Analyzing Gallagher’s Oroonoko’s Blackness Essay

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Analyzing Gallagher’s Oroonoko’s Blackness

Oroonoko is a fascinating text overflowing with descriptions of complex relations between and within the different races. The attitudes and actions of the Aphra Behn and her characters would make for a rich analysis from any number of behavioral approaches, but there are many more layers to this story than the dominant racial themes. In fact, in "Oroonoko’s Blackness" Catherine Gallagher argues that the main character’s unusually dark skin color actually represents kingship, commodification, and the degree to which he and the author are embodied in the work. Though Gallagher recognizes the significance of Oroonoko’s ethnicity in the conflict between the African and European groups, she
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She adds that Oroonoko is also associated with worth in that his color establishes him as a marketable good. Because he is black and able to be sold in the slave trade, a quantitative value can be placed on him, transforming him into a commodity. And the fact that he is darker than other "blacks" suggests that he would receive a higher price. So Gallagher believes that Oroonoko’s blackness conveys a higher value, and because of her clear reasoning, the reader does, too.

When these ideas, personal worth and blackness, are combined, Oroonoko appears separated from and elevated above the rest of his race. Gallagher writes that this creates the notion of kingship, that Oroonoko is really a culmination of all of his subjects’ "less perfect darkness" (94). Despite Oroonoko’s royalty, the reader would naturally question why he should represent kingship when it is his grandfather that rules over everyone, including Oroonoko. Gallagher anticipates this and describes how the grandfather is merely brown and has a failing body, thereby falling short of Oroonoko’s greater blackness and perfection, which better fulfills the common perception of the mystical body of kingship (94). She further supports this by citing Oroonoko’s treatment of his subjects as property through the slave trade, which only kingship gives him the right to do. John Locke’s Two

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