In English class today, we were discussing Oroonoko, and were left with the question: Why is Oroonoko silent as he is executed?
I think it just goes back to Oroonoko’s nature. Behn builds him to be a man of honour, righteousness, and nobility. And I think he would like to go out with grace.
And yet, as he dies, there is no noble speech about how slaves should be acquired. There is no argument attempting to justify his actions. He simply accepts his death, and even goads the people into whipping him before execution, congratulating his accuser for his wisdom in deciding to execute him.
Sounds…wrong, doesn’t it?
Maybe Oroonoko understands the politics of the situation, and therefore finds his execution correct in that sense. He has started a rebellion and killed his wife, after all. He has to be made into an example.
But I think it’s a different politics that Oroonoko understands and therefore submits to. It isn’t the European politics, it’s his own. He isn’t against slavery, he’s against unjustified slavery. Back in Coromantien, he had slaves as well, except they were won in a war. Oroonoko himself, on the other hand, was tricked, not defeated in battle. Therefore, he views his enslavement as unlawful.
However, since he’s lost to the Europeans formally in his rebellion, they do own him now, at least by his standards. And they are free to do what they want with him.
And that’s why Oroonoko is silent. Up until the rebellion, the Europeans had no real leverage over him. He was their protector in the jungle for goodness sakes…they trusted him with their lives. He was thing to be admired by them, like a good painting. In that sense he really does have the upper hand.
But his attempt to escape is thwarted, and therefore he is now subservient. He is now a thing they own. He is lawfully theirs. I find this especially true when the Europeans find Oroonoko after he kills Imoinda and he cuts open his torso and offers his bowels to them.
It’s like he’s saying, “Here, take them. They belong to you now. Everything I am belongs to you now.”
In a previous post, I wondered if Oroonoko ever gave in to Caesar. And in that moment, I believe he does.
Oroonoko did not die by execution. Caesar died by execution. Oroonoko died when he was defeated in battle.
“No Gentlemen, you are deceived, you will find no more Caesars to be whipped, no more find a faith in me.” – Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, 70