CRUSOE'S peace has been permanently disturbed. He lives for the next two years in a state of unease, worried that unwelcome visitors may reach his island. His greatest fear is of falling into the hands of "Savages and Canibals [sic]." He undergoes a spiritual recrudescence, made the more intense by his terror. Indeed, one day while wandering on the shore he finds a horrible sight. The ground is littered with human remains: hands, feet, and other body parts. There is evidence at the site of a fire upon which human flesh has been cooked and around which it has been eaten. Crusoe is, of course, sickened and shocked at the "Degeneracy of Humane Nature" and promptly vomits on the ground. The carnage produces the consoling notion that he is lucky to have come from a part of the world where such horrors do not occur.
His desire to leave the island grows in him, but he concludes that to effect his escape he needs help, which can come only if he can "get a Savage into my Possession." Owning another human being is not a strange concept for Crusoe. Long before coming to the island, Crusoe himself had been captured and sold into slavery, but managed to escape with Xury, a Muslim fellow-slave whom he promptly sold. Slavery, in this and other texts of the period, is a fact of life: it exists as a part of the vast economy of the worlds he inhabits. On his island home, Crusoe has created a safe, viable, and thriving society of one. He has a farm, a flock of goats, a home at the shore and another home in what he calls "the Country." He has, of course, his goatskin umbrella to complete this curious but compelling picture of a self-made English gentleman.
One day, Crusoe spies a group of savages with two captives, preparing their fiendish meal. They club one captive senseless and, while they are cutting him open for "their Cookery," the other seizes the chance of their inattention to run for the hills directly to where Crusoe is hiding. In his inimitable way, Crusoe tells us, "It came now very warmly upon my Thoughts, and indeed irresistibly, that now was my Time to get me a Servant, and perhaps a Companion." Crusoe shoots one of the pursuers, and the other flees for his life. And thus begins Crusoe's relationship with Friday.
DEFOE'S accomplishment in imagining this first encounter is to have recreated a kind of primal moment, a reversal of the act of colonization. In this case the pristine island is occupied by a European who has carved out of its rough material a veritable civilization, though, interestingly, one entirely without art. To this white man's haven come dark intruders whose savagery is expressed quintessentially in their cannibalism. When the savage whom he has rescued realizes that Crusoe means him no harm, he throws himself at his feet. He kisses the ground Crusoe walks on and takes Crusoe's foot and, in an act of fealty, places it on his head
Crusoe describes the man in careful detail, noting that he is not an African, but implicity, a being of a somewhat higher order. He is tall, well-built, and strong-looking, with an immediately noticeable sweetness of expression that appeals greatly to Crusoe the rescuer. He possesses, Crusoe hilariously notes, the "Sweetness and Softness of an European in his Countenance." Friday's visible inner sweetness of nature marks him as redeemable. Though he is a savage and though he likes to dine on human flesh, he is superior to the murdering man-eatingmonsters who intend to eat him. Crusoe notes his skin colour which, he observes, is not black, but rather tawny, "and yet not of an ugly yellow nauseous tawny, as the Brasilians, and Virginians and other natives of America are, but of a bright kind of a dun olive Colour that had in it something very agreeable." His hair is not "curled like Wool" like that of a negro, but straight, long, and black. His face is plump; his nose is small, "not flat like the Negroes, a very good mouth, thin Lips, and his fine Teeth well set, and white as Ivory." Each reference to a positive, measurable physical characteristic is followed by a moral judgement. His skin colour has something "agreeable" in it; his countenance is sweet and soft, not fierce or surly; his mouth is "very good"; and he is commendably grateful, and thus pleases and flatters his rescuer, to whom he keeps making gestures that indicate "Subjection, Servitude, and Submission." Crusoe is very satisfied with him. "I made him know his name should be Friday," that being the day on which "I saved his Life." It is more than merely curious that Crusoe doesn't think to ask the man his name. He simply provides him with one. Though Crusoe knows that savages do have names, he blithely supplies his new companion with an English name that is not a name at all. The effect is to make Friday a part of the systematized world Crusoe has built around himself.
Crusoe has been weaned on the practical value of ownership. His father urges him to go into a trade, and hew to a life in "the middle station." Indeed, he frequently regrets not having followed this advice. He does, however, absorb into his very bones the acquisitive instinct in keeping with one of the primary values of his time. The notion of the pure good of private property is deliciously expressed by Defoe's contemporary, Ambrose Philips (Namby Pamby), whose verses describe the contemporary passion for ownership:
But who advances next, with cheerful grace, Joy in her eye, and plenty in her face? A wheaten garland does her head adorn, O Property! O goddess, English-born. (Epistle to Halifax)
The idea of a human being as an item of private property flows easily from such sentiments. Naming this poor creature, who does not possess even clothing on his body, is represented as an act not of condescension or proprietoriality but of natural European tenderness. Friday's adoption is a kind of birth. Like an infant, he arrives naked, nameless, and even, in Crusoe's mind, without speech. The language he already knows is mere gabble according to this surrogate father who believes he has literally brought him to life.
CRUSOE rescues Friday by the use of a gun. In his first full day on the island many years before, Crusoe used a gun to different effect. Having retrieved several firearms from the wreck, Crusoe started out equipped to wrest food and safety from brute nature. The first time he shoots a gun on the island brings him to a state of reflection. He shoots a great bird sitting upon a tree, and notes the effect of the gunshot on this pristine wilderness, "I had no sooner fir'd but from all the Parts of the Wood there arose an innumerable Number of Fowls of many Sorts, making a confus'd Screaming, and crying every one according to his usual Note. As for the Creature I kill'd,... it's Flesh was Carrion and fit for nothing." The moment, however, passes as suddenly as it arises. The recognition that he has just killed a living thing seems to have no effect. Instead, he turns to more practical matters, and satisfies himself that he has, at least, learned of the existence of another food source on the island. The screaming of the birds in this wilderness produces only the unexamined thought: "I believe it was the first Gun that had been fir'd there since the Creation of the World." It is upon guns that Crusoe learns to depend for his successful mastery of nature. The gun is, of course, the chief evidence of his technological superiority to the cannibals. The novel supplies us with a convincing account and an implicit explanation of the casual arrogance of European invasions of"the colonies" in many parts of the world, all pointing to the discovery by the savages of the murderous, death-dealing power of the firearms carried into their worlds by these alien invaders.
Crusoe's solicitousness for Friday is touching. Having fed Friday on bread and milk, Crusoe is gratified to note that when he lets Friday first he requires Friday know that he will clothe him the savage shows signs of gratitude. But first he requires Friday to cultivate a proper aversion to eating human flesh--which he does by burning the remains that the cannibals have left behind, an assortment of hands, feet, and skulls. Friday's propensity to cannibalism revolts Crusoe, who cures this appetite once and for all by indicating to the savage that, if he ever again shows such an inclination, he will kill him.
Slowly Friday is prepared for his ultimate entrance to the larger European world which Crusoe still hopes one day to rejoin. The idea of rebirth is unmistakable. Friday's own world is of little interest to his master except as a negative point of reference. One of Friday's first lessons is to learn the shame of nakedness. He is given a pair of linen drawers which Crusoe had retrieved from the last shipwreck near his shore. Crusoe makes him a jerkin of goatskin and a cap of the skin of a hare. The Edenic resonances of this passage are obvious, but the reader is again denied Crusoe's reflections on his own needs, desires, and uncertainties that compel him to make so much of Friday's naked state. Crusoe describes Friday as a naive and loving child: "never Man had a more faithful, loving sincere Servant, than Friday was to me; without Passions, Sullenness or Designs, perfectly oblig'd and engag'd; his very Affections were ty'd to me like those of a Child to a Father." With this fresh clay, Crusoe fashions a full-fledged human being. And Friday proves an apt pupil. Indeed, Crusoe admits that were it not for fear of invading savages, "I cared not, if I was never to remove from the place while I lived." This is not exactly love, and it is decidedly not erotic, but it comes closer than anything in the entire book to an achievement of domestic contentedness. Friday is a fantasy child, forever malleable, compliant, and grateful.
Friday learns English, Crusoe informs us, and begins to understand the names of almost everything on the island. He even learns to reason. At one point Friday tells Crusoe that his own tribe would welcome him back and not kill him; "No, they no kill me, they willing love learn." Ever helpful, Crusoe tells us, "He meant by this, they would be willing to learn." With the language barrier down, Crusoe is in a position to instruct the savage about religion: "He listened with great Attention, and receiv'd with Pleasure the Notion of Jesus Christ being sent to redeem us." Friday regards Crusoe with awe and gratitude. Crusoe is, above all, his conduit to divinity and salvation. Crusoe attempts to persuade the now-civilized savage to return to his own people, but Friday sees this as rejection: "What you send Friday away for? Kill Friday, no send Friday away." Where Crusoe tries to persuade Friday that he is no god, but merely human, Friday reacts with indignation: "You do great deal much good... you teach wild Mans be good sober tame Mans; you tell them know God."
A rescue mission brings about a coincidental reunion of Friday and his father whom, together with a Spanish prisoner, Crusoe and Friday manage to save from a band of savages. Crusoe surveys his island with complacency:
My Island was now peopled, and I thought my self very rich in Subjects.... How like a King I look'd. First of all, the whole Country was my own meer Property; so that I had an undoubted Right of Dominion. 2dly, My People were perfectly subjected: I was absolute Lord and Law-giver.... It was remarkable too, we had but three Subjects, and they were of three different Religions. My Man Friday was a Protestant, his Father was a Pagan and a Cannibal, and the Spaniard was a Papist: However, I allow'd Liberty of Conscience throughout my Dominions.
This is not unimpressive Enlightenment practice in its stated and implied ideology of tolerance. Crusoe has finally created a minuscule political replica of the Britain from which he has been separated all this time. The one glaring absence never seems worthy of comment to this contented monarch of his own dominions: that there are no women or indeed any prospects of female company on the island seems never even to cross his mind.
Twenty-eight years after his arrival on the island, Crusoe leaves with Friday. He travels to England to find that both his parents have died. But he is overjoyed to find himself suddenly rich as a consequence of clever investments made before his fateful voyage. Friday is little more than an appendage on this adventure and, in the end, he simply melts into non-existence. He is mentioned for the very last time as repelling an attack of wolves in the French countryside. And thus he ceases to be. Crusoe then marries and produces three children, "But my Wife dying ... my Inclination to go Abroad, and his Importunity prevailed and engaged me [by] ship, as a private Trader to the East Indies: This was in the year 1694."
FRIDAY has no real voice in the novel. And yet, despite its jingoistic bent, in some of its details this novel is a humane document. Friday's love for Crusoe originates in gratitude and awe and grows stronger from this inception. Crusoe's for Friday begins in the feelings of satisfaction he experiences at having himself acknowledged as a saviour. While today we would take a more cynical view of the motives of the Master-narrator, in some ways the story is what Crusoe himself clearly believes it is--a benign tale of the salvation of a savage by the agencies of Christian tolerance and kindness, and the recognition of the savage as a redeemable child of God. The great age of colonization had not taken off at the time that Defoe wrote his story (1719), but adventures in pursuit of plunder, including slaves, had been established practice amongst Europeans for at least two centuries. Crusoe, unlike the European adventurers, has the unique experience of finding himself on an entirely uninhabited island, where he remains the sole occupier for some twenty years. But, once he finds himself in the position of master to a bondslave, the colonial narrative and his own take on similar hues.
The importance of European technology is essential in achieving mastery over the environment. Crusoe manages to maintain his mastery by the use of weapons, just as colonialists and adventurers carried their guns to remote places and used them to seize land and subdue native populations. This narrative gives a vivid image of the introduction of modern ordnance to places that had never known or dreamed of the existence of such destructive power. The encounter of cultures is memorably realized in the scene of Friday's rescue. The confidence of the European is entirely contingent on the sophistication of his armaments. The submission of the savage is contingent on his recognition of that sophistication. In this decisive moment, when the European demonstrates his absolute superiority in arms, the order of the world shifts. The efficacy of weaponry in enabling the European conquest of the globe is established as a simple fact. The plunder and pillage are simple realities. The narrative provides a primal replay of the collision of two worlds, simplified in the artificial but convenient "us" and "them" ideology. The binary is cold but valid. Friday is, as I've said above, a product of Crusoe's fantasy. He begins his existence in Crusoe's dream, and thereafter, once he arrives on the island, is transformed by his master into a willing slave who, at the drop of a goatskin cap, will recite the catalogue of his master's virtues and preternatural powers.
Racial categories come easily to Crusoe, as they would have done to his fellow Europeans. The category of "savage" is perhaps as sophisticated as Crusoe's theorization of the subject ever gets in this pre-Rousseauean world. The savage is constructed by the European mind primarily to identify and validate the European. He is its antithesis physically as well as intellectually and culturally. His practice of cannibalism justifies the treatment he receives from his masters. His physical features all suggest an inner difference. While today we might balk at Crusoe's easy and automatic assumption of his own mastery and Friday's servitude, it is made to seem a part of the natural order.
This version of the spread of European civilization consists of the much-repeated myth of the savage enlightened through his own simple-minded but morally inspired recognition of the godlike qualities of the strange-looking European with his hirsute white skin, his blue eyes, his beard, and his outlandish clothing. The hierarchical thinking that placed God above the king, the king above his subjects, the aristocrat above the labourer, and the man above the woman in this ancient European narrative includes the by then commonplace idea of the white man's superiority to the dark man as a simple matter of the natural order. To the savage, according to this myth, all of these accoutrements of difference are also evidence of the European's superiority and of his entirely natural assumption of the position of mastery. Needless to say, this is the European version of events. The European came, they took, and where they could not subdue by trickery and deception, they enslaved, maimed, and killed with abandon. Crusoe's story reiterates the myth. Friday, the savage, becomes Friday the contentedly Christianized slave. He is the colonizer's dream subject. He is strong and hardworking, but he is also pacific, easily cowed and subdued, and wants no greater reward than his master's good opinion. The only words Friday utters once he can speak English confirm his entire loss of his original identity. He is without language, history, true religion, or social grace. Into this empty vessel Crusoe decants a moral education that simplifies, but exactly mirrors, his own beliefs and values.
The entire lack of art on Crusoe's island points to Crusoe's obsessive pragmatism and his ethics of self-advancement and practical achievement. Aesthetic perspectives are always subordinated to practical possibilities: once he is sure of his survival, Crusoe is driven by a puritanical rage for success and acquisition. Beauty is a thing of no consequence. This indifference makes indirect sense of the even more curious absence of a desire for female companionship. When Crusoe longs for company, he longs for male company. His dreams are peopled with men. As he is winding up his story, Crusoe informs the reader that, having "in Part" settled in England, " I marry'd, and that not either to my Disadvantage or Dissatisfaction, and had three Children, two Sons and one Daughter: but my Wife [died]." She gets shorter shrift than his goats. Women operate for the benefit of men and for the propagation of the species. The ease with which Crusoe dispenses with the story of his courtship, marriage, parentage, family life, and the loss of his spouse gives a clear indication of their place in the hierarchically structured system by which Crusoe orders his life.
Modern readers have wondered at the possible homoerotic undertones in Crusoe's feeling about Friday. Such feelings are never given utterance, of course, but it is possible to connect Crusoe's feelings of embarrassment or shame at male nakedness with a suppressed erotic desire or to a simple and deep-seated puritanical notion about the inherent sinfulness associated with sexual feeling and, by extension, human nakedness. Biblical and puritanical injunctions about the shamefulness of nakedness give the narrator morally grounded justification for his revulsion at the unclothed body.
FRIDAY is one of the major cultural figures of literature. He has inspired writers for centuries, serving as the image and ideal of both the loyal servant and the enslaved and colonized subject. Robinson Crusoe is chiefly celebrated as the wise and practical pioneer who carves a civilization out of a wilderness by dint of sheer hard work. He possesses, in some anti-colonial narrative fictions, the identity of colonial occupier, a prototype of the colonialists who came to control many parts of the world from the seventeenth century to the twentieth. Friday, the uncivilized man, acquires existence through his master. It is a wonder to observe the extent to which Crusoe endues his creature with life. Above all he gives him language, and in so doing, the capacity to appreciate and thus praise that civilization of which he gets to partake in small, tantalizing morsels. In the popular imagination he is regarded as inseparable from Crusoe, as if they are two parts of a unit. The servant/slave is attached to his master by stronger bonds than steel; his function is to validate his master, and make him whole, much in the way that Hegel later described the relationship of master and bondslave. The mutual dependency of the two lies in their complementarity in mind/body, savage/gentleman, reason/passion oppositions.
One of the chief reasons for the book's durability is surely the conviction of its readers who have seen in its clash or encounter of cultures the very thing that Robinson Crusoe sees: the primitive savage needed the European civilization to bring order, harmony, and morality to those parts of the world that had not fallen under the sway of Christianity. And the European cultures needed the savage to be universally imagined as he is in the novel in order to justify their adventures of self-enrichment through slavery and conquest in their scramble to enlarge the perimeters of their nations.
DEREK COHEN's most recent book is Searching Shakespeare: Studies in Culture and Authority (University of Toronto Press, 2005). He teaches in the Department of English at York University in Toronto.
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|Title Annotation:||Robinson Crusoe|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2008|
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