One of the most intriguing pieces that have been written by Aphra Behn is Oroonoko. It is a piece that brings to light the impacts and experiences of slavery and slave trade. In this piece, there is the analysis of two main characters and their lives. The African prince, named Oroonoko and his stolen bride are the main protagonists in the piece. It is an evidence of use of metaphors, suspense and other writing forms. This is in a bid to gain the attention of the audience and alter their emotions. It also helps in the use of the audience as the judges of the occurrences.
The political context in which Oroonoko was written shapes its metaphors. In particular, Aphra Behn uses masking the dilute her association as the narrator of the work. The use of this literary device places the onus of perception on the audience. Although it makes the readers uncomfortable when the subject matter is disturbing, it also instills empathy for a cause or point of view. This paper will utilize the discursive technique theory to illustrate how Behn uses masking as a metaphor in Oroonoko. It will also demonstrate how masked personae are linked to the writer’s narrative fiction.
To begin with, the narrator is an observer as well as a bystander that depicts events through his speech. “I myself was an Eye-witness to a great part of what you will find here sent down; and what I could not be Witness of, I received from the mouth of the chief actor in this History, the Hero himself.” (Behn, 129). This statement by the narrator creates a witness that is reliable and meant to gain the trust of the audience. To this end, the creation of the narrator persona aims to provide authenticity and actual reality. The narration offers an opportunity for the audience to differentiate him from the hero. The narrator records the real event through words from Oroonoko and also consents to be his voice. Behn therefore maintains the narrator in a role that is discursive by being Oroonoko’s mouthpiece. The narration provides the audience with an opportunity to feel the plight of the slaves. To this end, the description also portrays Oroonoko as a noble character able to connect the audience to his anticipated motive. It provides the chance for the audience to understand and classify slavery as immoral and an act that should not be encouraged.
Secondly, the narrator acquaints the audience with the main issues that surround slavery through her description of the process of the slave trade. The story of the events is also directly related to the narrator persona as it provides the audience with the realities of slavery. From the white culture perspective, many lucrative benefits were derived from the slave trade. This is reiterated through several incidents related to Oroonoko. Behn does not condemn the acts herself but instead narrates the ordeal and leaves the audience to decide how to classify the actions. Through narration, the audience is provided with the opportunity to access the real events of slavery from the sourcing to the buying. The audience is introduced to Oroonoko as he laments the loss of Imoinda. The monologue’s narration of the circumstances surrounding the loss is filled with images of death that are expressed in similes. “Imoinda is irrecoverably lost to me as if she were snatch’d by the cold Arms of Death” (Behn 163). “Fate shou’d bow the old King to his Grave” (Behn 165). The metaphor is meant to create and have the audience appreciate the state of despair that Oroonoko is facing. The African prince uses the word “free” twice; however, he carefully avoids using the word “slavery”. The metaphor portrays the sense of confinement as well as total submission.
For instance, Imoinda is said to possess European. This is illustrated by the statement, “the beautiful Black Venus to our young Mars” (Behn 137). The metaphor aims to provide a picture of how beautiful the character is. The likening of her beauty to Venus is meant to endear the audience to Imoinda’s beauty. Her physical appearance is considered to transcend race – so much so that it can disarm the gaze of a white man. It therefore aims to reverse the roles of the servant and master. “I have seen a hundred White men signing after her, and making a thousand Vows at her Feet” (Behn 137). The metaphor portrays Imoinda as an epitome of European womanhood.
Behn uses masking as a powerful metaphor. The conceptual mask seeks to provide the characters in Oroonoko with the ability to subvert the existent power structure. The blank facial expressions of Oroonoko are used as a metaphor to mask the torture that he has undergone as a slave. His refusal to submit after the anguish that was experienced at the hands of his masters is a projection of power and masks the expression that indicates human beings as whole. To this end, it provides the wearer with protection and control.
In conclusion, metaphor use enables the writer to create rapport with the readers. With this, there is creation of understanding on the topics of discussion. The author also educates the audience on the depths and the heights of human experience. It is through this that the point of discussion is brought forward. There is also the application of entertainment and provocation of the thoughts of the audience. She is also able to alter the perception of the audience, making them the judges to the experiences of the people through slavery. She also employs masking to demonstrate power as her characters are able to subvert the structures that oppress them. Lastly, the author uses the masking as a metaphor to educate the audience of the differences that exist between the male and female gender. The female is expected to remain in the shadow of men and is portrayed as the weaker sex in that it requires protection. The metaphor also provides the audience with an opportunity to decide for itself if the acts of slavery are oppressive. Masking offers a chance for the audience to mourn and empathize with the characters as they undergo the oppressive nature of slavery. The author also uses masking through similes to describe physical beauty and its applicability to different cultural perceptions. To this end, the author likens Imoinda with creations that are imagined and believed to be beautiful. By doing so she is able to convince the audience to rethink the attitude and the value they have towards slavery and its negative effect on humanity. I feel the literary devices employed by Behn can be used to describe contemporary media. In my opinion, her use of analogies and the literary device of masking are particularly evident in social media. Users of these platforms often develop alter-egos that are not accurate reflections of themselves. To illustrate this in literary terms, the narrator is distanced from his or her online persona. Causes, beliefs, and actions are presented in a way that elicits broad appeal. Like Behn’s depiction of slavery, this transfer of perception is a powerful way to draw attention to problems that do not receive mainstream attention.