Perceptions and Portrayals: Oroonoko in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko and King Gezo in “Gezo, King of Dahomey”

When many people think about the Transatlantic Slave Trade, they often think of white men benefiting from the capture and use of African people as slaves. However, figures that tend to go overlooked are the powerful African men who themselves captured, sold, and used other Africans as slaves and engaged with this brutal and inhumane practice. The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has many interesting pieces on slavery, some of which highlight these African men that benefited from the slave trade. However, one that is very eye-opening is the portrait of Gezo, King of Dahomey. The image of King Gezo and how he is portrayed to the audience is very similar to the beginning passages of Oroonoko by Aphra Behn, where Behn, the narrator, describes the prince’s attire and how royal and “Roman” he is. The descriptions of both King Gezo and Oroonoko are quite similar, with an emphasis on his extravagance and grace, which is portrayed in this painting as well as with Oroonoko in his homeland of Coramantien. This paper will focus on the portrayal of both King Gezo and Oroonoko from the perspective of the audience/reader as well as how the painter and author of Oroonoko choose to portray both men of royalty who benefited from and engaged with the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

First, a description is needed of the portrait in order to compare and contrast it with the depiction of Prince Oroonoko in the novella by Aphra Behn. The first aspect of the painting that catches the eye is the attire of the king—a bright blue and white fabric that covers the left arm and leaves the right arm free to move. In addition, there is a large amount of red used in the portrait. First, the King’s sandals, umbrella, and hat all have red, as well as gold, in them. These colors give the viewer a feeling of royalty and power— colors that many normal people might not have been wearing. Therefore, it can be determined that these colors symbolize royalty and elegance. There is also red on the shawl of the woman standing behind him; this woman, however, is a mystery to the viewer. Perhaps she is a servant of his, a wife, a confidant. Nevertheless, it is difficult to come to a solid conclusion. However, it is quite clear that she is of lower status than he, due to her lack of shoes and minimal/simplistic clothing and lack of accessories, except for earrings. But this is not to say that she does not have status. She is wearing red, a royal color, and has earrings on, signifying some form of status in relation to King Gezo.

The last aspect of the portrait is the pickaxe that King Gezo is holding. In the description of the painting, it states that he captured and exported slaves from The Bight of Benin, the second largest exporter of captives after West Central Africa (Forbes). The description also states that he “was feared for his military power and his numerous slave raids. He had an army of several thousand female warriors, the famous Amazons” (Forbes). This leads one to believe that this tool could be a symbol of his influence and participation in hunting down other Africans, capturing them, and exporting them in the slave trade, as well as using them as personal slaves in his homeland. In the painting, in the distance, there is a brief outline of a tent with people standing in front of it. This could either be the area where King Gezo lives, or possibly an area that he is raiding and capturing people to be traded. Nevertheless, these facts are not presented to the viewer, therefore, only speculation can be used to determine where exactly King Gezo is.

The entire portrait portrays this feeling of superiority and power, which matches the description given of the illustration, showing King Gezo as a powerful and feared ruler and businessman. When one first views the portrait, one can immediately make a connection to Prince Oroonoko and his elegance/royalty. When examining these two African royals together, two main questions arise. First, when comparing and contrasting King Gezo and Oroonoko, how to the painter and Aphra Behn present these two royal Africans to either the viewer or the reader? How are they different? How are they similar? Secondly, how do the viewer/reader absorb these two powerful figures when given the context of their lives?

In order to answer the first question, one must examine how the painter and Behn are presenting King Gezo and Oroonoko, respectively. As stated before in the description of the portrait, King Gezo is presented to the viewer as a powerful and revered man with great status. However, after reading the description of King Gezo, one may no longer feel this reverence, and instead might feel frustration that another African would participate in the capture, exportation, and exploitation of other Africans. But this is also very interesting because it is something that is overlooked and not emphasized by Behn when she speaks about Oroonoko, an African prince that engaged and benefitted from the selling and trade of African people, just like King Gezo. Furthermore, because Behn tends to describe Oroonoko in a fetishized and obsessed manner, his engagement with the slave trade is generally overlooked, which causes the reader to not pay much attention to that fact and instead focus on Oroonoko’s elegance. In Behn’s first descriptions of Oroonoko, she stated, “I have often seen and conversed with this great man, and been a witness to many of his mighty actions, and do assure my reader the most illustrious courts could not have produced a braver man, both for greatness of courage and mind, a judgment more solid, a wit more quick, and a conversation more sweet and diverting” (Behn 145). Behn focuses on Oroonoko’s education, his intellect, and his rich upbringing. Behn then continues by stating, “He had an extreme good and graceful mien, and all the civility of a well-bred great man” (145) and that “He had nothing of barbarity in his nature, but in all points addressed himself as if his education had been in some European court” (145).  Behn’s description of the prince are focused on his Western characteristics that seemingly place him above other Africans. It is rarely mentioned that he was an African prince that, just like King Gezo, interacted with and benefited from the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Automatically, Oroonoko is presented in a more positive light to the reader than King Gezo is to the viewer, even though the two figures are quite similar in their status, wealth, and occupation.

Now moving on to the second question posed earlier, one must examine how these two figures are presented and what these mediums entail. The discrepancy in how King Gezo and Oroonoko are presented to the audience makes sense when examining the mediums in which they are portrayed. King Gezo’s portrait is presented in a digital archive which focuses much more on historical context and facts rather than sensationalism or fictitious descriptions. This is why a viewer of this portrait will most likely focus on the fact that King Gezo was an African king who killed, captured, sold, and used other Africans in order to maintain his wealth and status. This also accounts for a much colder response from the audience who views him as a historical figure that engaged in a terrible and inhumane market. However, the portrayal of prince Oroonoko is quite different, and therefore, his reception will also be different. Not only is this prince fictional, but also is presented in a fictional novella. Although Oroonoko is very similar to King Gezo, he is presented to the reader from the point of view of Aphra Behn, a white female narrator who has an obsession with the African prince and usually portrays him in a more positive light. This is a narrator who tells the reader that Oroonoko’s “nose was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat; his mouth the finest shaped that could be seen, far fro those great turned lips which are so natural to the rest of the Negroes” (Behn 145). Because Oroonoko is described as having extremely Roman and white features, the reader tends to forget that he is an African man engaging in the African slave trade, just like his real-life counterpart, King Gezo. The depiction of these two African royals using two very different mediums, one historical and one fictional, tends to illicit rather different responses in the viewer/reader, making them feel like they are extremely different men, even though they share many similar qualities.

By examining the description of prince Oroonoko and the portrayal of King Gezo in his portrait, many fascinating conclusions can be made about these two African rulers, whether fictional or not. As this paper examined, the way in which the creator paints King Gezo, and Behn describes Oroonoko are extremely similar; both works emphasize the royalty and wealth of each ruler. However, the discrepancy comes when examining the mediums in which both figures are portrayed—one through a historical and digital archive, the other through a fictional novella. These two different mediums lead the audience to feel differently about each man. With King Gezo, because he is shown through a more historical lens, the viewer tends to focus on his engagement with the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and tends to feel frustration towards a historical figure that blatantly took advantage of his own people. In contrast, however, there is Oroonoko, who is described by a biased narrator as basically a white man with wonderful characteristics, causing the reader to overlook his own involvement and benefit from the African slave trade. This demonstrates that the portrayal of figures and the mediums used to portray them have an extreme effect on the perceptions that people have about said works as well as how the audience interacts with these pieces.

Works Cited

Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, W. W. Norton & Company, 2018, 139-188.

Forbes, Frederick E. “Gezo, King of Dahomey (1818-1858).” 1851. Dahomey and the Dahomans. Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York. http://www.inmotionaame.org/gallery/detail.cfm?migration=1&topic=99&id=292420&type=image&metadata=show&page=3&bhcp=1



Young and likely to be Brought from Africa to America

White supremacy is a racism-fueled toxicity that’s plagued America for a very long time. There’s a lot of speculation in regards to why this ideology still exists and how it was created, but each theory holds the same logic that a lot of white people believe they’re superior to the Black race. Thankfully, there are different works out there that can help one learn their history and pinpoint the exact cause and possible solution to this plague that America is facing. The picture from The New York Public Library’s Digital Collection on Slavery, titled, “Young and likely” is an advertisement for the sale of slaves. On the advertisement, it tells the location and time of the auction for these slaves, details about the captives, such as their age, gender, and their skills. Their names, however, aren’t on the list. These details about the slaves on the advertisement are in bold letters because the slave owners want the skills of their slaves to be the first thing that a potential buyer sees because this was imperative to making profit. The advertisement also markets the sale of other goods such as mules, cattle, plantation tools, a gin stand, and a wagon. To sell people, period, let alone sell them along with animals and tools, tells us that slaves, just like the other things being sold, are looked at as nothing more than property, so they are dehumanized as so.

The advertisement can evoke the feeling of disgust for the lack of respect that whites held for Black people, and how overt they are about it–going as far as putting this on an ad that’s accessible to the public. What’s ironic about this ad is whoever created the ad tried their best to make something grotesque look presentable. Why even bother trying to make this presentable? There also lays the question: why did ads like these attract so many people? Why participate?

The poem, “On being brought from AFRICA to AMERICA” by Phillis Wheatley, connects well with this poem because the poem can precede the ad. The imagery in the poem also captures the raw hatred that whites felt towards Black people. Wheatley writes things like, “Some view our sable race with scornful eye,/‘Their colour is a diabolical die’” (line 5-6). The image of a “[color]” being diabolical communicates that the hate white people have for Blacks stems from the differences in skin color. The “diabolical die” that blacks have, in the eyes of the white people at that time, makes them believe they have justification to treat black people the way they do because of their ideology that Blacks were evil or sinful.

The advertisement and the poem complement each other because of the evident hate that lies in both works. The ad is simply taking all the raw hate that the poem is revealing, and marketing it. Instead of keeping all the hatred to themselves and/or taking it out on the slave, the slave owners wanted to share this hate amongst each other and make it into a festivity. For example, Wheatley writes “Some view our sable race with scornful eye” (line 5). Sable, meaning to dress in black, can be interpreted as something dark or unholy, which is how the whites looked at Black people during this era. The scornful eye can be a metaphor for the way Blacks were treated by whites at the hands of the slavery. This treatment received includes, but is not limited to: rape, separation of families, and physical torture. The ad is the slave owners’ way of putting this hatred in yet another vehicle to find a different way to express their scorn.

The theme that lingers between the poem and picture is: in order to uphold white supremacy in America, the white supremacists must step on the backs of the black citizens in the country. It’s important to look back at these things because it becomes easier to make connections between how white people treat blacks, or even other races in the past and the present.

Works Cited


Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” Complete Writings, edited by

Vincent Carretta, Penguin, 2001.


Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Young and likely.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-491f-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Raid on a Village

In the story of Oroonokoby Aprha Behn, is a story of an African Prince and his wife, Imoinda, who are captured by the British and are transported to Suriname as slaves along with others. The story takes place in South America in the 1640s. Throughout the story, Oroonoko goes through many trials to free himself and his pregnant wife from slavery. There is one moment at the beginning of the book that Oroonoko is a General and is the person who is raiding and seizing African people, like himself, and selling them into the slave trade. I chose a digital archive image from the In Motion AAME (African American Migration Experience), titled “Raid on a Village”, to compare the similarities between the character, Oroonoko, the revolt in Suriname, and the image from the digital archive.

The Digital archive I chose is titled, “Raid on a Village”. By the title, without looking closely at the image, I can already visualize that the image will be disturbing. As I open the image for a closer look, it is in black, white, and grey. The time of day seems like it is at night, there are dark skies with a full moon and a mist of cloud hovering in front of it. There is also smoke in the sky from the fire that is in the village further back away from the people, which might be another reason there are dark skies. The village is being raided and there are men, dressed in a white dress like attire, with white hats, a belt squeezed around their waist and bead-like jewelry around their necks. They are holding spears, guns, and knives pointing at the village people. The village

men are only wearing a cloth around their waist and women are wearing a light-colored dress as are the children. The villagers are fighting back but are not winning this fight, since it was a raid and unexpected, they were not prepared. There are no weapons in the villager’s hands, they are using their hands and bodies to fight back. Some of the villagers are on the floor with their hands over their faces to cover themselves from being beaten. In this raid children and young adults are being taken, the infants and the elderly were being left behind. Villages like this one are always relocating due to the raids and have to live in hiding. They had no way of any growth or movement to avoid being captured. The “Raid on a Village” image, evokes a heartbreaking moment to its viewers as a person who has a family, which is most of us. Seeing only through an image, that the villagers, children, and young adults, are being ripped away from their families, we can only imagine if we were in that position it would be terrifying. Especially the young children and adults who had to witness this and be held in captivity with strangers they only have one thing in common with is being sold and being in the same boat as them, not knowing where they are going and whether or not they will survive this trip.

I chose this object to create a discourse between this image and the story of Oronooko. Though this is not the same as the revolt in the story where Caesar also tells the slaves that are in the same place that he is in, to fight back the white people. This object is the complete opposite of what happened in Oronookowith the revolt. In fact, the image is related to Oroonoko himself and his character before becoming a Royal Slave. Oroonoko is a prince who is promoted to General who kidnaps Africans and sells them into the slave trade. He presented Imoinda with hundred-fifty slaves as a gift of love, “So that having made his first compliments and presented her a hundred and fifty slaves in fetters…” (16).  So, this image is comparing it to Oroonoko as a person who could have been the persons raiding this village with his army.  In this image, the people who are raiding the villagers are the ones who are the same color as them. The people in the picture look like the people are wearing something similar to what Oroonoko is described to be wearing.

The story and object emerge the bigger picture as the tables are turned on Oroonoko. before his captivity, an English Ship arrives in Coramantien, who Oroonoko knows the captain, “to this captain he sold abundance of his slaves…” (36). The English Captain invited Oroonoko and hundred others on to his ship for a party with wine that they all enjoyed too much of. By everyone’s surprise, the captain seized all of them on his ship, “gave the word and seized on all guests, they clapping great irons suddenly on the prince when he was leaped down in the hold to view that part of the vessel, and locking him down…and betrayed him into slavery” (37). At this point, Oroonoko is now held in captivity as the slaves are when he himself captures them.  This is when karma comes into play with Oroonoko, he was in the position that this captain is in now, and now that the tables have been turned Oroonoko feels betrayed by him. The captain reassures Oroonoko that he and his people will be released once they reach land only because they were starving themselves, the captain did not want them to die. Oroonoko is now sold to a man named Trefry, in Surinam. He is angry with the captain for not keeping his word as told, “Farewell, Sir! It is worth my suffering to gain so true a knowledge both of you and your gods by whom you swear” (41). At this point, Oroonoko is confused as to why the captain would do this to him. Him being royal and being on their side with trading slaves, “…and being wholly unarmed and defenceless, so as it was in vain to make any resistance, he only beheld the captain with a look all fierce and disdainful, upbraiding him with eyes…” (41).

The object also is similar to a scene in Oroonoko towards the end of the book where the Oroonoko who is now named Caesaris revolting against the white men. He rallies up all the slaves and gives a speech to them to fight back the white men, “…made a harangue to them of the miseries and ignominies of such loads, burdens and drudgies as were fitter for beasts than men…” (61).  Everyone then agrees with Oroonoko to fight back with honor and praising him, “…Caesar has spoke like a great captain, like a great king” (62). The object and Oroonooko are compared as being similar because Oroonoko, at one point at the beginning of the story, is like the men in the image that are raiding the villages to capture innocent villagers that are in hiding to sell them as slaves. The digital archive shows an example of what Oroonoko and his army was doing in the beginning before he was held as a slave himself.  The tables finally turn on Oroonoko when he is in the position of the people he usually is capturing, and now he is their position who is being sold into slavery. Oroonoko not surviving but dying in noble honor for his people and also himself.

Works Cited:

“Raid on a Village.” AAME, www.inmotionaame.org/gallery/index.cfm?migration=1&type=image&page=11&topic=99&.


Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko. Penguin Classics, 2016.


Girls for Sale: “Wenches” and Personhood in Wheatley’s Poetry

How have institutions of racism and slavery contributed to shaping or warping the livelihoods of individuals? While our modern society has developed and continues to refine a language that refuses to interpret this history with terms from a European lexicon, language used in the Transatlantic Slave Trade served to dehumanize and deprecate the autonomy of slaves. This not only created a view that enslaved people were like objects, but also reinforced the unequal and one-sided power slave masters wielded over subjugated individuals.

I recently looked at a still image photograph titled “Sale in New York” uploaded by The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division into the NYPL’s digital collections. The image reads: “For Sale, A likely, healthy, young, NEGRO WENCH, Between fifteen and fixteen Years old: She has been ufed to the Farming Bufinefs. Sold for want of Employ- Enquire at No. 81, William-ftreet, New-York, March 30 1789.” While it’s unclear if this specific advertisement was posted in a newspaper clipping or another venue of publication, the language used here implicates an established slave auction system in New York in the year of 1789.

The young girl in the advertisement is either fifteen-sixteen, but is specifically described as a wench. The Oxford English Dictionary terms wench as “a girl of the rustic or working class” (Wench, n1) or “a female servant, maidservant, serving-maid” (Wench, n2). This phrasing informs the reader of her low class and social standing as well. However, the audience has no knowledge of this particular girl’s background, her family, date of birth, or even name. This specific narrative describes personhood, but in a way that has diminished this young female subject to object- specifically an object “for sale” so she can be employed for work.

I believe that pre-nineteenth century poet Phillis Wheatley combats this aforementioned “objecthood” in her work as a poet as she voices issues she encountered in her own personal experiences as a black slave. She was seized from West Africa and taken to Boston aboard the slave ship Phillis in 1761 (Wheatley 8). In “want of a domestic” in August 1761, Susanna Wheatley, wife of prominent Boston tailor John Wheatley, purchased a “frail female child…for a trifle” (Poetry Foundation). She was reported to be of “slender frame and evidently suffering from a change of climate,” nearly naked with “no other covering than a quantity of dirty carpet about her.”

While Wheatley was brought to America twenty-eight years before the “Sale in New York” advertisement was released, I found myself juxtaposing the frail poet to the faceless, nameless girl in the ad. Perhaps the girl in the advertisement could have been just as sickly as Wheatley when she first arrived in America. More importantly, I found myself reflecting on Wheatley’s “On Being Brought From America,” and how it asked her audience to reconsider the lens through which black individuals and slaves were imagined.

“On Being Brought From America” does not illustrate a narrative. Rather, Wheatley spoke on ideas of Christianity, salvation, and history. The speaker in the poem is a slave brought from Africa to America by “mercy.” It is this mercy that converted the speaker to Christianity, which she had no knowledge of in Africa. However, the speaker refers to her soul as something that was once “benighted.” The OED describes benighted as something “overtaken by the darkness of the night” (Benighted, adj1) or “involved in intellectual or moral darkness” (Benighted, adj2). The speaker parallels her skin color and original state of ignorance and explains how Christianity was able to enlighten her. By learning “that there’s a God” and “there’s a Savior too,” Wheatley reminds her audience that although her kidnapping and subsequent voyage were at the hands of human beings, there is a force more powerful than they who was acted directly in her life (3).

In the next half of the poem, Wheatley addresses those who “view our sable race with scornful eye,” distancing her reader from an audience that fosters a more critical or negative  view on those who are slaves (5). By doing so, she nudges the reader to a more positive view. Sable is desirable, contrasting greatly to the description of “diabolic die” (6). In the second to last line, the speaker groups together Christians and Negroes in a move that can both address Christians or include Christians in those who can be “refin’d” and “join the angelic train” (Wheatley 7-8). The last line of the poem implies that the angelic train will include both white and black individuals.

Wheatley ultimately addresses an audience who accepts and even promotes slavery, laying out an ultimatum to either join her, the black female Christian in her critique of the existing power structure, or to continue to foster beliefs in the current system. Her voice speaks not only to her contemporaries and those who live in her society, but carries on to address the same individuals who dehumanized the young girl in the advertisement.

Works Cited

Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought From America.” Poetry Foundation. 1773. Web. 18 October 2018.


Wheatley, Phillis. Complete Writings. New York: Penguin Classics. 2001.


“Benighted, adj1.” Oxford English Dictionary Online, 1887. http://www.oed.com.lehman.ezproxy.cuny.edu/view/Entry/17727?isAdvanced=false&result=2&rskey=9Bb2J9&.


“Benighted, adj2.” Oxford English Dictionary Online, 1887. http://www.oed.com.lehman.ezproxy.cuny.edu/view/Entry/17727?isAdvanced=false&result=2&rskey=9Bb2J9&.  

The Reflective lives of Phillis Wheatley and Emily

Kadija Doumbia

Eng 302


Oct 7, 2018              The Reflective Lives of Phillis Wheatley and Emily


Image result for emily runs away slave

              Slavery is a inhumane act that has been a persistent force throughout all history. All countries of different cultures and religions have practiced it one way or another. The practice was officially banned in the United States in 1863 when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation into law. However slavery still persisted in the other states for some time after this federal decree. In a global context, even nowadays in 2018, some countries and criminal organizations still practice slavery Through illegal labor practices or sex trafficking. People, usually women and children, are kidnapped and are forced to become sex slaves for either a major criminal gang or for individuals. No matter how many people are enslaved sexually or used as labor and are beaten upon them. It cannot truly break the human spirit’s desire for freedom.

        In Phillis Wheatley’s poem “From Africa to America”, she describes leaving her homeland via a slave ship, and being taken to a foreign place where she’s unfamiliar with the culture and language. She notes: “TWAS mercy brought me from my pagan land, taught my benighted soul to understand that there is a God.”(3) There she describes how despite the hardship she had to face at a very young age, she managed to hold out hope for something better for her than the life she had been dealt in. In her other poem “The Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth” she continues to highlight the more liberal and enlightened North.

         The poem starts off as “Fair freedom rose New-England to adorn: The northern clime beneath her genial ray.” Reviewing her statement, it’s almost as if she portrays that as a slave, if you came to the North, not only you would have a better life but that the white population there would respect you and support your endeavors. Through reading Wheatley’s poems it’s an opener to the black slave’s struggle to gain recognition to their plight in a eurocentric society. Prior and during the 18th Century they were many black authors in America who had already experienced the same situation she has been in. However, they were limited in terms of publication opportunities, and societal views of their time.

         Her poems in general had highlighted the strength and independence of black woman. A large portion of it is due to necessity as black women had no support from others including from their fellow men. In fear that themselves would be treated more harshly by their masters when abetted. To further explain the connection in the last quote she put in “Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.” (3) In this quote hidden in a religious text describes how blacks can reach success and be independent, through Christ.  To continue it is also a reflection among Wheatley’s personal beliefs between her relationship with Jesus Christ and how she kept that belief to keep her going. Plus it what led her to become a successful author whose work is still reviewed and revered today.

          In the “Wanted” poster the slave “Emily” has learned that she too could have a better life than the miserable one she was subjected to. Although her experience has been different than Wheatley’s, they share some similarities. Emily was born in slavery, and as such has no desire or curiosity about the outside world. For her to even leave the plantation she must have had a friend nearby, who would also have had to escape. Or it’s possible she was told about life in the North by an older slave who was familiar about life in the north, but is unable to leave due to illness.  Finally she could have figured it out herself and left the slave plantation in Kentucky to test out whether life really was better for blacks in the North in contrast to life in the South. While Wheatley’s poems inspires independence and authority to black women. The “Emily” poster showcases obedience to their masters and loyalty to the plantation itself above all else.

          An example of it is within the poster itself, the white slave owner’s relationship with “Emily”. The first sentence in the poster the owner describes her as having a “whiny voice”.(l.3) As if she’s a dog that won’t shut up. And to the owner he is afraid that when she does escape she will tell her story to a group of abolitionists.  Plus the description of “Emily” in poster is akin to a lost pet, giving out vague descriptions. As having “black color” (l.4) and “one blue and white” (l.4) begging the people to return her if found.  Finally the fact that he referred to her as “My black woman” (l.2) cements it as her being just an object to this man. Although it’s harder to tell due to the owner’s writing carrying a benevolent tone if sent back to her plantation “Emily’s would be ten times worse than before.

        As a woman of childbearing age she would be sexually abused or had been as it is not uncommon for slave owners to have had sexual relationships with their female slaves. More times than not, the slave owner would either rape or even have kids with some of the prettier younger slaves. Some owners would tie them up with bells on top of their heads which makes a sound everytime they took a step, making them impossible to leave. This also highlights the further dehumanization of female slaves as not only just human cargo but as sex objects made to take and be discarded for one’s pleasure.  This also creates a sense of dependence where the slave is beaten by the master to the point they “need” their guidance and that if they leave the plantation they will perish.

        To further continue when sent back she might be even be beaten or killed in front of the other slaves as an example of what would happen if one dared to leave this Kentucky plantation. While slavery in the North had been banned for quite sometime, racism still existed in those parts. De facto segregation was still prevalent although they weren’t being actively discriminated. For example in “From Africa to America quote “Some view our sable race with a scornful eye.” (3)  Blacks are viewed as being subhuman or lesser beings to whites, in terms of mannerisms and appearance. Thus many whites especially in the North believed that blacks should be enslaved for their own good as they are dumb animals incapable of rational thought.They were still prohibited from settling at certain neighborhoods and even going to certain stores and clubs sometimes among Whites. In a way their lives would not get better in those circumstances and are even barred from entering certain jobs when dealing directly with a white clientele unless it was domestic work.

         Both Phillis Wheatley and “Emily” two women who lived in a time where they have no rights. And are viewed as trusting but simple creatures at best to sexual objects at worst by white society. Despite of all this both have managed to find freedom and independence in their own and it’s through their texts that they live on.


Work Cited:

Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from AFRICA TO AMERICA.” Complete Writings, Penguin Classics, 2001, pp. 13.


Wheatley, Phillis. “The Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth.” Complete Writings, Penguin Classics, 2001, pp. 39.


Unknown. “Emily Runs Away.” 100 Dollars Reward,


Separation in Slavery: The Emotional Costs to Africans and Economic Benefits to Slave Owners

Woman and child on auction block,1800s


The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade facilitated the forced migration of millions of Africans to the Western World from its inception up until the end of the 19th Century.  In addition to the physical cruelties that the enslaved endured at the hands of their masters, they also suffered the emotional cruelties of being torn from their families, homes, and cultures.  For many, the uncertainty of the fates of their loved ones was a greater burden than that of the forced physical labor and ill treatment that they were met with upon arrival in the west. In his autobiographical work The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, the former slave and abolitionist speaks openly about the horrors he faced under slavery and the pain that losing his family caused him.  The digital archive image “Woman and child on auction block” conveys visually the threat which slavery presented to families that Equiano emphasizes in his writing.

Discovered in the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections Archive On Slavery, the photo entitled “Woman and child on auction block” offers a visual representation of the cruelty slaves suffered as they were purchased and separated from their loved ones.  In the image, an auctioneer presents his fellow white men with two slaves: one, an older woman, and the other a young girl; presumably, they are mother and daughter, or somehow else related. The girl is clinging to her mother tightly while eyeing the men bidding with suspicion and terror.  The ferocity with which the child holds onto the older woman suggests she fears separation, an all too common fate for slaves. The woman appears focused on comforting the child as best she can: she has her arms wrapped around her in a protective way, and her head is tilted down towards the girl as though she is committing her face to memory.  The white men are dressed in clothes which suggest immense wealth, while the slaves’ clothes are simple and revealing, which creates a stark contrast; the slaves are easily identifiable. In the lower left corner of the photo, a slave woman sits on the ground near the selling platform, nursing an infant as she waits her turn to be sold. The scene of separation which the woman and daughter on the platform display foreshadows the possibility of separation of the infant from his or her mother, as well.  In the background, a white man raises a whip into the air, foreshadowing the cruelty that all of these slaves will experience once they are sold. A white man standing directly in front of the platform, and another, perched on what appears to be a crate, hold whips as well, implying their readiness to use them, should the slaves misbehave on the auction block. Positioning the white men as primarily standing, or holding weapons, while the slaves appear fearful and taking a protective posture, serves to clearly depict the power hierarchy which exists between slave owners and the enslaved. The slave owners are portrayed as menacing and violent and the slaves are women and children, typically viewed as innocents.  These choices in subject depiction serve to paint an image that condemns the slave trade and the violence it perpetuates.

In his Interesting Narrative, Olaudah Equiano recounts his own experience with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and explores the ways in which his life has been shaped by his kidnapping and subsequent enslavement in Africa.  When he and his sister are first taken from their homes, they are terrified, but staying together helps them cope during this time of distress. Equiano describes that “the only comfort we had was in being in one another’s arms all that night, and bathing each other with our tears” (47).  Despite their hardship, their love for each other sustains them and keeps them going even when the future looks bleak. Like Equiano and his sister, the mother and daughter standing on the auction block in the digital archive image are being confronted with the knowledge that they might be separated during the slave buying process.  In what may be their last moments together, the mother chooses to soothe her daughter and offer her love and protection while it is still within her power. Equiano considers this aspect of slavery one of the most cruel practices it involves, because it means slaves must endure their suffering alone, without the comfort of their loved ones.  He writes, “Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery with the small comfort of being together and mingling their sufferings and sorrows” (60). Upon his separation from his sister, Equiano loses his last human link to the life he led in Igbo, and emphasizes how damaging it was to be parted from her without knowledge of her fate.  The family on the auction block faces a similar threat, and Equiano’s writing suggests that their separation will be one of the greatest challenges that they will face as slaves.

According to Equiano, capitalism and profit are the driving force behind such readiness to separate families.  As he observes the manner in which families are separated upon the slave ship’s arrival in Barbados, he reflects, “Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrifices to your avarice?” (60).  The Oxford English Dictionary defines avarice as the “inordinate desire of acquiring and hoarding wealth” (“avarice”, n.). In Equiano’s eyes, the greed of the slave owners was such that they would have no qualms about splitting apart families if it were more profitable to do so.  The clothes and bearings of the white men depicted in the digital archive image are indicative of their economic fortune, displaying the ways in which the slave masters directly benefited from the practices of the slave trade. As a businessman, Equiano understood quite well how money factored into these processes.  In his argument for the abolition of the trade at the end of The Interesting Narrative, Equiano offers an alternative to slavery that he hopes will appeal to those in power whose main motivation is profit.  He writes, “If the blacks were permitted to remain in their own country, they would double themselves every fifteen years.  In proportion to such increase will be the demand for manufactures” (235). If Africa is permitted to grow, Equiano posits, then Britain will see greater profit from trade in exports than it will from trafficking in people.  

In Olaudah Equiano’s The Interesting Narrative, he explores the emotional consequences of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade on the enslaved and examines the economic motivations behind the cruelties of slavery.  The separation from his family that he endured is reflected in the digital archive image of the “woman and child on auction block”, highlighting how common an occurrence this was for those who were sold into slavery.  The apparent wealth of the slave owners in the image contrasts with the poverty of those being sold into the trade serves to emphasize how the power dynamic between slaves and their masters was created to increase profits for the white men at the expense of African families.


Works Cited:


“avarice, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018. Accessed 3 October 2018.

Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of The Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, edited by Vincent Carretta, Penguin, 2003.

“Woman and child on auction block.” 19th Century. b16104370. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division. The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/6fb48e0e-0795-4ac1-e040-e00a18061701

A Slave Ship and Religious Enlightenment


During the late 16th century to early 19th century the Transatlantic Slave Trade was operated in order to transport various things. These things included crash crops, goods, clothing, food, and slaves. This is a drawing depicting the captives on the French slave ship, Vigilante. The image illustrates how captured slaves were transported to The New World. The diagram shown in the image shows the ship itself, the shape of the ship, and the containers it held inside. On the side, there are also different diagrams of the chains used to hold down the captives. This image depicts how the slaves were transported one on top of the other as cargo, the captives were stacked and made to sit in order to fit as many as possible. As one sees it you become aware of the inhuman ways in which slaves were transported and how they had to deal with being cramped up in a place for days on end. As one sees the image it gives the observer the feeling of melancholy at the atrocity these victims had to suffer for the profit of others. Based on these images I would like to read a little more about the overall shipment of slaves I think that it is something that shows the dehumanization of the slaves in that they were shipped like livestock. Some of the questions that this image might raise are how were such treatment of human beings allowed and encouraged? What thoughts did these victims have after having being treated in this manner?

In her poem “On being brought from Africa to America” Phillis Wheatley speaks about her experience in having been taken to Africa and brought to America, in her poem she gives details and thanks God for her voyage. The poem begins with the narrator telling the readers about the “mercy” of being brought from Africa, which is described as a “pagan land” (1). Then she states that this mercy has taught her “that there’s a God, and there’s a Saviour too” (3). She ends her poem by telling her readers “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,/ May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train” (7-8) telling people like her that even with all their “sins” and “darkness” they can still find salvation. With her words she shows how people saw people of color, she then tries to persuade them of the blessing that it is to be taken from Africa. She gives her readers a sense of hope that just as she has experienced religious salvation so can others as well if they just repent. We should take into consideration that these poems were written by a slave woman for a predominantly white audience. Her poems and her works had been published with the help of her owner, the reason for the success of her poetry was because as shown in this poem she does not speak out against slavery. Instead, Wheatley supports slavery or gives another benefit by showing people that slavery liberated her from the pagan religion she had once served. With this ideal, many people also came to believe that slavery also saved people from sin and paganism by converting them to Christianity.

The image shows a different view in the voyage to America from Africa in the poem written by Phillis Wheatley “On being brought from Africa to America.” This image illuminates the different views of the voyage to America, some held the ideas that it was a salvation from the “savagery” of Africa and its culture. This image goes against the ideas that Phillis Wheatley had about her voyage to America, she perceived it as a salvation and a gift from God. The terrible conditions in the image show that it was far from a blessing for those that endured it. The image shows us with great detail the way in which slaves were brought from Africa. As we see in the image some of them were laid out side by side and in the middle of the boat, many others were sat down in neat rows. Although one might think this would be uncomfortable at worst, we must remember that they had to stay in those positions for months at a time. In addition, during this voyage, the captured people did not see the light, did not have water or food and had to defecate and relieve themselves right in the same area. The heat of the place must have also been unbearable after many days in the same area, and the smells of bodies and feces must have been even worst with this heat. Unfortunately, it did not end there many perished during that trip and their decomposing bodies were left there for days. That is just some of the things they had to endure, not to mention rape, murder, and other such atrocities.

Moreover, For Wheatley, her experience in slavery was described by her as a positive miracle, something that saved her from the backwardness of her society and culture. In her poem Wheatley never speaks out against the system of slavery, instead, she appreciates it because it has brought her what she deems salvation from the savage ways. Her poem speaks about the miracle of having been brought to America, the image shows that the trip itself showed the lack of empathy from that captured them. Wheatley does not describe for us how she was transported from her home, instead, it informs us of the blessing that it has been in her life to travel to America where she was able to learn Christianity. The diagram shows us that this voyage was a far cry from a vacation or a miracle, it was a imprisonment and a death sentence.

Although Wheatley did not have the same life as many other slaves or the same ideas about slavery, she still experienced it and the long voyage to America. This image shows the conditions in which Wheatley most likely traveled, giving evidence that the voyage and destination were far from a blessing. It also gives a voice to all of those slaves that died in transit to new places due to the conditions portrayed in the image, those who see it will be able to understand just one part of the Triangular Slave Trade. From these two sources, we can see two widely different points of view on slavery. Both of these sources are very informative for us and give us two opinions that show us that the variety of human thinking is. In the end, it gives us a tiny glimpse into slavery and the things that slaves endured.



Work Cited:

  • Wheatley, Phillis. “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” Complete Writings, edited by Vincent Carretta, Penguin, 2001.
  • Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Interior of Slave ship, Vigilante.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-4d67-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Judging Between the Lines: Distinguishing the Middle Passage Voyage Between Oroonoko & Other Slaves

        In the illustration Bodies in the Sea (1854) by Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua, the viewer will first notice a beautiful and charming oil painting of a ship sailing away in the open seas on a bright, cloudy day with birds flying nearby. The illustration first presents another day at sea; however, as the viewer looks downwards in the image, the viewer will then begin to notice unusual dark shapes just a few feet away from the ship, perhaps slowly sinking into deeper waves. As the viewer peers more clearly into the image, the viewer will be able to understand that the dark shapes in the water are not sea animals of any kind, no seals or big fish; the dark shapes in the water are the bodies of slaves abandoned and left to die at sea. As the viewer begins to understand what the illustration conveys, then the viewer may realize that the image provokes thoughts of disgust, feelings of horror, rage, and sadness. The viewer sees the bodies of those who may have been mothers, fathers, children, and loved ones, taken out of his or her homeland, away from everything he or she ever knew. The viewer is left with the idea that these slaves have been simply tossed aside to the waves of the sea like garbage, to be forgotten about without justice.

         The critical questions that arise from the illustration are: From the artist’s perspective, how did the artist feel while creating this image? Does the artist have a connection to the history behind this image? Was the artist possibly a slave him or herself and can relate to the experience portrayed here, especially as a participant of the Middle Passage? How long did the artist take to create this image and how did the artist feel while creating this image? Did the artist possibly know someone who was treated in the same way? It also prompts the question to learn if this image did not only become well known but also became a popular image to persuade individuals to become abolitionists.

         Similarly, as the painting Bodies in the Sea portrays the idea of an artist’s ambiguous perception of slaves, in Aphra Behn’s novella Oroonoko or, the Royal Slave, the author also presents her protagonist Oroonoko changes as a character based on the reader’s perspective of him. The phrase to judge a book by its cover is useful in order to help one unpack how an author conveys an imagined fiction of a slave and not the reality of it. Slaves were deemed through various aspects such as his or her appearance, skin color, intelligence, sense of knowledge of European customs and cultures, and even through what he or she is wearing or not wearing. The connection between the novella and the illustration is that both objects touch on the themes of prejudice, discrimination, treatment based on which slave is considered unique and unusual, and the fear of rejection slaves may have had if they were to be perceived in many forms based on whatever white slave owners and buyers thought made them different than anyone else.

         In Aphra Behn’s novella Oroonoko or, the Royal Slave, the reader is presented with a description of the main character Oroonoko’s short life as a royal prince in Surinam, a kingdom in Africa. He is described as a beautiful, strong and intelligent individual much different than Behn could have ever expected for a black man from Africa. However, no matter how much beauty, strength and morality Oroonoko could have had, he would still eventually become a slave after falling in love with a woman named Imoinda. Unlike many other slaves, Oroonoko was allowed to be married and live happily with the woman he loved without the fear of Mr. Trefry, a white slave owner going after Imoinda because Mr. Trefry grew fond of Oroonoko and knew Oroonoko was not to be treated like any other slave. After Oroonoko falls in love and marries Imoinda, he does not realize that their love for each other will soon lead to their undoing.

         A specific moment that connects Oroonoko on how he is treated “differently” from other slaves is once he realizes he has become a slave, Oroonoko makes the conscious decision of telling Mr. Trefry that he wishes to be treated no differently than any slave. To which is not possible because even if Oroonoko is not a royal anymore, Behn makes it clear that there is something different about him that anyone can clearly see, to realize that Oroonoko is not an ordinary slave. Although he was a prince back in Africa, is aware he is incredibly intelligent, Oroonoko is described as looking much like a European and can entertain Mr. Trefry due to the fact that Oroonoko is fluent in English and French. The manner in which Behn chooses to distinguish Oroonoko as a slave and as a royal, as people will still understand he is not a typical slave and will be considered different, “the royal youth appeared in spite of the slave, and people could not help treating him after a different manner without designing it; as soon as they approached him, they venerated and esteemed him; his eyes insensibly commanded respect, and his behavior insinuated it into every soul.” (Behn 43). This is a specific moment that expresses how although Oroonoko is a slave unlike other slaves from Africa, he has the option of letting his master know what he wants and actually be listened to because he looks and presents himself much differently than a regular slave, as it is fairly clear that Oroonoko is not just an ordinary slave and he should not be thought of as one. Behn does not go into much detail on Oroonoko’s hardships as a royal nor as a slave, unlike the artist in the illustrations; therefore, there is a distinction on how Oroonoko is treated “differently” than other slaves. This moment is significant from this piece of the text and the illustration because unlike the image as the artist chooses to present the brutal truths of slavery, to exhibit how not everyone would be treated and viewed the same as Oroonoko. Whereas Behn makes the decision to not depict the harsh truths of slavery, instead she just chooses to give a brief explanation on how he is a slave, but it is not until his death that Behn will describe how he will undergo the death of a slave. The story that arises by putting the object and the text in connection with one another is a regular slave owner with a cigar in his mouth, purchasing a dark-skinned, almost to bare naked, with shackles on his or her arms and legs slave and taking one look at the slave and saying “you are ugly but you will do,” with an ominous tone to clearly express that the slave is easily replaceable. That slave will undergo any form of torture for being viewed as ugly and simply the slave owner can do whatever he wishes, unlike Oroonoko, who even as a slave was treated “differently” because he was perceived more as a European than as a black man.

        Another particular moment that connects on how Oroonoko is treated “differently” from other slaves is when Oroonoko who is also known as Caesar, which is a name known to be strong and powerful. This is a significant event because the fact that Oroonoko was given a name to represent strength, talent, skill, and toughness, he was not given any simple name nor referred by Behn or anyone else in the novella by the “n” word. “I ought to tell you that the Christians never buy any slaves but they give them some name of their own, their native ones being likely very barbarous and hard to pronounce; so that Mr. Trefry gave Oroonoko that of Caesar, which name will live in that country as long as that (scarce more) glorious one of the great Roman…” (43). The narrative that comes to the surface is by the reader coming to the realization that slaves who are favored will be given special treatment and even acknowledged in a nicer way than slaves who are thrown aside and considered as property. The story that emerges by putting the object and the text in connection with one another is that slaves who are given a name that is not cruel and ruthless are the ones most likely to be remembered and even admired by someone unexpected. A slave that is snatched away from his or her homeland, viewed as nothing but as a being with dark skin with almost to no intelligence and ignorance of European customs and traditions and thought to be useless before the ship reaches its destination is no Oroonoko/ Caesar, he or she is simply a “negro.”

        In conclusion, the lingering questions that continue to emerge after a close reading and analysis of the image and of the text as the harsh reality of slavery was exposed by several artists and authors, obviously not every slave was viewed and respected like Oroonoko/Caesar and treated cruelly unlike he was. Therefore, during the voyage from the Middle Passage to take slaves to the West Indies, could there have been any possible way for a slave who was perceived to be like Oroonoko? Could he or she eventually have gained a certain, amiable and more intelligent manner that was considered more tolerable and esteem like his? The answer may be unknown but perhaps may have been possible, especially towards abolitionists. If so, are there any documents, whether in images or novellas that conveys that example? An important implication of these questions is that a larger scope implication is that in simple terms, no matter how many centuries it has been, even continuing to modern day, there is always judgment and discrimination for those who are thought to be different than a white person, it was clear during the time of slavery: books, (slaves) were judged and deemed unworthy by their cover.


Works Cited

Baquaqua, Mahommah Gardo. Bodies in the Sea. 1854. 485703. Art and Artifacts   

        Division. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York.





Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko, edited by Janet Todd, Penguin, 2004.

Separated: A cost of Slavery

Woman and child on auction block,1800s

The transatlantic era encompasses lots of rich historical artifacts which introduce viewers to the period in  a variety of ways. Two items from the Transatlantic era that reflect the actions of this time, is a piece of art held in the Nypl special collections named, “Woman and child on auction block” and Phyllis Wheatley’s poem, “To the Right Honourable William Earl of Dartmouth.” Both pieces hold ties to slavery and specifically portray how separation which occurs through the Transatlantic Trade impacts the lives of various slaves.

The illustration titled, “Woman and Child on Auction Block” is done to capture a still life scenario of a moment during a slave trade. The illustration depicts a live auction where slaves in their native lands are waiting to be sold. You can see that they’re in the slave’s homeland from the array of palm trees and the difference in clothing from suits on the auction buyers versus traditional like wrapped cloth on the slaves. The elements of this scene present many buyers, a shouting auctioneer and a variety of slaves either as a family or a singular slave. It is a detailed scenario of what many know as a slave trade, but allows the viewer to visualize, feel, and understand the moment when a mother and child like many slaves of this time are separated from one another. On the other hand, the poem is written by a slave, Phyllis Wheatley herself. Her poem is a congratulations to the Earl but speaks of her conflicts in comparison to the Earl’s successful pursuits.

In the start of Wheatley’s poem when writing about how the colonies should, (line 17) “no longer dread the iron chains of tyranny” she is subtlety hinting at the chains of slavery. Slaves who are barred by these chains have no chance at freedom, and she uses this as a chance to compare how these irons chains can grant freedom as well as suppression which now the Earl should know is a relief and would be a relief to slaves had they not be barred. This loss of freedom is her introduction into the ideas incorporating separation. The first steps of separation when taking a slave from their home starts with the chains that are placed on the slave when getting ready to deport and take them away.  In comparison the painting also reflects what is about to occur as separation begins. The scene of a slave auction which shows the auctioneer trying to sell a mother and daughter reflect how they will be taken away either together under one buyer or not. The women as a result will be handed to a slave owner and their freedom in possession of an individual rather than their own lives because of this separation.

In Wheatley’s poem she goes onto explain more about her experiences with separation as she continues to write within her poem. She expresses in line 25 “By feeling hearts alone best understood, I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate, was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat: What pangs excruciating must molest, What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?” Her remarks are personal and show how because of slavery and the colonization of Africa she was taken from her parents. She was removed and as she emotionally writes torn from her homeland and birth parents because of the slave trade. This portion was meant to convey to the Earl her understanding of pain as the colonizers felt with the British but also boldly proclaiming her miseries of slavery as a result. Similarly, what is portrayed in the painting is the same thing. Although we do not know the story of the women and children sold these frightened faced women are being sold and snatched from their land because of the colonizers and sent away to whoever buys them. Furthermore, as result of this slavery we can see the impacts of separation even further when examining the male slave being whipped by his owner in the background.  The male slave who we can either assume is part of a family or sold on his own will also be torn from the members of his family. And we can assume because of his resistance to being sold and taken away he is reprimanded by one of the white buyers. The consequences as seen by the forced separation of slaves through Wheatley and the individuals in the illustration help viewers to better understand and interpret the consequences slaves must suffer because of the trade.

As seen through both mediums of Phyllis Wheatley’s poem and the still life painting we come to understand the connection of these two pieces in their ability to capture the aspects of separation by force of slavery.  The pieces themselves are two of many artifacts throughout history that can help us see the memories of the time and the results and actions of the era. Wheatley’s poem although seemingly decipherable leaves us with questions on her feelings of slavery and her connection as an author and how this combination has affected her. And the paining itself leaves us open to the fact that portrayals of art often leave us with a view into the time but any questions about who, where and what details of the piece we cannot ask because there are no survivors. Most importantly both works help us to take a closer look at this moment of time and reflect on the details we see and read which allow us to understand the period of slavery and its part of history.

Works Cited

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. “Woman and Child on Auction Block.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 180.


Wheatley, Phyllis. “On Being Brought from Africa to America.” Complete Writings, edited by Vincent Caretta, Penguin, 2001.

Endless Meanings of Love

Woman and child on auction block,1800s

Woman and Child on Auction Block

In this illustration from the New York Public Library Collections, there is a white man on a pedestal with a paper sign that says “Sale” and he has an audience of white males. There are a few black female slaves with children that are being held for auction. In the background there are a few black male slaves being tortured. The woman with the young child look like they are about to be separated from each other. This image brings a feeling of sadness. This illustration evokes empathy in its viewer because the families being separated from each other. The audience feels sorry for these people having to go through these situations. This image raises many questions, including: I would like to know how colored people were taken and how were they taken apart from their families, as well as to where would these auctions take place? Also, if the people in these auctions were mostly middle class or upper class?

This image almost brought up the connection of Oroonoko and Imoinda in the novel Oroonoko (1688) by Aphra Behn about how they were separated and sold into slavery. Behn portrays Oroonoko as a blend of Roman and African traits and has lived peacefully among the whites and was even a slave owner. Oroonoko and Imoinda were in love with each other, but the elderly king wanted Imoinda for himself. He conveyed this plan to separate the two and eventually sold Imoinda into slavery. Oroonoko is a story about separation and the agony that follows. This part of the story relates to the image due to the fact that we can see two colored people being separated from each other. A mother and daughter and their love for each other is seen through how devastated they look. Of course, a mother’s love is not the same as the love that people in love have, but it connects in the way that Oroonoko and Imoinda’s love for one another is being taken away from each other. Literally being torn apart, while the mother and daughter are also being torn apart from each other. When two people are separated from each other they usually go through some sad phase, especially if it involves deep feelings of love. In the story Oroonoko was devastated that Imoinda was not with him anymore because he believed that she had died. “The first effects of Imoinda’s death had given him; insomuch as having received a thousand kind embassies from the king, and invitation to return to court, he obeyed, though with no little reluctance, and when he did so, there was a visible change in him, and for a long time he was much more melancholy than before.” (36). Further on into the story Oroonoko was taken to the British colony of Suriname, where he was sold into slavery to a relatively kind man who sees him as a friend. Eventually he and Trefry (the man who bought him from the captain) talk about who Imoinda was to Oroonoko and how he was in love with her. Trefry felt sympathy for him and decides to help him by giving him the name Caesar. Trefry talks about this woman slave named Clemene and how beautiful she is. Wanting Oroonoko to meet her. Little did they know that he would soon be reunited with the love of his life (41-47). Oroonoko does not produce as much sympathy from its readers as in the illustration “Woman and child on auction block.”

Throughout the short novel Oroonoko goes through a lot. He went from being a slave owner to being sold as one by a so-called friend. The despondent Oroonoko realizes he now will never be free and that his child will be born in captivity. He informs Imoinda that he has decided to kill her honorably, take revenge on Byam, and then kills himself. She thanks her husband for allowing her to die with dignity, and he cuts her throat and removes her face with his knife. “The lovely, young and adorned victim lays herself down before the sacrificer, while he, with a hand resolved, and a heartbreaking within, gave the fatal stroke, first cutting her throat, and then severing her yet smiling face from that delicate body, pregnant as it was with the fruits of tenderest love.” (72). But Oroonoko becomes prostrated with grief and can never generate enough energy to go after Byam. Sinking ever deeper into depression, he waits for eight days next to the body of his dead wife until the stench brings Byam’s men to the site, where they immediately set about killing him. Killing the one person who meant the world to him along with the unborn baby. This kind of separation lead Oroonoko to his death.



Works Cited

“Woman and Child on Auction Block.” NYPL Digital Collections, digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/6fb48e0e-0795-4ac1-e040-e00a18061701.