The Tragic Lives of Oroonoko and Julius Caesar
In the story of Oroonoko, Oroonoko, an African prince, is forced to face many trials and tribulations. Eventually he is given the name “Caesar”, and although this may seem like a small detail, it plays an integral part in the story. It is no coincidence that he was given the name so famously associated with the story and character Julius Caesar. This should not just be something the reader passes by without a thought. Author Aphra Behn makes this change to purposely let the reader see what is in the coming future. Oroonoko going by Caesar can foreshadow the events to come. Oroonoko can also be compared to Julius Caesar because of the great man he is regarding characteristics and social status. The main reason for this name change is to foreshadow the tragedy and betrayal Oroonko will face, just like Julius Caesar.
The story of Oroonoko starts with the African prince participating in battle. He has been trained to be a great leader and a military man. The narrator of the story shares her opinion, saying it was said “the most illustrious courts could not have produced a braver man” (Behn 2140). After his battles, Oroonoko falls in love with a women name Imoinda. This love becomes forbidden, so Oroonoko sneaks into the King’s house to see her. He gets caught and is forced to run and leave her. Because of this event, the King sells Imoinda into slavery, but Oroonoko is told she is dead. Here the reader witnesses the first tragic event to happen in the story. Oroonoko must deal with the loss of his lover, but he keeps fighting and tries to move on with his life. Just when things are starting to look up, Oroonoko is betrayed again. When he and some other men go aboard a ship, they are taken captive and are informed they will be shipped and sold as slaves. Oroonoko is sold to Mr. Trefy, but is never put to work because of his higher social status and overall appearance. It is this point in the story when Oroonoko is given the name Caesar by Mr. Trefy. Trying to “Americanize” him by giving him another name just turned him into a larger symbol for the reader to analyze. During this time, Trefy also unknowingly reunites Oroonoko with Imoinda, and their love can now start. Together at last, their love flourishes, and for a small amount of time, there is peace in Oroonoko’s life. Turmoil begins again when Oroonoko convinces all the slaves to revolt and run away. Soon they are all being hunted down, and Oroonoko must think of a way to bring his wife and unborn child freedom. Seeing no happy ending in sight, Oroonoko creates a plan to kill his wife, then himself. He succeeds in killing his wife, but then is overcome with guilt and is left mourning over his wife. He is unable to kill himself, and eventually he is found. Byam and his men tie him up and start to torture him. They chop off body parts until he bleeds out and dies. This horrific ending is representative of the tragic life of Oroonoko. The narrator decides that Oroonoko “died [a] great man, worthy of a better fate” (2178). Oroonoko faced many times of betrayal and tragedy, just as Julius Caesar did.
The story of Julius Caesar opens in a similar fashion, with Caesar returning from battle. Later, Caesar is walking through the parade being welcomed home when a soothsayer tells him he is in danger and needs to beware. This fortune is foreshadowing the death that Julius does not know about. After the parade, Brutus and Cassius meet privately to have their own conversation. They both decide they do not wish to see Caesar as the new King. They do not think he would be a good ruler because he is weak. Already, they are going behind Caesars back and planning to betray him. At one point in the story, Caesar discusses with Antony that he does not trust Cassius, and the reader hoped that he would trust his gut. Later, Caesar falls while the crowd is cheering for him, proving Brutus’ point about him being weak and unfit to lead. Brutus and Cassius continue to go behind his back and plan his tragic end. Cassius forged letters and he plans to give them to Brutus so that he can have his full support in getting rid of Caesar. The two men meet up with a group and every one decides they must kill Caesar as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Caesars wife is having nightmares predicting his death. Even the wife suffers this tragedy before it has happened. She is forced to dream horrible nightmares about Caesar’s blood in the streets. On the day of the crowning and planned assassination, Artemidorus tries to get a letter to Caesar warning him about Brutus and his gang, but Caesar dismisses him and keeps going. Before addressing the crowd, the men gang up on Caesar and stab him, the final blow done by Brutus. Caesar is distraught and shocked by his friend’s action of betrayal. All the betrayal the reader saw coming went right under Caesar’s nose. He is trying to step up and lead, while his so-called friends are plotting against him.
Both Oroonoko and Julius Caesar lived lives that led to a tragic ending. These men were also apart of very high social status. They were fighters and rulers, and were being praised for their accomplishments. Tragedy struck these men quickly though, and they both had to make choices that would greatly affect their futures. While Oroonoko had to deal with more sorrow in his life, the moment of Caesar’s death left him in great heartache looking into Brutus’ eyes. Even though, for the most part, Caesar was unaware of what was going to happen to him, his life was full of tragedy. All of his colleagues and friends were planning to kill him, and most would wonder if their reasoning was sound or not. Both stories’ deceptions however have similar explanations. The people involved in these scandals were after power, and had greed or self-interest in mind. Through the actions and events in these men’s lives, the reader can see the similarities of Oroonoko and Julius Caesar.
Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed., vol. C, Pearson Education, Inc., 2010, pg. 2137-2178.
George, Clarence. “Et Tu, Brute?” Boxing. http://www.boxing.com/et_tu_brute.html
Shakespeare, William. “The Life and Death of Julius Caesar”. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. http://shakespeare.mit.edu/julius_caesar/full.html