Oroonoko: A “Royal Slave” and/or a Master of Dignity

Banani Biswas


This paper involves a study on Aphra Ben’s Oroonoko (1688) which is considered by many as the first black narrative of English literature, an abolitionist text, while observed by some others as extremely colonialist. The objective of this study is to examine why the novella accommodates such contradictory readings. It assumes that it is the “scriptiblity” of the text that enables it encompassing heterogeneous meanings which should not be reduced to any privileged interpretation. It holds that Oroonoko is interwoven with multiple codes which serve as different socio-cultural agents proliferating variety of meanings often disseminating one another. In order to explore those intervening meanings, this study applies Barthesian codes for reading narratives. Then, drawing upon deconstructionist approach, it surmises neither the text nor its protagonist, Oroonoko, should be categorized into any absolute category. On the contrary, it asserts Oroonoko informs the postmodernist/plural concept of ‘being’, embracing a variety of identities from the “royal slave” to the ‘master of dignity’.

Keywords: Oroonoko, Aphra Ben, Royal Slave, Master of Dignity, Scriptibility, Barthesian Codes

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