Compassion and Cruelty in Oroonoko and Waiting for the Barbarians

Although written decades apart, both Oroonoko and Waiting for the Barbarians are strikingly similar owing to the fact that they incorporate similar themes. However, the two short novels are also different in the manner in which they present the stories and the styles used in the text. Regardless, though, the writers are effective in raising important issues that continue to affect societies all over the world. Indeed, issues of love and cruelty are universal and continue to be experienced in the entire world and this is evidenced in the sharp contrast of the times when the two were written. Ultimately Oroonoko and Waiting for the Barbarians are both testament to the existence of both cruelty and compassion in different societies.

Cruelty drives most societies in the world and is characteristic of most leaders and those in authority. In Oroonoko, cruelty is expressed in the form of betrayal which is widely discussed in the plot. In fact, so widespread is the vice that it is evidenced in the royal family where it is least expected. The first instance of betrayal is experienced by Oroonoko, the heir to the king, from the king himself. The book unfolds with the king first stealing Oroonoko’s wife, and then later selling her into slavery. In fact, it is this instance of betrayal that shapes the culmination of other examples of betrayal in the text with Oroonoko constantly facing the dilemma of having to choose between his honor, freedom and love for Imoinda (Behn, pp 26). In another instance, Oroonoko seems to be the center of betrayal when the Captain entraps him with fake promises. The captain invites Oroonoko and his friends to a party in the ship and then auctions them into slavery.

Cruelty is also evident in Waiting for the Barbarians but this time in the form of torture. Although there are different forms of cruelty in the two novels, each of this is evidence of the misuse of power by the leaders and those in authority. This form of cruelty is witnessed by both the magistrate and the barbarians with the latter being served with the largest portion of the same. In one instance for example, an old man and his grandson face the wrath of this cruelty when Colonel Joll uses torture to interrogate them for crimes they had no idea of.  The colonel is quite notorious in the use of torture as a toll of getting information from the barbarians. However, the use of torture is always based on his own personal judgment therefore leading to its misuse. For instance, the colonel admits to have sourced information from some barbarians when in truth they were just mere nomads and fishermen.

In addition to cruelty, compassion is also widespread in the two novels with several instances portraying the importance of having such in a society. In essence, the existence of compassion provides an important solvent to dissolve the cruelty that is prevalent in the two novels and, in extension, in the entire world. For instance, the slave owners think of Oroonoko as too special to be taken for a slave. Although this decision is based on the fact that he was frponm the royal family, it still shows that they were compassionate and didn’t want him to go through the suffering that slaves went through. Further afield, Oroonoko’s wife, Imoinda is also spared from slavery by the same colonialists. In her case however, it is her beauty that saves her from the noose of slavery. The level of compassion served to the two lovebirds in different occasions is testament to the importance of the same in restoring hope in humanity.

In Waiting for the Barbarians, the theme of compassion is widely discussed in the text with the magistrate showing the same to others. In one instance, he dreams of finding a barbarian girl kneeling in a town square. On reaching her location, he discovers that it is a face of an embryo that is beneath the hood and not the actual girl (Coetzee, pp 46). This revelation brings a level of compassion in him forcing him to melt with fear. Actually, the novel records the girl smiling and her eyes shining after the magistrate holds a closer look of her. This is a pointer to the compassion within the eyes of the magistrate that makes even the girl to smile within a dream. This is despite the fact that the magistrate is renowned for his lack of compassion.

The application of the theme of cruelty and compassion in both novels is proof that both cannot be separated in any society. In fact, none of the two can exist in isolation and without the other. In addition, the existence of both means that they both exist in different places in the world and are universal even in different decades as the dates of publications of the two books reveal. Moreover, it is possible for one character to show both cruelty and compassion at different times and still maintain their characters. Ultimately, both novels are effective in tainting the image of societies that are made perfect by the existence of different themes among them cruelty and compassion.


Works cited

Coetzee, John M. Waiting for the Barbarians. London: Vintage, 2000. Print.

Behn, Aphra, Oroonoko, 2015. Print.

Do you need an Original High Quality Academic Custom Essay?