1 Cambridge IGCSE sociology coursebook, (United Kingdom,

1 Jacqueline, Pearson, Gender and Narrative in the Fiction of Aphra Behn, (United Kingdom,
Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 184.

2 Abigail Williams and Kate O’Connor, ‘Who is Aphra
Behn?”, Writers Inspire, https://writersinspire.org/content/who-aphra-behn
(accessed 30 November 2017).

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3 Jonathan Blundell, Cambridge IGCSE sociology coursebook, (United
Kingdom, Cambridge University Press), p. 235.

4Jonathan Blundell, Cambridge
IGCSE sociology coursebook, (United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press),
p. 238.

5Jonathan Blundell, Cambridge
IGCSE sociology coursebook, (United Kingdom, Cambridge University Press),
p.240.

As a result, gender stereotypes play an impactful role
in shaping gender representation; these stereotypes are formed through
generalisation as well as exaggeration that can be found in media. An instance of
this can be seen as through Blundell clarification: “Men and women are often
represented through binary opposition as being totally different form each
other”4.
By way of explanation, men are mostly portrayed as possessing hegemonic
masculinity, whereby they are shown to attain supremacy, dominance, and
independence, or having stereotypical gender roles, such as being the
breadwinner of the family. On the contrary, women are represented differently;
they are represented as submissive, docile, and frightened, or according to traditional
gender roles, playing the role of a mother or a housewife. Similarly, he claims
that male characters in books and shows are portrayed as “strong, athletic, and
a man of action; willing to use violence, not saying much and not showing
emotions”5,
while women are “shown as passive, weak, and helpless; for example, waiting to
be rescued by the hero – this often

For many years, literary books, or any
sort of media for the matter, were used as a powerful tool for representation. In
sociological terms, representations are a social construct created by people
who thought alike. In other words, these representations reflect the customs,
values and norms of a society or an era. To second that, Blundell explains that
“all media texts are constructed by people with a specific purpose and a
specific audience in mind”3.
Therefore, since representation is a sort of social construction, they can be
altered over time with the help of new ideas.

2.    
Gender
representation and gender stereotypes

 

In this assignment, I would like to inspect
the element of gender representation in Aphra Behn’s ‘Oroonoko’, otherwise
known as ‘The Royal Slave’. In other words, I will be analysing ways in which she
portrays and describes her characters in the novella. Does Aphra Behn challenge
gender stereotypes by portraying her characters differently? Or are these characters
a clear reflection of the way society perceive gender? To solve these
questions, I will be focusing on two characters from the book; Oroonoko himself
and Imoinda, his wife. Furthermore, I plan to examine the unique characteristics
and features of Oroonoko and Imoinda by elaborating on how these characters show
forms of gender reversals; having feminine traits in male characters and
masculine traits in female characters.

‘Oroonoko’ is a short novel that was
written by Behn im the year 1688. Throughout the entire book, Behn sheds light
on topics such as slavery in the 17th century, racism and inequality
of men and women through Prince Oroonoko’s story of love, war, and heroism. In
this novella, Behn plays the participant narrator that shares the story of a
prince form Coromantien named Oroonoko. The story first takes place in
Coramantien, when Oroonoko visits Imoinda, to pay respects to her late father
after the war. He falls deeply in love with her, but the king, his grandfather,
insisted on making Imoinda his concubine. However, after the king learned about
the affair they both had behind his back, he sold Imoinda as a slave. Not long
after, Oroonoko was tricked by a captain of a ship, where he was sold into
slavery in a British colony known as Surinam. He was given a new name, Caesar, and
was reunited with Imoinda, who was later named Clemene. In hopes of protecting
Imoinda and their baby, Oroonoko sparked hope by creating a rebellion with
other slaves. Needless to say, the slaves surrendered when a governor caught
them red handed and Oroonoko was retributed with pitiless flogging. In the end,
he performed an act of mercy killing on Imoinda and was mutilated as a lesson
to the rest of the slaves.

Aphra Behn is celebrated as one of the
most renowned and influential writers in the Renaissance era. Being a woman
writer surrounded by a misogynistic society, she challenged cultural
stereotypes and touched on controversial topics such as racism and the
inequality of men and women at that time. Pearson stated that “Aphra Behn’s
fiction (then) creates highly individualized, often female, narrators, and uses
them to foreground issues of gender and power by offering ironic and mocking
reversals of codes of authority, even by undermining the meaning of the stories
as they tell them.”1. According
to Williams and O’Conor, Aphra Behn was eminent for her status as being “the
first woman in England to identify herself as a professional writer”2,
serving as an inspiration to many woman authors. Although very little is known
about her private life, many believed she was born in Kent, England, to a
barber and nurse in the year 1640. During her youthful days, Behn took on the
role of being a spy for Charles II, in the colony of Surinam. Later on, in the
1660s, she travelled back to England to produce plays, which gradually caused
an uproar for involving politics. Throughout her entire lifespan, Behn wrote
poems and fiction such as ‘The Rover’, and her revolutionary novella,
‘Oroonoko’, otherwise known as “The Royal Slave’, is used as an exemplary
literature work to this very day.

1.    
Introduction

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