England and the Atlantic
Aphra Behn was an English writer whose work Oronooko addressed the slave trade. She wrote about a slave rebellion in Surinam, drawing upon her own experiences there along with her knowledge of the slave trade (Wiesner-Hanks, 390). The slave trade, put into motion due to demand in the British-dominated Caribbean for cheap labor on sugar plantations, ramped up during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Behn’s story reflects the challenges slaves faced as early capitalism developed on the sugar plantations. Landowners required unskilled labor, which they exploited for profit -- this meant harsh working conditions and the abandonment of subsistence cultivation as the desire for sugar in England grew (Moore). The farming of sugar marked a turning point in England’s economic history, establishing it as a central player in Atlantic trade, but it also had implications for race relations and the increasing disparity in social divisions.
Behn was one of the first prominent female writers in England, but the significance of her work doesn’t end there (Wiesner-Hanks, 390). She was one of Europe’s early novel-writers, a literary format that has spread across the world. It served as the predecessor to Voltaire’s Candide, which was another “early novel that incorporated overseas voyages” (Wiesner-Hanks, 390).