Social Hierarchy and Gender Roles in Fantomina and Oroonoko

Gender roles and social hierarchy play a vital part in many literary works. Milton’s Paradise Lost strengthens this argument portraying gender as the downfall of humanity. Gender roles and a hierarchal universe places Man, which is associated with the spirit, above Woman, which is associated with desire and the human body.

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Fantomina and Oroonoko are stores of this hierarchy being twisted and thrown out of order and then end with the return to the assumed natural order. Both Fantomina and Oroonoko, pregnancy is a symbol of the necessity of keeping to the traditional social and hierarchal order in those times.

Oroonoko is a manly man, a general in his nation’s army and a leader in his community that is recognized by all. He is placed at the top of the social order. He finds a suitable wife named Imoinda who he falls madly in love with. Continue reading to find out that both were betrayed by their king, Imoinda sold into slavery and Oroonoko tricked into slavery. The two, Oroonoko and Imoinda, both once at the top of the social order now placed in the bottom. Immediately his captures recognized his royalty, hence the subtitle The Royal Slave, but how can one be royalty and also a slave? This statues threatens the social order of hierarchy.

Oroonoko, once a prince brought down to nothing wants to regain his freedom that he lost and immediately starts to plan his escape. But an unfortunate event takes place as Imoinda becomes pregnant, which is a symbolic form of impending reckoning. Both Imoinda and Oroonoko become increasingly distressed about the pregnancy. They don’t want their new born baby to be born into slavery when both are high born in their native land. The increasing thought in both their minds was the unlikely chance of their liberty and not raising their child as a free people. Imoinda’s pregnancy solidifies their doomed spot at the bottom of the social hierarchy; conceiving a child into a life of slavery seems to make their slave status more and more real.

In Fantomina, gender roles and social hierarchy are put to the test. The protagonist in the story creates many disguises and characters which are used to seduce a man named Beauplaisir. Switching the normal role of genders where the man usually seduces the women, this high-born lady takes the initiative. The protagonist trick is that she is concealing her true identity from Beauplaisir, whom she loves, while keeping the appearance of her high-born social status. The story suggests that she was capable of getting away with this trickery, but her downfall was her pregnancy and the return of her mother. The protagonist was even denied Beauplaisirs hand in marriage since it was all a trick and he had no idea. Fitting that her pregnancy solidified her fate. She went from being a high born women to a nun away from her family, Beauplasisr and her baby. Her being sent away to a nunnery places the social order and gender roles back into place and what was thought as normal.

Oroonoko and Fantomina, were both written by females who have more of an understanding of the realities of pregnancy. Both Fantomina and Imoinda’s pregnancies, under different circumstances, would not have resulted in one’s death and another’s death to her old life. The fact though is that both women were involved in trying to dismantle the normal social order which resulted in both pregnancies ending tragically. Both authors were trying to prove a point, but ultimately social stability is more important than social progress.

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