Essay, Research Paper
In Oroonoko, Behn establishes her authority within the opening lines and consistently reminds her audience of her position as narrator by mentioning her personal role in the story. In the second paragraph, Behn establishes this authority by saying, ?I was myself an eyewitness to a great part of what you will find here set down, and what I could not be witness of, I received from the mouth of the chief actor in this history, the hero himself who gave us the whole transactions of his youth…(1867) In this passage, Behn uses first person and testifies that she was indeed a personal acquaintance of Oroonoko. She also says that Oroonoko gave her his life history from his own mouth. The rest of Oroonoko, Behn was herself, ?an eyewitness?. This also means that the author and the narrator are one single entity. Behn acknowledges that it is she who writes this story, through her own narration. In other words, the narrator is not a character of the story, but the authoritative author.
Throughout the first half of the story, Behn maintains an aura of authority through various devices. She speaks to her readers almost as if in an informal conversation, using contractions such as “‘em”. Behn also frequently uses asides such as in the following, “There is a certain ceremony in these cases to be observed, which I forgot to ask him how performed; but ’twas concluded on both sides that, in obedience to him…” (1872) In this Behn draws her readers into an intimate account of a personal story. To strengthen her position, Behn’s account is wrought with detail. One would assume that the readers of her time would be quite unfamiliar with her subject matter, so she seeks to enlighten with descriptions of detail. For example, Behn describes Oroonoko, “[h]e was pretty tall, but of a shape the most exact that can be fancied. The most famous statuary could not form the figure…. His face was not of that brown, rusty black which most of that nation are, but a perfect ebony or polished jet. His eyes were the most awful that could be seen, and very piercing, the white of ‘em being like snow, as were his teeth. His nose was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat; his mouth the finest shaped that could be seen…”(1871) Without this detail that Behn paints, her readers could not have such a clear picture, but because she was there, she has taken it upon herself to provide her audience with a clear image.
Behn also made a statement about Christianity by comparing Oroonoko?s morality with that of the Christian men. ?For the captain had protested to him upon the word of a Christian, and sworn in the name of a great God, which he should violate, he would expect eternal torment in the world to come.” Behn then includes Oroonoko’s retort, “Let him know I swear by my honor; which to violate, would not only render me contemptible and despised by all brave and honest men…” (1886)
Through Behn’s depiction of the two men, the captain and Oroonoko, she expresses the contrasting moral values, thus making a strong point about her own culture. As the author and narrator, she exercises her authority to do so, making simultaneously, a point about her position of authority. Had she not been able to represent, in herself, a position of authority, she would not have taken such a stance. Finally, in the closing lines of her story, Behn acknowledges that she, “by the reputation of her pen” has the authority to convey such a story. In those innocent six words, Behn not only acknowledges her authority of Oroonoko’s story, but her own greatness as author as well.