Oronooko / John Locke Lens Comparison Cuny Caribbean Societies Lens Comparison

1574 words - 7 pages

She Who Will Lose Her Name
John Locke’s Second Treatise On Government preempts realizations of property that directly reveal violations of innate rights in the slave rebellion depicted by Aphra Ben in Oroonoko. Section V, or Of Property in Locke’s Second Treatise addresses how one acquires property and what properties are innate to every person by illustrating the simple act of picking an acorn and further asks “When did (the acorns) begin to be his? When he digested? Or when he ate? Or when he boiled? Or when he brought them home? Or when he picked them up? And it is plain, if the first gathering made them not his, nothing else could” (20.) What Locke presents through this example is already a hierarchy; those who can perform labor are entitled to their property. If one physically cannot pick up the acorn, or cannot gain access to any sort of food what can be expected of them? Are they not also entitled to property? Moreover, how can such restrictions have a real-life application outside of a purely hypothetical context of survival of the fittest? Aphra Behn writes a compelling relationship to these ideas through the connections between the men and women in Oroonoko, and even between Oroonoko and the men who eventually aid his slave rebellion. Key problems rise to the surface of the plot when the concepts of self-ownership and right to self-preservation are applied to the role of the women in the uprising, and the men’s attitude towards them as portrayed in the speeches given by Tuscan and Oronooko.
An inevitable reality of organizing the uprising was that some people would choose not to comply for a variety of reasons. One such person, Tuscan, replies to Oroonoko’s speech asking Oroonoko (or Caesar as he has been renamed at this point) to consider why some families may not have been able to participate, “But Oh! Consider we are husbands, and parents too, and have things more dear to us than life; our wives and children, unfit for travel in those unpassable woods…” to which Oroonoko replies that “He found it not inconsistent with that, to take equal care of their wives and children, as they wou'd of themselves; and that he did not design, when he led them to freedom, and glorious liberty, that they shou'd leave that better part of themselves to perish by the hand of the tyrant's whip: But if there were a woman among them so degenerate from love and vertue, to chuse slavery before the pursuit of her husband, and with the hazard of her life, to share with him in his fortunes; that such a one ought to be abandoned, and left as a prey to the common enemy.” As a reaction to a genuine and concerned Tuscan, this reads more than harsh and dogmatic, but dismissive and un-empathetic. Much of the rhetoric used by Oroonoko in this response points to his lack of general concern and empathy towards the women and children involved, and the implication that they have a choice in the first place does not hold up under Locke’s definition of owning oneself. If...

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