Abstract

This article examines how Aphra Behn employs the language of spectacle and extreme visuality in Oroonoko (1688) as a strategy for conveying exoticism to the reader's gaze. The novella presents the New World landscape, Native American customs, Oroonoko's black body, and his heroism and victimization with a degree of excessive and hyperbolic intensity. I argue that Behn's novella grasps, in a way no other work of its time does, the transformation of the black body into a commodity at the moment of its insertion into circuits of commercial exchange in the Atlantic basin. By focusing on the female narrator's vicarious response to the spectacle of Oroonoko's public execution, I also suggest that the novella formulates fundamental dilemmas intrinsic to scenes of sympathy[&mdash]dilemmas that would continue to shape the English citizens' engagement with Caribbean slaves throughout the long eighteenth century.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-315X
Print ISSN
0013-2586
Pages
pp. 475-496
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-26
Open Access
No
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