I think one of the most defining themes in “The Royal Slave” is that Ceasar is always presented as a “noble savage” and in many ways seems to be embellished about in the story. This is very similar to many different writings, including some that were discussed in a class on New Hampshire History at NHTI. Both the writings from this time laud over the ways that the tribal cultures are in many ways better than the English settlers at the time, and usually seem to push the barbarity that the British pushed onto natives of conquered lands onto themselves. However, to push them as noble savages is in fact just as much of a problem as calling them simply barbarians. This is because in doing so, you still continue to observe them from the outside, and therefore judge them from the lens that you are intrinsically given, being raised in European culture.
Along with this, many of the details of the story don’t seem to add up, with Oronooka being treated far too kindly for what would be expected of a slave from this period of colonial settlement. This leads me to believe that either the author is writing from a perspective of ignorance, or simply chooses to ignore the harsh treatment he received, until his eventual rebellion, and subsequent death.
All in all, the idea of the noble savage is an issue that is still prevalent in many forms of media, such as the film Avatar, and it fetishises the cultures of people who are simply attempting to live and survive in a more natural way than Westerners might be used too.
One thought on “The Theme of the Noble Savage”
Alright, so first of all, I’m not sure who this is, but The King in Yellow is incredible… and I’m wondering… have you seen the Yellow Sign?
Secondly, I completely agree with your assessment of one of the many problematic aspects of Behn’s story. I think that if we accept the idea that Oroonoko was in some was exceptional in comparison to other men who were enslaved then we really imply the narrative that for most of the slaves it doesn’t really matter how they were treated. To put him on a pedestal and say that he deserves better is to say that all of the people who were put through the horrors of slavery deserved it. The Noble Savage trope just kicks the racist can further down the road.
Well done, King in Yellow.