In almost every piece of writing there is reference to some sort of pain, whether it be physical pain or emotional pain. In a story like Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, the physical pain stands out above any other grief or misery. However, Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus exhibits just as much pain, but in an emotional sense. This poses an interesting question: Is one pain worse than the other? Can pain be measured?
Pain, whether it be physical or emotional, is an unpleasant sensation. However, something like being poked with a safety pin or feeling sad would not be considered true pain. Physical pain is sent to the brain from other parts of the body, and when the brain recognizes the pain, the body feels it as well.
There is no scientific evidence on where emotional pain comes from, but most people agree with Stanley Schachter’s analysis of emotions in the late 1950’s. Schachter said that emotional pain “begins when a person encounters an important event or thought. The person then interprets the meaning of the encounter, and the interpretation determines the feeling that is likely to follow. (Black 22)”
Throughout history, people have documented their encounters with physical and emotional pain in works such as stories or poems. Neither pain was extensively researched until the late 19th century, so neither Marlowe nor Behn had any documentation on the causes and effects of physical and emotional pain. But both were able to take painful elements from their environment and put them into their texts.
Marlowe wrote Dr. Faustus in 1592, in the middle of the Elizabethian era. The story revolves around a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for several years of “forbidden knowledge.” Dr. Faustus is written in theatrical form (to be staged), a genre popularized during Elizabeth’s reign by writers such as Marlowe and Shakespeare. This form allowed authors to develop characters and experiment with emotion through dialogue, something authors were unable to do in poetry and had yet to do in stories. Dr. Faustus reads like a commentary on religion intended for the more affluent members of society: Don’t ask for things outside of your means or status. The story could also be a warning to monarchs who believe they are superhuman or divine.
Because of the nature of the story, the pain expressed in Dr.
Subtle Criticism in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko
Subtle Criticism in Oroonoko
In reading Oroonoko it might be easy to miss the criticism offered against the European culture. Upon studying the novel however, this criticism which had been presented subtly becomes quite clear. An important note is that the author and the narrator are not in fact the same. Although the author is out to provide a criticism of European culture and values, she is reluctant to let it come through the narrator. This critique comes through mainly in less direct forms, through her non-European characters, most often Oroonoko, and through comparisons between cultures and the characters encountered in each.
As a female writer trying to earn a living, and as the narrator of the story represented herself, Behn couldn’t have the narrator offer too strong a criticism for fear of losing her audience. The narrator is presented as very European. She is very ethnocentric and seems to have no problem with the slave trade, only with the treatment of one specific individual (namely, Oroonoko). Occasionally, however, there will be a slip, a slight inconsistency in the narrators character, which offers a glimpse of Behn’s true sentiments. For example, throughout the novel, the narrator is a strong believer in religion. She tells Imoinda “. . . Stories of Nuns and endeavour[s] to bring her to the knowledge of the true God.”(41). She also tries to defend Christianity to an unbelieving Caesar. When discussing the natives of Surinam, however, she mentions that “. . . all the Inventions of Man . . . wou’d here but destroy that Tranquillity . . . and . . . wou’d teach ‘em [the natives] to know Offence . . . “(10). The first thing she includes as an “Invention of Man” is religion, implying that it is not essentiall…
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… Banister truly does kill him like a dog as he said, “he wou’d declare, in the other World, that he was the only Man, of all the Whites, that ever he heard speak Truth.”(64)
Through each of these forms Behn is highly critical of European values, or maybe more precisely the lack there of. She criticizes religion, namely Christianity, for not enforcing morals in people; the most noble character in the novel, Oroonoko, does not believe in any God at all. She also criticizes those in the culture who do not hold themselves to their promises; the blacks and natives who are seen as so inferior are more true. She offers all this, yet, in a way that gives no offence and so keeps her audience for the next criticism she may offer.
Behn, Aphra. “Oroonoko.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. AH Abrams. New York. WW Norton and Company, Inc 2000.