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Read the passage below from Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko carefully several times. Write an essay of no more than 1500 words in which you analyse the passage, addressing the following: What kinds of narrative techniques are used?

TMA 02

Remember to put a word count at the bottom of your assignment and to follow academic conventions as set out in Section 4.5 ‘Presentation and academic conventions’ in this Assessment Guide.

Read the passage below from Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko carefully several times. Write an essay of no more than 1500 words in which you analyse the passage, addressing the following:

  1. What kinds of narrative techniques are used?
  2. What are the distinctive features of the language?
  3. How does context help to illuminate your understanding of the extract? You may want to limit your focus to one particular context or comment on any that strike you as relevant.


p. 75 to p. 76

      When he was well enough to speak, we talked to him, and asked him some questions about his wife, and the reasons why he killed her. And he then told us what I have related of that resolution and of his parting, and he besought us, we would let him die, and was extremely afflicted to think it was possible he might live. He assured us, if we did not dispatch him, he would prove very fatal to a great many. We said all we could to make him live, and gave him new assurances, but he begged we would not think so poorly of him, or of his love to Imoinda, to imagine we could flatter him to life again; but the chirurgeon assured him, he could not live, and therefore he need not fear. We were all (but Caesar) afflicted at this news, and the sight was ghashly [ghastly]. His discourse was sad; and the earthy smell about him was so strong that I was persuaded to leave the place for some time (being myself but sickly, and very apt to fall into fits of dangerous illness upon any extraordinary melancholy). The servants and Trefry and the chirurgeons promised all to take what possible care they could of the life of Caesar, and I, taking boat, went with other company to Colonel Martin’s about three days’ journey down the river; but I was no sooner gone than the governor taking Trefry about some pretended earnest business a day’s journey up the river, having communicated his design to one Banister, a wild Irishman and one of the council, a fellow of absolute barbarity, and fit to execute any villainy, but was rich. He came up to Parham, and forcibly took Caesar, and had him carried to the same post where he was whipped, and causing him to be tied to it, and a great fire made before him, he told him, he should die like a dog as he was. Caesar replied, this was the first piece of bravery that ever Banister did, and he never spoke sense till he pronounced that word, and, if he would keep it, he would declare, in the other world, that he was the only man, of all the whites, that ever he heard speak truth. And turning to the men that had bound him, he said, My friends, am I to die, or to be whipped? And they cried, Whippedno, you shall not escape so well. And then he replied, smiling, A blessing on thee, and assured them they need not tie him, for he would stand fixed like a rock, and endure death so as should encourage them to die. But if you whip me, said he, be sure you tie me fast.

Guidance notes

In preparing your answer, you should read Oroonoko along with the teaching material in Chapter 5 of The Renaissance and Long Eighteenth Century. You should also listen to the four audio recordings for Part 2, consult the section ‘Textual analysis’ in the Assessment Guide and complete the relevant sections of the online ‘Skills tutorial: prose’.

The question requires you to undertake close analysis of the passage, focusing on (1) narrative techniques and (2) distinctive features of language, and to discuss how the passage is informed by context. As there are several different requirements for this assignment, it is important that you plan your essay carefully before you start writing, in order to ensure that you address all of them. Think carefully about the order in which you choose to discuss the three different areas. You may want to start with narrative techniques and then move on to the distinctive features of the language and the relevant contexts, or you may feel that it makes more sense to begin by looking at the contexts of the extract. Let the passage under examination be your guide here.

When discussing the narrative techniques, you should consider such questions as: what is the identity of the narrator? What are the effects of the chosen narrative voice? Is it a first- or third-person narrator? From whose point of view does the narrator tell the story? Think as well about how speech and thought are presented. What is the tone of the passage? Is there an argument implicit in the narrative? Sections 1 and 2 of the ‘Skills tutorial: prose’ will help you with these questions on narrators and the effects of the narrative voice, so begin your preparation by working through these sections.

When considering the distinctive features of the language, you should spend time locating any literary devices (e.g., imagery, repetition, rhetoric) and considering what effects are produced by these. How do they contribute to the meaning of the passage? How are characters depicted? Section 3 of the ‘Skills tutorial: prose’ (Characterisation) and Section 3 of the ‘Skills tutorial: poetry’ (Figurative language) will be helpful for considering these questions.

You will also need to consider what a knowledge of context adds to your understanding of the text, so you will need to decide which contexts suggest themselves here and what role they have in aiding and illuminating your interpretation of the passage. Pacheco discusses some of the contexts of Oroonoko in Chapter 5 of The Renaissance and Long Eighteenth Century, so read through the sections of the chapter carefully when preparing your assignment, identifying which of the contexts considered are relevant for the passage under consideration. You are being asked to provide evidence of how context adds to our understanding of this particular extract, so try to avoid writing in general terms.

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