Shadow Dynamics in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko


  • Matthew A. Fike Winthrop University



Aphra Behn (1640–1689)—the first woman to write professionally in English—is remembered today primarily for her novel Oroonoko, or the Royal Slave: A True History (1688), which addresses both the abuses of slaves in Surinam and the psychological complexity of enslavement. This essay uses Behn’s portrayal of slavery to examine complementary processes that hold individuation at bay and thus propel the events toward tragedy: men’s shadow projection manifests as brutality, especially against Oroonoko; and present women are objects of anima projection, while absent women symbolize the lack of men’s anima integration. In addition, the narrator’s frequent stress on female characters’ tempering influence on men, which anticipates Jung’s essentialism (his attribution of gender to biological sex), is cultural accretion rather than psychological truth. The novel’s essentialist position, however, deconstructs itself because of Imoinda’s prowess in battle and the narrator’s own unrealized complicity in slavery. Ultimately, by providing a compensatory voice, the novel critiques the culture of slavery that it reflects.