Let’s talk about Friday. No, not the pre-weekend stretch, the deep and complex character that stars in both J.M. Coetzee’s Foe, and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. He is sometimes called a “negro”, and sometimes a “savage”, but either way he remains a loyal companion and intriguing character in whichever story you read. Let’s look at some of the ways he differs in each story.
The first way Friday is portrayed differently in Foe from Robinson Crusoe is in his physical attributes. His looks, hair, and race is completely different in Foe from the original text. In Robinson Crusoe, Friday is a native who is about to be eaten by other natives. He is described as “tall and well shap’d,” and “all the sweetness of and softness of an European in his countenance too, especially when he smiled”(219). Foe differs from this completely; we are told that he is not as tall as Susan (although she may be tall herself), and there are few, if any, instances of him ever actually smiling. His race in Foe is African, not native, and his hair is described as “A head of fuzzy wool”(5) and “like lambs wool,”(154) opposed to in Robinson Crusoe, where is his hair is “long and black, not curl’d like wool”(219). The final difference is that fact that in Foe, he has no tongue. This changes his whole plot line in the story of Foe. Why was Friday so different in each story? Although there are many answers to that question, many of them can be summarized into the fact that Friday’s entire story is changed, and when your heritage changes, your race and influences change too.
The second way Foe portrays Friday differently than who he is in R.C. is through his actions. In Robinson Crusoe, we only see Friday dance once, when he spots the mainland off the coast of the island. Friday sees it and “in a kind of surprise, falls a jumping and dancing, and calls out to me”(235). In Foe, dancing becomes Friday’s new hobby after he comes upon Mr. Foe’s robes and wigs, and cannot get enough spinning and dancing in them. Susan explains that when he dances he is “not himself. He is beyond human reach”(92). I wonder what happened to the native Friday when he was taken off the island with and separated from Cruose. Did he want to dance his cares away? Perhaps the reason he dances in Foe is a way of expressing himself, since another action that separates the R.C. Friday from the Foe Friday is his speech. In R.C, we watch him learn new words, converse with Crusoe, and communicate emotion. In Foe, his tongue has been cut out. At first glance, some may say that this aspect isolates Friday from the other characters and takes some of his meaning, but I truly think Coetzee’s way of adding depth, mystery, and curiousness to him to keep the readers on their toes.
No matter what book you read, Friday is definitely a character that will make you want to read more. He may be a loyal character universally, but each story gives new aspects of difference that work with his story and background.