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Gender and Values in Oroonoko

            Aphra Behn's genre-blending tale "Oroonoko" melds travel narrative with fictional biography to tell the story of Prince Oroonoko, "the royal slave. Although Behn writes of Oroonoko's honor as unique among men, her admiration for him seems to derive directly from how closely he mirrors the prime model of a nobly descended, Christian Englander. Indeed, Behn measures and praises Oroonoko's masculinity only in terms of these parallels. Other males, such as Oroonoko's grandfather, are emasculated through their failure to conform to these standards. The femininity of Oroonoko's bride, Imoinda, is also a subject of praise in that it embodies the normative values of beauty and modesty of the time. This essay argues that Behn's juxtaposition of native qualities with values of the period constructs the gender of her characters in such a way that they function only as dark-skinned representatives of white virtue. Furthermore, this paper will analyze the texts of Oroonoko and Addison and Steele's The Spectator to demonstrate how certain writers of the time dealt with "the other " via subjective cultural standards.
             Behn introduces us to Oroonoko as an African warrior-prince in possession of unusually Caucasian physical traits. She writes, "His nose was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat. His mouth the finest shaped that could be seen; far from those great turned lips which are so natural to the rest of the Negros "(8). Under the tutelage of a Frenchman, he acquired a knowledge of language, science and morality. Behn partially attributes Oroonoko's "humanity " to this tutelage. Not only is he an impressive speaker of English, but is also able to carry on a conversation in English with as much wit and charm as a native speaker. From her alleged personal interactions with Oroonoko, Behn claims, "He had nothing of barbarity in his nature, but in all points addressed himself as if his education had been in some European court (7).

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