Colonialism in Crusoe

Shortly after Robinson Crusoe crashed on the island, he longed for a companion, someone who he could talk to and someone who could keep him sane. After over twenty years of isolation, Crusoe finally had an island full of people – first Friday, then the Spaniard and Friday’s father, lastly the ship full of Englishmen. Instead of thinking of these people as friends that he had to share the island with and express his worries and concerns in, Crusoe immediately associates feelings of superiority in which he rationalizes that this is his island and everyone else who crashed upon it after him are his subjects. Crusoe beings to reflect on “how like a King [he] looked” and that “[his] People were perfectly subjugated…ready to lay down their Lives, if there had been Occasion for it, for [him}” (250).  These immediate feelings of superiority may be a result of all his years of isolation. Robinson Crusoe grew so accustomed to having nobody that he no longer needed someone to confide in. Instead, he craved power and the ability to assert his accomplishments on others. Crusoe spent much of his life trying to figure out how to build the necessary shelter and obtain the food that would sustain him for years to come without the help of anyone else. Since he had no one to share in the struggle with, Crusoe felt as if a connection could not be made with the other people who crashed upon his island so he had to assert his dominance as best as possible by immediately setting up the dynamic where he is the “savior.” He goes from having to constantly look out for his own life to now having a whole group of people looking out for him. Defoe writing Crusoe in as a superior, rather than one who is on the same level as those who just crashed on the island may be his way of commenting on the colonialism that was taking place at that time. Defoe made it seem as if Crusoe had the right to treat Friday the way he did, as well as all the other castaways.

Similarly, Defoe may have believed that the colonialism that was taking place when this book was written was justified. The Europeans had created a society with what was considered modern technology at that time, so it was only right that they take control of the Americas and use it to spread this technology since they were the ones who first acquired it. Especially when it came to Friday, Crusoe was more overbearing and believed that he was the superior one because he was unfamiliar with the culture and language of Friday. By asserting his dominance, Crusoe basically exploited Friday to gain resources and tried to get him to convert to Christianity, much like the colonists did. Just like the people who were colonized by European countries, Friday willingly subjected to the rule because he thought that Crusoe was helping him.  The flip side to this can be seen in Foe. Although Susan Barton is grateful towards Crusoe for taking her upon his island and giving her the basic necessities for survival, she is unwilling to submit to his colonist-like actions because she knows better. If a similar situation were to happen today in which a man crashes upon an island and spends years there trying to figure everything out, but then he suddenly finds someone of a different culture with different practices upon his island, this man would be expected to act very differently than Crusoe. It would be assumed that his first instinct would be to try and work together with this unfamiliar person to get off the island, instead of subjugating him to his rule. In this way, it can be said that the story of Robinson Crusoe not only highlights the negative effects of isolation but does so in a way that allows Defoe to promote colonialism.