The hero of this story is as unusual as its narrator – and in fact the author. When Aphra Behn wrote this story about the tragic fate of a male black...moreThe hero of this story is as unusual as its narrator – and in fact the author. When Aphra Behn wrote this story about the tragic fate of a male black slave, slavery was perfectly acceptable whereas blacks were considered sub-human. But the hero was not an ordinary black slave. He was royalty and cultivated – a noble black, more European than the Europeans themselves. This is also reflected in the description of his physical appearance:
'His nose was 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 Negroes. The whole proportion and air of his face was so noble and exactly formed that, bating his color, there could be nothing in nature more beautiful, agreeable and handsome.'
Aphra Behn, the “I” who tells the story, was an Englishwoman in the 17th century. She was not supposed to write at all, especially not about noble black slaves, yet she managed to become the first woman in England to make a living as a writer. This experimental narrative plays with fact and fiction as well as with elements of different genres and can be seen as the beginning of the novel tradition.
Whether she really visited the lands she depicts in Oroonoko or not - her description seems accurate. As reflected in the story, prior to colonization western Africa was dominated by muslim kingdoms rather than by small tribes. Her description of the methods used to sell and torture slave are also realistic. This realism, paired with the sympathy the readers felt for the hero, helped to make Oroonoko an influential literary work in the struggle against the slave trade, as it inspired many writers to depict the cruelty and the inhuman nature of slavery in their works.
Just as Behn’s ideas of nobility and honor do not (necessarily) exclude blacks, she seems to have equally “tolerant” views on religion.
'The Frenchman was banished out of his own country for some heretical notions he held, and though he was a man of very little religion, he had admirable morals and a brave soul'. (less)
A few of his poems were obligatory reading at the university - this is what I got out of it when I was done (with Donne):
A Valediction: Forbidden Mour...moreA few of his poems were obligatory reading at the university - this is what I got out of it when I was done (with Donne):
A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning is a farewell poem. As a speech or a letter to say good bye it was possibly addressed to Donne’s wife. A Ptolemaic world-view is inscribed in the poem, as Donne writes about “trepidation of the spheres” and the “dull sublunary lovers’ love”, which is (unlike the love of God) unstable.
Love between man and God seems to be also a theme for sonnet 14. God’s love is here described as violent and the relationship to God paradoxical. The desire to be enslaved and overwhelmed by God is expressed as the desire for freedom:
Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. (12-14)
How can God set us free by “enthralling” us, by taking away free will, and how can we be “chaste” when we are “ravished”? The poem also mentions God’s enemy – the devil, to whom the voice of the poem is “betrothed”. The fact that he is only betrothed and not yet married indicates that there is still hope for him left. The ravishing and enthralling god can still save him. Donne plays with these opposites very skillfully and adds great depth to his appealing language, which force can be seen best in the very first lines of the sonnet:
Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
Death is defeated in sonnet 10: “Death, thou shalt die”. Death is seen as a short sleep that separates us from eternal life. Once this short sleep is over, death is overcome and “we wake eternally”. The Meditation 17 also deals with the subject of death. The phrases “For whom the bell tolls” and “No man is an island” both make their first appearance in this text.
A Hymn to God the Father includes a joke that is repeated in every stanza. “When thou hast done, thou hast not done” Donne writes, punning on his own name. And in the final stanza: “And, having done that, thou hast done, I fear no more.” However, in this last stanza he goes far beyond punning, since he expresses clearly heretic thoughts and even dares to tempt God. “I have sin of feat, that when I have spun My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;” can be read as the fear to leave the grave but not getting on the boat to paradise. “Swear by thy self, that at my death thy Son Shall shine as he shines now and heretofore;” is an imperative directed at God. (less)