Oroonoko | Study Guide

Aphra Behn

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Course Hero. "Oroonoko Study Guide." Course Hero. 3 Jan. 2019. Web. 4 Aug. 2020. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Oroonoko/>.

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Course Hero. "Oroonoko Study Guide." January 3, 2019. Accessed August 4, 2020. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Oroonoko/.


Course Hero, "Oroonoko Study Guide," January 3, 2019, accessed August 4, 2020, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Oroonoko/.

Oroonoko | Symbols



Names represent identity and history. The renaming of slaves was a common practice. As their identity changed from free people to slaves, their names changed from African to European. When Oroonoko and Imoinda receive the new names Caesar and Clemene, they leave their old selves behind. This method of cultural erasure negatively affects Oroonoko's self-image and foreshadows his fate.

Oroonoko is a beloved prince in his country. Caesar, however, is a powerless leader destined for betrayal. While Oroonoko learned European languages and history willingly, Caesar must adapt to European culture to survive. In Suriname, Oroonoko isn't sure which group to ally with—the slave masters or the slaves. When the narrator tries to talk him out of rebellion, he confesses his doubt in the trustworthiness of his slave masters. Behn takes Oroonoko's Roman name from the emperor Julius Caesar, whose close confidants participated in his murder plot. The renamed African Caesar is also betrayed by the slaves who once worshiped him as a god. While Oroonoko is a successful leader, Caesar is ultimately a failed one. The renamed Caesar suffers indignities he swears he would never have let happen to Oroonoko.

Imoinda's European name doesn't stick. The narrator calls her Clemene for only part of the story. Once the renamed Clemene gives up hope in the Europeans and allies with the slaves, she's called Imoinda again. This reversion to her old name symbolizes her rejection of European culture and the resilience of her true identity.

The Royal Veil

The royal veil, a ceremonial invitation in Coramantien culture, represents submission and control. The invitation it represents is a demand in disguise. Like slavery itself, the royal veil takes away freedom and choice.

Once Imoinda receives the royal veil, she's required to marry the king. Oroonoko realizes these rules present a greater obstacle than armies or fortresses he could conquer. He can't overcome the obligations of his culture as easily. Tradition becomes a force more powerful than physical intimidation.

The royal veil also gets its power from the king's ultimate authority. He can kill Imoinda for disobeying him. This authority is paralleled near the end of the book when the escaped slaves return to their masters. The slaves know that their masters have authority and can put them to death. Threat and control become more powerful than their own desires.

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