The first chapter examines Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (1688). This early narrative shows that the forms of character construction traced throughout the book accompany the emergent novel from the outset. The chapter complicates Martha Nussbaum’s accounts of the novel as a means of expanding our “circles of concern” as human beings. Oroonoko depicts its protagonist as a potential model for larger patterns of social behavior, but also emphasizes how easily his words and gestures are trivialized or distorted by the partial responses they incite from his communities. To understand his plight, Behn suggests, requires one not to extol its generalizability, but to accept how difficult it is for this particular represented person to model the values and virtues he thinks he ought to sustain.
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