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Portrayal of Feminism Shown in Behn’s Oroonoko and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: Comparative Analysis

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Within this essay, I will be comparing and contrasting the portrayal of feminism shown in Behn’s Oroonoko and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. ‘Numerous critics have analyzed Oroonoko from the perspectives of genre, cultural history, feminism, and postcolonialism – as a faux travel narrative, an early romance novella, a political allegory of the Stuart monarchy, a proto-feminist narrative, an anti-slavery critique, and a cosmopolitan morality tale.’

Women were living in a misogynistic era which meant that unfortunately the strong morals of feminism,which prevails in today’s society, was not apparent as it went against the classical patriarchal normalities held by the society at the time. There were women who did, however, exhibate their need to be treated as equals to men. These women wished to be granted the freedom to be educated so that they can do all things that men were able to do. Aphra Behn is an example of one of these women who was widely seen as a principal figure of feminism, since she was one of the earliest female British authors to make a living with her writing. In her novella, “Oroonoko”, she disputes many of the expected normalities of women at the time through her educated female narrator and her main character Imoinda who Behn illustrates as a strong dilligent female. Both of these prominent female narratives created by Behn would have been some of the first of its kind to have been written into literature from a female author.

The Caucasian narrator herself is included in the marginal position as a female in a patriarchal colonial society. Behn tries to create a prominent voice for the main narrative as well as an air of authority of narrating as any man would be able to hold at that time.However, ‘in her narrator’s concern for what to include or exclude, Behn assumes that her primary audience is male, commenting that the ‘thousand little accidents’ of Oroonoko’s life ‘yet might prove tedious and heavy to my reader, in a world where he finds diversions for every minute, new and strange.’ Behn’s prominent use of the pronouns “I” and “we” and the repetition of “my pen” allows her to speak out and express her feelings from the viewpoint of the weakest part of society, as a woman. Despite her lower position within the patriarchal society, she uses her authority as a white person to defend the heroic Oroonoko as well as illustrating the importance of his story. The narrator feels pity Oroonoko since his story can only be told from a female narrative as she says, ‘But his misfortune was to fall in an obscure world, that afforded only a female pen to celebrate his fame’. This illustrates the unequal worth of men and women in the novel as this shows that no male author would tell the story of a slave as they do not believe that the story from the minority matters. This inequality is also a reflection of women at the time. She is writing the novel because the narrator is seen as a projection of herself and so she will takes part in the story as well.

Aphra Behn portrays Imoinda in a very positive light as “the Brave, the Beautiful, and the Constant Imoinda”. She even calls her Oroonoko’s ‘Heroic Imoinda’. During this time, women had no choice but to follow what they were told by men or otherwise endure heavy punishment and shame as it went against the very morals of the patriarchal society. However, Imoinda is seen as a hero since she goes against the normality. Despite being a black female dealing with slavery, Imoinda is not wholly passive, silent, and under the complete control of male dominance which differentiates her from the other women.

When Imoinda refuses the king’s lustful advances at first, she was obeying the Royal Veil. She platantly refused to consenting to the king`s attempts to rape her. This is an truely valiant decision as it conveyed that woman at the time had the right to choose her partner, and that they able to say no whenever she feels exploited or violated. The Royal Veil is a useful yet corrupt tool for the king to enslave women for his sexual fantasies. Iomanda courageously stands against those misogynistic tools, methods, and practices.

Another example of Imoinda’s feminism morals is when she fights the slave owners using bows and arrows which eventually caused the fatality of a man. Whilst the other slave wives stood back silently and watched their husbands fight, the pregnant Imoinda takes control of her own destiny and carries out the necessary actions that she felt needed to be done to ensure her and her unborn child’s freedom and safety. Imoinda’s diligent disposition is furthermore conveyed when she “faster pleads for death” when Oroonoko suggests that death is the best solution for both of them to escape slavery as there was no other way for them to gain freedom. Here, Imoinda displays the upmost bravery, strength, and the ability to be active in an important decision that will ultimately be her fate. Not only is she protecting herself from a lifetime of slavery and possible rape but she is also taking on the responsibility of being a mother and protecting her child from being born into slavery and unfortunately, never knowing freedom.

Aphra Behn and Imoinda`s character, go against the normalised classical female roles by using their strong voices and actions to either tell their important stories or free themselves from the tight vices that they find themselves in. Aphra Behn sets an example for the women of the future to find the strength and resiliance in order to fight for their rights to freedom and to remain diligent. She has portrayed herself as an early example of being a feminist.

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Swift’s view of woman could have been influenced by the times and the society that he lived in. The lack of a maternal bond in Swift’s infant years and the minimal contact he had with any females during his childhood may have also had an input into his intimate seclusion. Jonathan Swift often regards the female body with disgust and dread at the glimpse of a woman’s body carrying out its natural bodily functions. Therefore, many believe from this that he loathed women and regarded them as the weaker gender. Swift conveys women as lesser creatures, likening them to vigorous, filthy, and dense animals, which ultimately leads to Gulliver’s distaste towards women by the end of the novel. In Lilliput, Gulliver exemplifies the clumsiness of women, through his recollection of the fire. Urinating on the flames appears to be the only solution to the fire hich is an act so crude and filthy that no woman would be able to handle it or would not be expected to carry that action out. This leaves the queen enraged when Gulliver urinates on her apartment in an attempt to extinguish the flames. As a result, she decides to decree that public urination is to be prohibited and that the tarnished apartment is be left alone.

In “A Voyage to Brobdingnag”, when the farmer’s wife is presented Gulliver, she shrieks with disdain, as if she had discovered an insect.Gulliver then discovers that his senses was far more sharp in proportion to his size. Everything is magnified to him as if he is examining everything through a microscope. After close analysis at the women’s anatomy, Gulliver observes that their skin seems uneven, dirty and oily as well as their unavoidable and repulsive scent. The observation of their large pores, spots, pimples, hair and moles is nauseating for Gulliver and he is even more revolted by one maiden in particular who encourages Gulliver to touch her nipple. Gulliver then realises that the women of England, which he has always found so stunning, actually have the same imperfections, but they were not as apparent to him because they are of equal proportions: “This made me reflect upon the fair skins of our English ladies, who appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own size, and their defects not to be seen but through a magnifying glass, where we find by experiment that the smoothest and whitest skins look rough and course and ill coloured.” The only characters to have such ugly scared flesh are the women. Menalso possessed this unattractive quality, but this was only designated to the women.

Swift finds women attractive but is also repelled by them as women’s artifice and smells, to Swift, must have been both erotic and disgusting. Gulliver encounters a few different women in the novel but their opinions nor their individual voices are ever heard. We never find out what women think or how they feel about their own society in the novel. Women’s voices were not important. A closer examination of Swift’s work shows that attacking women is a misconception. Swift did believe that women are entitled to an education,despite society’s contrasting view on this matter.

In order for him to express his social thoughts, Swift employs the female gender through his work.However, his text is more concerned with satirizing humanity,so that he can illustrate the ideal human existence. Swift magnifies the characteristics of each society, so that they are distinctive. In fact, Swift believes that women are on an essentially equal degree with men in three different areas. These areas are as follows: social accountability, educational abilities and purpose of existence. Swift’s views are remarkable as they are substantially different from the views held by society. It is through his work that he illustrates his belief that women deserved a more prominent role in English society as he also disregarded the view that a woman’s worth was only through her physical attributes, rather than her joyful and kind disposition.

Swift did not judge the genders separately for their actions, but found them to be equally contributing factors in a society that was filled with immorality, injustice and corruption. Swift writes ” the handsomest among these Maids of Honor, a pleasant, frolicsome girl of sixteen, would sometimes set me astride one of her nipples…” The clear reference to the girl’s youthful age and the sexual behaviour that she has displayed, signifys the lack of morality instilled in the young ladies of Swift’s generation.These examples shown by Swift is not intended to belittle these young ladies, but to highlight the consequences of their promiscious behavior.

Swift opposed the behavior of both men and women in general in which he puts women on equal standing as men, where they will be judged based upon their capabilities as well as their persona, rather than object of virtue. He uses extreme language when describing bodily functions in order to exemplify equality, which also illustrates the absurdity of the whole situation. Essentially what Swift is emphasing is that the value of a woman should be based on her temperament and not on her appearance.

Swift longed for a more superior human race rather than the one he was writing in. He wanted a society in which women were treated to men in regards to education, opportunities and respect. A society in which both genders greatly valued their virtue, morals and intelligence.Through his use of satire to convey his opinions of the human race, Swift highlights the flaws of mankind and his own ideas for the improvement of humanity.

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Portrayal of Feminism Shown in Behn’s Oroonoko and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: Comparative Analysis. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from
“Portrayal of Feminism Shown in Behn’s Oroonoko and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: Comparative Analysis.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
Portrayal of Feminism Shown in Behn’s Oroonoko and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: Comparative Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Mar. 2023].
Portrayal of Feminism Shown in Behn’s Oroonoko and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: Comparative Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 14 [cited 2023 Mar 27]. Available from:
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