspective more directly within the next paragraph:

<><><><><><><><><><><>"Nor did his Perfections of Mind come short of those of his Person; for his Discourse was admirable upon almost any Subject; and who-ever had heard him speak, wou’d have been convinc’d of their Errors, that all fine Wit is confin’d to the White Men, especially to those of Christendom; and wou’d have confess’d that Oroonoko was as capable even of reigning well" (44).

<><><><><><><><><><><><>The narrator maintains that Oroonoko effectively rules as well or even better than any leader in the Christian world—the implied community of “Christendom”—even though the Prince does not follow the same religion as the Europeans.  Behn essentially allows the reader to access the experiences of Oroonoko by having him reflect the idealized traditional virtues of Europeans.  That is, the Europeans recognize their cultural values within the foreigner, and they observe that he demonstrates those values as well as any European who ascribes to Christian virtue.  She creates Oroonoko as an environment that Europeans can recognize through establishing a boundary that reflects their internal organizing structure, which, in turn, allows Oroonoko to become a means to critique the elements within the internal logic of the European system.  The aristocratic virtue of Oroonoko orients the European minds as they seek to interpret and comprehend his actions within the text.  In this step, Behn provides a bridge between the external environment and internal system, leaving open the possibility of the external reflecting back upon or becoming intimate with the internal consciousness.

After establishing the means of orienting the European system to its external environment, the author uses Oroonoko, now, to critique her home society, exposing corruption within its internal logic as it relates to ideal external aristocratic/Christian virtues.  Behn initially suggests this appraisal within the relationship between Oroonoko and Imoinda.  After discussing the hero’s physical merits and abilities as a leader, Behn introduces Imoinda, Oroonoko’s love interest.  In the Prince’s love for Imoinda he

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><>"[t]urn’d all his happy Moments to the best advantage; and as he knew no Vice, his Flame aim’d at nothing but Honour, if such a distinction may be made of Love; and especially in that Country, where Men take to themselves as many as they can maintain; and where they only Crime and Sin with Woman is, to turn her off, to abandon her to Want, Shame and Misery: Such ill Morals are only practis’d in Christian-countries, where they prefer the bare Name of Religion; and, without Vertue or Morality; think that’s sufficient.  But Oroonoko was none of those Professors; but as he had right Notions of Honour." (45-46)

After situating Oroonoko on the same level as Europeans (that is, she establishes Oroonoko as a system within the environment that Europeans can comprehend), the author uses the hero’s treatment of women within his own society to compare with the ill treatment of women—a guise of Christian virtue—in Europe.  Behn stresses that Christian countries neglect women in “Want, Shame and Misery” while women of the African’s society are respected because of its notions of honor.  Existing European virtue is juxtaposed to the virtue of the foreigner, and, consequently, the European perceives the disjunctions within the application of the ideal of Christian virtue and the actual treatment and neglect of women in Western societies.  The author draws attention to the internal logic of current Western virtue to reveal disjunctions between its ideal conception of the virtue—generosity, honor, love, etc—versus its actual application of virtue within society; pointedly, social institutions in the late seventeenth century often neglect single women, spinsters, or women who had children out of wedlock.24

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><>Oroonoko and the Critique of the European Consciousness

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>This disconnection between idealized Christian virtue and its corrupt application by individuals in society is fore grounded within the English slave-trader.25   The English captain befriends Oroonoko after Imoinda was sold into slavery, and the slave trader convinces the Prince to board his vessel for a feast. While there, “the Captain, who had well laid his Design before, gave the Word, and seiz’d on all his Guests; they clapping great Irons suddenly on the Prince” (63).  Oroonoko bemoaning his miserable state, refuses to eat, and the Captain, afraid that he will lose a valuable piece of property decides to deceive him.  He wants to assure the Prince that “he was afflicted for having rashly done so unhospitable a Deed” (64).  He promises to free Oroonoko and his friends as soon as they hit shore.  The Prince replies that he would confirm what the Captain said if the Captain would release his chains, and the African swears on his honor to “behave himself in all friendly Order and Manner, and obey the Command of the Captain” (64).

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>After this exchange, the Captain swears on his Christian God that he will fulfill his promise, while Oroonoko swears on his honor.  This distinction in swearing upon one’s word—which mirrors the English Governor’s treatment of the Amerindians earlier in the text—establishes the critique that Behn will levy against the type of misapplied virtue within the English slave trader.  The Captain responds that he “could not resolve to trust a Heathen … a Man that had no sence or notion of the God that he Worshipp’d” (64-65).  Oroonoko replies, “He was very sorry to hear that the Captain pretended to the Knowledge and Worship of any Gods, who had taught him no better Principles, than not to Credit as he would be Credited” (65).  The Prince rebukes the Captain for not relying upon an individual’s honor and word, instead of relying upon promises to an unseen God.  However, the Captain persists and maintains that since they have different religions, stemming from different communities, he would find it difficult to accept the African’s words: “For the Captain had protested to him upon the Word of a Christian, and sworn in the Name of a Great God: which if he should violate, he would expect eternal Torment in the World to come” (54).  Importantly, the Captain swears on his conception of virtue, and since Oroonoko originates from another religious community, the Captain will not trust the African’s word or his actions because he may regulate himself differently from ideal characteristics required by Christian doctrine.  At the same time, the Captain maintains that if he should act against this virtue, then he would act against Christian justice, and the result will be “eternal Torment.”  Oroonoko asserts, again, that he will swear upon his “honour.”  The Prince then indicates that Christians can deceive one another based upon their notion of justice because “Punishments hereafter are suffer’d by ones self; and the World takes no cognizances whether this God have revenged ‘em, nor not, ‘tis done so secretly, and deferr’d so long; While the Man of no Honour, suffers every moment the scorn and contempt of the honester World” (65).  Here the notions of Christian virtue and justice are placed against the notions of justice based upon a more traditional Western heroic virtue, in which honor dominates.26   Behn shows how the notions of virtue in Christians can be misguided, misread, or misinterpreted because of their emphasis upon a veiled form of virtue where individuals determine right action upon a presumed external authority, instead of validating and determining right action, self-reflectively and individually.  Oroonoko serves as a vehicle to question the very forms of idealized cultural virtue and justice that Europeans accept without self-reflection.  When one swears on God, then one’s word is sacrosanct.  However, through the position of the foreigner, Behn seeks to reexamine the internal logic of this connection between making one’s word and attaching this to a specific god.27   Based upon the Prince’s insistent arguments, the Captain relents and decides to free only Oroonoko; he visits the Prince himself and makes many “Assurances of what he had already promis’d” (65). 

However, the Christian’s word cannot be trusted, even though he bases his oath on the threat of “eternal Torment.”  After arriving in Surinam, “the Captain, who had given his Word, order’d his Men to bring those noble Slaves in Fetters … and having put ‘em, some in one, and some in other Lots, with Women and Children … sold ‘em off, as Slaves” (66).  The Captain betrays Oroonoko and his friends by acting against his oath and word: “Oroonoko was first seiz’d on, and sold to our Over-seer” (66).  Since Oroonoko’s virtue has been validated through showcasing his heroic virtue, Behn uses the Prince, then, to expose the corrupt internal logic of the Captain’s notion and application of virtue.  Further, Oroonoko’s position as an outsider is reinforced through the Captain releasing the Prince’s French tutor.  The tutor “of whom they cou’d not make a Slave,” is released “because [he is] a Christian” (73).  Since Oroonoko is not Christian, then he cannot be a member of the community of Christendom, and he cannot fall under the regulative moral norms of that community.  As a result, Oroonoko “beheld the Captain with a Look all fierce and disdainful, upbraiding him with Eyes, that forc’d Blushes on his guilty Cheeks,” and said, “Farewel, Sir: ‘Tis worth my Suffering to gain so true a knowledge both of you, and your Gods by whom you swear” (67).  Behn clearly places both notions of virtue side-by-side to compare, and the foreigner—the person who does not ascribe to Christian ideals nor belong to the community of Christendom—proves more honorable than the Christian.  This examination of virtue forces the readers to reflect back upon their own system because they have accepted Oroonoko’s traditional, Western heroic values.  These virtues orient the readers into the space and experience of the foreign, Oroonoko, so that when they evaluate him, they see their own system from his perspective, the foreign environment.  The readers can juxtapose the internal logic of European thought to the external systems that exist outside of their consciousness because of the universalizing aspects of Behn’s notion of virtue.  That is, readers are forced to become conscious of the internal logic of their own consciousnesses: pointedly, how their notion of virtue relates to higher, abstract orders of society—their notions of God and justice—and the lower orders of society—their notions of interpersonal relations between themselves and other individuals.  Through this external perspective garnered from other cultures, they can determine how their internal conceptions square with idealized notions virtue.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>Self-Reflection and Internalization between the Three Cultures

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>Behn demonstrates how different groups respond to this interaction with the foreign, gauging whether they test internal virtues against an external environment.  In this step within the self-reflecting process, the Amerindians serve as a touchstone for both groups’ internalization of foreign attributes.  First, Oroonoko and the Europeans both interact with the Caribs, but Oroonoko’s response is grounded upon his strong sense of honor, whereas the dishonest Europeans’ response is based upon the internalization of foreign customs in a corrupt manner, which demonstrates their inability to self-regulate their actions.  For instance, one day, though they are afraid and unfamiliar with the Amerindians, several of the acquaintances of the narrator decide to visit an “Indian town.”  Oroonoko persuades the narrator’s friends to venture forth when he promises to serve as their guard and protector.  While in the town, the Amerindians accept them, and, at one point, Oroonoko decides to speak with their “War Captains.”  In the Captains’ house, the narrator observes several Amerindians with various types of mutilations: “some wanted their Noses, some their Lips, some both Noses and Lips, some their Ears, and others Cut through each Cheek, with long Slashes … they had several formidable Wounds and Scars, or rather Dismemberings” (83).  The warriors’ disfigured bodies fascinate Oroonoko. He marvels at their faces, “wondering how they shou’d all be so Wounded in War” (84).  The Amerindians respond that

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>"when any War was waging, two Men chosen … were to stand in Competition for the Generalship, or Great War Captain; and being brought before the old judges … they are ask’d, What they dare do to shew they are worthy to lead an Army?  When he, who is first ask’d, making no Reply, Cuts off his Nose, and throws it contemptably on the Ground; and the other does something to himself that he thinks surpasses him, and perhaps deprives himself of Lips and an Eye; so they Slash on till one gives out … And ‘tis by a passive Valour they shew and prove their Activity." (84) 

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>The Amerindians practice mutilation as a means to exhibit their worth and valor in battle.  Mutilation becomes a physical means to exhibit a spiritual and an internal strength and resolve. 

This scene of mutilation finds parallels in Oroonoko and Banister, of the corrupt Byam group, at the end of the novel.  Catherine Gallagher examines these interrelations in “Oroonoko’s Blackness” arguing that the dismemberment between the groups serves to disperse the “body of representation” and shows us that “Oroonoko scatters his members to maintain his integrity.”28   The mutilation does reflect an attempt at displaying the hero’s integrity, but the integrity points to a moral vision that seeks to expand the moral standards of Behn’s ideals to a global perspective.  Through this global perspective, the author can effectively reflect back upon her local community to underscore shortcomings in its actions. 

To illustrate, the African and the Europeans absorb the Amerindian practice, based upon the internal organization and application of their own notions of virtue.  Oroonoko’s synthesis of the practice is a more direct reflection of the Amerindians’ custom.  While being pursued by Byam’s men after he attempts to free the slaves from the plantation, he kills Imoinda by slitting her throat.  When Byam’s men find the Prince next to the rotting corpse of his former wife, the African “cut a piece of Flesh from his own Throat, and threw it at ‘em,” and then, he “rip’d up his own Belly, and took his Bowels and pull’d ‘em out” (97).  Oroonoko’s self-mutilation mirrors the mutilation of the Amerindian war captains.  In the act of cutting skin and casting it from him, he parallels the similar action of the War Captains in the Amerindian village, as they cut off parts of their bodies and cast them upon the ground.  He has incorporated experiences from the foreign and used these customs within his own internal sense of organization.  Oroonoko mutilates himself as a symbolic response to the passive “Valour” of the War Captains.  The narrator notes that the Amerindians’ courage was “too Brutal to be applauded by our Black Hero; nevertheless he express’d his Esteem of ‘em” (84).  The custom that he thought too brutal earlier permits him to prove his valor to the search party that discovers him and the corpse of Imoinda.  With bodily mutilation, Oroonoko asserts his honor, especially when he cannot display this honor in a manner that he is accustomed as a Prince, in the court or on the battlefield.  In Surinam, since he is a slave, he cannot prove himself in battle as he does in his kingdom in Africa.29   For this reason, he uses the foreign to respond to an overwhelming situation in which he has no control, being a slave.  He incorporates the practice of mutilation to exhibit his strength and dignity before the search party.  In essence, his internalization of the foreign reflects the positive heroic virtues that he uses properly to regulate his behavior.  A disjunction does not exist between his internalized notion of virtue—that actual virtue as it was taught to him by the Frenchman—and how he internalizes characteristics of the foreign, the Amerindians.  The internalized foreign elements function within his consistent notion of internal/external heroic virtue.  The same heroic virtues that he uses to regulate his behavior are used to determine how he internalizes the foreign.  Hence, his imitation of the Amerindian’s mutilations serves to actualize his internal conception of heroic virtue.

The corrupt Europeans internalize, however, the Amerindians’ custom of mutilation in a brutal manner, reflecting a disjunction between their notions of idealized Christian values and how they use those ideal values to organize their internal structure.  For instance, in a response to Oroonoko’s slave revolt, Byam calls a council and determines that Oroonoko must be hanged.  The Governor places the execution of the Prince in the hands of “one Banister, a wild Irish Man.”  Banister’s subsequent mutilation of Oroonoko echoes the Amerindian custom.  Banister “first cut off his Members, and threw them into the Fire; after that, with an ill-favoured knife, they cut his Ears, and his Nose, and burn’d them” (99).  The mutilation that we first saw with the Amerindians is reflected now within the corrupt European as a means for brutal execution.30   The European’s experience with the foreign Amerindians proves a cruel internalization of the external environment.31   Indeed, Byam, the slave trader, and the other corrupt Europeans lack self-reflection.  Because they do not perceive how their internal states do not reflect the externally imposed and universalizing precepts of Christian virtue, they incorporate the foreign in a manner that mirrors their lack of self-referentiality.  They do not see the environment as a possible means of internalizing information to reflect their society’s concepts of Christian virtue; on the contrary, they perceive the environment around them, solely based upon their corrupt notion of virtue, which is not regulated by ideal, orienting, and universalizing precepts of Christianity.  They cannot incorporate new information that will permit them and others to thrive because they do not internally scrutinize their own practices.  Instead, they internalize the Amerindian’s behavior based upon notions of commerce and commodities.32   Because they do not regulate their virtues internally, the Amerindian practice of self-mutilation becomes a means of practicing their corrupted virtue of commodification.  That is, the Byam group sees other humans as commodities, and they use mutilation to fulfill their virtue of commodification.  Oroonoko, in essence, is mutilated like an object, instead of being perceived as human to whom universalizable values apply.

In these instances, we see that a reciprocity exists between the foreign and home cultures; characteristics from the home culture are transferred to the foreign and the foreign deposits elements within the home.  But, these interpenetrations of experiences and customs are not completely random but regulated by how that culture applies its universalizing sense of virtue.  In a cosmopolitan sense, Behn wants to draw attention to this process where influences between cultures can be positive or negative depending upon the proper application and regulation of internal practices; the internal practices must connect with a clear concept of external virtue, whether heroic or Christian, which ultimately extends to a global community.  Does the internal logic of a society properly reflect the system of virtue that it considers universalizable?

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>The only Europeans who do not fall into the corrupt practices of the local landowners are Trefry and the small aristocratic group surrounding the narrator.  Trefry refuses to execute the brutal justice that Byam exacted upon Oroonoko.  After hearing the others’ judgment of death for the Prince, “Trefry then thought it time to use his Authority, and told Byam his Command did not extend to his Lord’s Plantation” (94).  Trefry even tries to mobilize “others as powerful … that int’rested themselves in Caesar’s [Oroonoko’s] Life, and absolutely said, he shou’d be Defended” (94).  Oroonoko himself remarked that “Though … he had little Reason to credit the Words of a Backearary [white person], yet he knew not why; but he saw a kind of Sincerity, and awful Truth in the Face of Trefry” (68).  Trefry seems to be one of the only Europeans in the colony who practices a proper form of self-regulation in which he examines the foreign and internalizes the virtues of the foreign, without misapplying these based upon corrupted notions of virtue.  He makes certain that the internal logic of his sense of virtue squares with the ideal external precepts of Christian virtue.  He partakes in a form of self-regulation, squaring the external with the internal; hence, he has a better chance to thrive.  As Behn notes, many of the other corrupt leaders of the colony “who consisted of such notorious Villains as Newgate never transported … were Hang’d, when the Dutch took possession of the place: others sent off in Chains” (93).  Because of their inability to reflect upon their internally corrupted sense of virtue, Byam and others ultimately cannot evolve and flourish. 

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>Trefry, on the other hand, is sympathetic to Oroonoko and promises to help the former Prince to the best of his ability: “[B]efore they had finish’d their Voyage up River, he made no scruple of declaring to Trefry all his Fortunes … and put himself wholly into the Hands of his new Friend” (67).  After Oroonoko tells Trefry about his betrayal by the English Captain, Trefry “promis’d him on his Word and Honour, he wou’d find the Means to reconduct him to his own Country again; assuring him, he had a perfect Abhorrence of so dishonourable an Action; and that he wou’d sooner have dy’d, than have been the Author of such a Perfidy” (68).  Trefry assists Oroonoko because he practices self-regulation.  He perceives that unjust actions are done to just individuals, regardless of their religious community, and he insists upon implementing his self-regulated notions of virtue by defending Oroonoko to the best of his ability and refusing to let Byam onto his plantation.  Trefry does not experience the same demise within the novel as the Byam group; hence, he emerges more unscathed.  Contemporary readers may become frustrated, however, with Trefry’s complicity in the slave trade and his inability to act.  For example, Srinivas Aravamudan calls him the “bumbling Cornishman Trefry.”33   Many would censure Trefry because he says he will assist Oroonoko only after he speaks to the absent Governor Willoughby.  In addition, he fails to assist Oroonoko in his direst time of need because he is conveniently and conspicuously absent during Oroonoko’s dismemberment.  The narrator herself maintains fears about Oroonoko as her group sends attendants who are actually spies to monitor his behavior.  Hoping to avoid rabble-rousing, her group obliged “him to remain within such a compass, and that he shou’d be permitted, as seldom as cou’d be, to go up to the Plantation of the Negroes” (75).  As much as the narrator or Trefry may seem an unfortunate actor to modern readers, they reflect the admired, aristocratic virtues that Behn upholds within the text.  Hence, we should see him as an effective practitioner of Behn’s ideals.34


With self-reference, it is important to determine, precisely, one’s relation to the generalized virtue within the local and global communities to make certain that the virtue is not corrupted when incorporating the foreign and making it a part of the internal structure of the system.  This process underlines the importance of systems that effectively practice self-reflectivity and participate in reciprocity.  Byam and his group fail to practice this self-regulated form of internalization; hence, he and his group fail to evolve, whereas the reader and the narrator herself, who will become the Aphra Behn writing Oroonoko, have internalized their experiences of the foreign in a self-regulated manner.  Through this exhibition of reciprocity and self-regulation, Behn shows us how traits can be universalizable to all cultures, making each culture and representative of that culture a “citizen of the world,” —or a cosmopolitan—rather than assigning individuals and foreign cultures to separate spheres of interaction with separate moral systems.  Because everyone, regardless of community, can reflect those universalizable, aristocratic, and Christian virtues, then Behn can use other cultures to critique the corrupt practices in European society and establish a moral vision that encompasses a global community, a cosmopolitan universalism.



1. R. Kroll (2005). ‘Tales of love and gallantry’: the politics of Oroonoko. Huntington Library Quarterly, 67.4, 573-605. 

2. D. Hughes (2002). Race, gender, and scholarly practice: Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. Essays in Criticism, 52.1, 1-22.  Hughes points to shortcomings in scholarship of the last decade on Oroonoko which explores race and gender.  He stresses that in many of these readings, “[m]odishness creates a carnival licence, suspending the rules of evidence and even of good scholarly practice” (3).  He adds that “[i]nterpreters of Oroonoko have concentrated so much on race as a justification of slavery that they have ignored religion” (p. 17).  In this essay, I seek to explore the implications of religion and the interaction of cultures in Oroonoko to detail how Behn’s moral vision enfolds the world.  The following essays touch upon the destabilizing effects of Behn’s work: L. Brown (1999). The romance of empire: Oroonoko and the trade in slaves. In J. Todd (Ed.), Aphra Behn (p. 180). New York: St. Martin’s; M. Ferguson (1992).  Oroonoko: birth of a paradigm. NLH, 23, 349; C. Sussman (1993). The other problem with women: reproduction and slave culture in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko.  In H. Hunter (Ed.), Rereading Aphra Behn: History, Theory, and Criticism. (p. 212). Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia; M. Ferguson (1999). Juggling the categories of race, class and gender: Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko.  In J. Todd (Ed.), Aphra Behn. (p. 209). New York: St. Martin’s; A. Rivero (2001). Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko: cultural dialectics and the novel. ELH, 68, 57-79. 

3. M. Nussbaum (1996).  For the Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism. J. Cohen (Ed.). (p. 4). Boston: Beacon Press. 

<>4. The notion of Christendom served as a secular and spiritual unifying ideal in the Middle Ages to bind all Christians within a like-minded community.  St. Augustine outlines this ideal in his City of God (413-27).

<>5. All quotations from Oroonoko are taken from the Bedford Cultural Edition, (2000), C. Gallagher (Ed.), (p. 35). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

<>6. This notion of the “noble savage” was not original to Behn, though she encouraged it.  See S. Muthu’s (2003) Enlightenment Against Empire.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.  Muthu details the development of this notion of the “noble savage” in his second chapter.  He looks at Amerigo Vespucci’s, Montaigne’s, and Baron de Lahontan’s writings. 

<>7. Ibid., p. 274.  Muthu argues that apart from the natural law influences that assisted Europeans in perceiving foreign peoples in an egalitarian and humanitarian way, Europeans needed to see them as fundamentally cultural beings or cultural agents.  An example of the importance of natural law, moral sense, and its grounding in human nature lies in J. Q. Wilson’s (1993) The Moral Sense. New York: Free Press. 

<>8. I use “foreign” to indicate the complexity of the Europeans’ experiences of unfamiliar cultures.  See Melvin Richter’s (1997), Europe and the other in eighteenth-century thought. Politisches Denken: Jahrbuch

<>9. T. Schlereth (1977). The Cosmopolitan Ideal in Enlightenment Thought, Its Form and Function in the Ideas of Franklin, Hume, and Voltaire: 1694-1740. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.  Schlereth examines the outward looking philosophes, Franklin, Hume, and Voltaire, and notes the universal features that they perceived in foreign cultures.   

<>10. B. Anderson (1983).  Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. (pp. 6-7).  London: Verso.  

<>11. Ibid., p. 12. See Anderson’s discussion of a consciousness based upon a religious community in Chapter 2. 

<>12. Some may argue that Christian virtue fragmented during and after the Reformation, which prevents the different sects of Christianity from agreeing upon similar religious practices, values, and virtues.  For that reason, a community of Christianity would be elusive in later seventeenth-century European society.  I maintain, however, that the Reformation creates a reevaluation of religious practices within different groups, but the end goal proves ultimately the same: a realization of the Christian Good.  Different sects may have different means and paths of arriving at the Christian Good, but the endpoint for all sects is God.  For example, in Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1598-1600), he refers to “Christendome” in his Dedication to Sir Robert Cecil.  Though he saw England in competition with his “Christian neighbors,” Hakluyt acknowledges that they all served the common, understood, and identifying goal of reducing “many Pagans to the faith of Christ.”  Further, Hugo Grotius states that Christians are members of one body in (1949) The Law of War and Peace. L. Loomis (Trans.). (p. 173). Roslyn, N.Y.: Walter J. Black.  Again, in John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), he notes that different Christians may pursue different practices; even still, there are aspects of Christianity that all Christians universally recognize: “For whatsoever some people boast of the antiquity of places and names, or of the pomp of their outward worship; others, of the reformation of their discipline; all, of the orthodoxy of their faith—for everyone is orthodox to himself—these things, and all others of this nature, are much rather marks of men striving for power and empire over one another than of the Church of Christ.”  Daniel Defoe makes a similar argument in Enquiry into the Occasional Conformity (1698): “Do the Religion of the Church and the Meeting-houses make two Religions? Wherein do they differ? The Substance of the same Religion is common to them both; and the Modes and Accidents are the things in which only they differ.” 

<>13. A reference to Behn’s Catholic sympathies was excised from an earlier edition of Oroonoko but appeared in the Three Histories (July 1688) which is found in the Bodleian Library.  The fact that portions were excised points not only to an attempt to avoid negative political consequences, but it reinforces the case that Behn sought to minimize the particular differences in Christian sects to emphasis the universal similarities, especially at a time of political unrest. 

<><>14. See St. Augustine’s City of God (413-27).

<><>14.  G. Guffey and A. Wright (1975). Two English Novelists: Aphra Behn and Anthony Trollope. Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library.  Guffey first connects the notions of honor and aristocracy with historical conditions of the Stuart reign in Oroonoko.  He argues that “Behn makes a strong argument for the absolute power of legitimate kings, and that, through a series of parallels between James and the mistreated royal slave Oroonoko, she attempts to gain the sympathy of her reader for James” (pp. 16-17).  See also A. Pacheco’s (1994), Royalism and honor in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. SEL, 34, 491-506.  R. Kroll (2005) touches on these traits as well in ‘Tales of love and gallantry’: the politics of Oroonoko. 573-605.

<><>16. D. Hoegberg (1995). Caesar’s toils: allusion and rebellion in OroonokoEighteenth Century Fiction, 7, 239-58.  Hoegberg argues that the naming of Oroonoko as Caesar and likening him to Achilles ennobles and confines him, making him act in others’ scripts. 

<><>17. This was especially acknowledged in the Middle Ages.  See D. Held's (1995) Democracy and the Global Order: From the Modern State to Cosmopolitan Governance. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press.  Held maintains that medieval Europe was characterized as the order of ‘international Christian society.’  This international Christian society was conceived as being Christian first and foremost; “it looked to God for the authority to resolve disputes and conflicts; its primary political reference point was religious doctrine; and it was overlaid with assumptions about the universal nature of human community” (p. 34). 

<><>18. N. Luhmann (1995). Social Systems.  John Bednarz, Jr. with Dirk Baecker (Trans.).  (p. 34). Stanford, Cal: Stanford University Press. 

<><>19. N. Luhmann (1990). Essays on Self-Reference.  (p. 100).  New York: Columbia University Press.  For Luhmann, “The system evolves by self-reference. … Observing and describing, planning and directing the system presupposes the system, and not only as object but also as subject of its own activities.” 

<><>20. Virtue serves as the organizing mechanism within societies that instructs its members upon the proper characteristics they should have to bring order and prosperity.  See M. McKeon’s (1987) The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740 (p. 131). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.  The different sects prescribed to slightly different methods for practicing Christian virtue, but ultimately all methods and all paths led to the Christian Good.  Hence, if someone ascribed to a sect of Christianity then she would still eventually end at the same place as other sects: united with God.  The idea that they were following characteristics (no matter how much they varied from one sect to another) that would lead them to the same end still maintains the abstract sense of an imagined community.  No matter what sect you subscribed to in Christendom, Christians could identify communally with each other because their varying beliefs still brought them to the same end.  Indeed, people not practicing a form of Christian virtue prescribed by a Christian sect were labeled pagans or infidels, existing outside the Christian community designated as Christendom.

<><>21. Similar interpretations of Oroonoko as an internal critique occur in other critics.  For example, P. Weston (1984) argues that the noble primitive helped undermine traditional values.  He connects Oroonoko with the bourgeois revolution in The noble primitive as bourgeois subject. Literature and History, 10, 59-71. 

<><>22. P. Way (1999). The cutting edge of culture: british soldiers encounter native americans in the french and indian war.  In M. Dauton and R. Halpern (Eds.), Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 1600-1850. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.  Way states that “Indians were more successful at crossing and recrossing the cultural divide, as they adapted European forms to traditional goals, whereas many troops who entered the forest were lost to Old World ways; this latter possibility chilled the regimented and class-conscious heart of the armies” (p. 136).

<><>23. L. Brown (1999) argues similarly that heroic elements “made it particularly useful in the representation of the alien scenes of West Indian slavery” (p. 189) from Aphra Behn.  Brown maintains that these elements point to a “failure of Behn’s novella to see beyond the mirror of its own culture” which “raises the question of Behn’s relationship with the African slave” (p. 188).  I argue that these elements orient the reader to the African so that then the African stands within a position to critique the home culture. 

<><>24. See B. Hill’s (2001) Women Alone: Spinsters in England, 1660-1850. New Haven: Yale University Press.  Hill shows how the opportunities for working and middle class, single women were limited. Shame and scorned were loaded upon most women not married. 

<><>25. D. Hughes (2002) takes a similar position in Race, gender, and scholarly practice: Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. Essays in Criticism, 52, 1-22.  Hughes states, “the villainous captain justifies his treatment of Oroonoko on the grounds of religion, not race” (p. 17). 

<><>26. A. Pacheco (1994), Royalism and honor in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. SEL, 34, 492-506.  Pacheco observes this opposition between Christianity and honor: “Behn has her hero assert that … a moral principle such as honor is a superior guarantor of moral conduct … [a]nd … Behn’s narrative supports this assertion, for it invests Oroonoko, the representative of honor, with absolute moral authority, while the captain who professes Christianity is guilty of both a flagrant breach of trust” (p. 500).  Pacheco thinks that this “privileging honor over Christianity strongly suggests that there are tensions at work in its upper class discourse” (p. 501).  Like Pacheco, I see this as a nod to Behn’s Tory-leaning interests, but I think the emphasis upon class does not account, still, for the possibility of cross-cultural influence, a reciprocity. The Captain does not partake in self-regulation and Oroonoko does.  

<><>27. In the terms of M. McKeon, we see that Behn uses the foreigner to represent the aristocratic ideology that questions the burgeoning progressive ideology inherent within the new emphasis upon individual action.  Behn observes the problems of relying upon the word of an individual, which rests upon an unseen God, which is validated inside the individual’s mind, versus the word of a man of honor, which is validated externally through the community imposing shame and ridicule.  For a definition of McKeon’s (1987) concepts, see his Introduction in The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740.

<><>28. Gallagher (1996) Oroonoko’s blackness. In J. Todd (Ed.), Aphra Behn Studies. (pp. 252-253). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

<><>29. G. A. Starr (1990). Aphra Behn and the genealogy of the man of feeling. Modern Philology, 87, 362-72. Starr supports this assertion in stating that “[i]n his martial and sexual prowess, his magnanimity and pride, and his sententiousness bordering on rant, Behn’s African prince takes after his heroic forebears. … But Oroonoko is also extremely vulnerable, and the oxymoron of the book’s subtitle, The Royal Slave, alerts us to a story of power reduced to impotence, of majesty stripped of dominion” (p. 363). 

<><>30. P. Way discusses a similar incident where a British soldier sees Indians cut off the genitals of one of their prisoners, Empire and Others: British Encounters with Indigenous Peoples, 1600-1850, p. 132.  Peter Way also discusses another Indian practice of mutilation—scalping.  It also serves as a means to exhibit the reciprocity between the home and foreign cultures.  Scalping itself was an Indian practice – not introduced by Europeans – which was “meant to restore spiritual harmony” (p. 131).  However, scalping took on completely new roles as the British encouraged the Indians to scalp in battle through providing bounties.  In doing this, the British “commodified” life, making it less spiritual (p. 133).  Both cultures influenced one another: changing the nature of ritual based upon spirituality for the Indians and changing the conceptions that Europeans had of the Indians, as “bloodthirsty,” as well as their encouraging the behavior. 

<><>31. K. Rogers (1988). Fact and fiction in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. Studies in the Novel, 20.1, 1-15.  Rogers states that the mutilation and execution of Oroonoko are connected to actual events.  Though the execution connects to actual practices in the colonies, similar to Rogers, I argue that Behn uses the parallel mutilations to expose the Christian hypocrisy within the plantation owners and points to Behn’s own wider moral vision.

<><>32. Several critics discuss the commodification of Oroonoko by the colonists.  See S. Aravamudan’s (1999) chapter on Oroonoko in Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688-1804.  (p. 38). Durham: Duke University Press; M. Ferguson (1992) discusses it briefly in Oroonoko: birth of paradigm. New Literary History, 23, 339-59; and S. B. Iwanisziw (1998) touches on it in Behn’s novel investment in Oroonoko: kingship, slavery, and tobacco in english colonialism. Atlantic Review, 63, 75-98.   

<><>33. Aravamudan, Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688-1804, p. 43. 

<><>34. R. Frohock (1996). Violence and awe: the foundations of government in Aphra Behn’s new world settings. Eighteenth Century Fiction, 8, 437-52.  Frohock notices that “[t]hroughout the novel the only group that does not commit overt atrocities is the aristocratic white faction with which Behn identifies herself.” Frohock maintains that the upper-class colonists seek to “distance themselves from the violence of the slave trade and English Imperialism” (p. 447).  I agree that Behn may have sought to validate Trefry and the narrator’s coterie through their resistance to accepting Oroonoko’s body, but I disagree that they do this to distance themselves from slave trade and English imperialism.  I think Behn’s willingness to support England’s imperialism provides enough evidence against this contention. 

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Binney, M. (2006). The Cosmopolitan Universalism of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko. PHILICA.COM Article number 29.

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