In Daniel Defoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe, the novel portrayed as a foundational text to early fictional writings and introduced writers as well as readers to having a narrative in an island setting. Within Defoe’s novel, one is able to get a glimpse of the stereotypical gender roles from the 17thcentury because patriarchy reigned supreme. Women were property while men were authoritarians. The novel is shown through the eyes of a middle-aged white male during colonization. Crusoe “owns” the island and instructs those living there just as if he were the “governor” or political leader-just as any British colony would be governed. By this, the reader is able to see through the eyes of Robinson Crusoe about the issues of not only gender but with race and independence. AlthoughRobinson Crusoewas written in the early 1700’s, a more recent novel by J.M. Coetzee called Foewas an artistic piece that imitated Defoe’s well-known work. Even though the two novels share many similar aspects, Coetzee framed his work to provide an updated perspective of the story Defoe had composed by adding in the presence of a woman figure, incorporating a new setting, and more modernistic viewpoint.
Although Robinson Crusoewas written hundreds of years ago, a newer look into his island life and social views was created in 1986 when J.M. Coetzee wrote the novel Foe, a pastiche to Defoe’s famous work. While Robinson Crusoe is the main character and narrates the story from a first-person perspective in Defoe’s novel, Susan Barton is the woman who narrates Foe. The way Susan Barton conveys her own story helps articulate her strengths. Her character is aiding to the lack of women from the earlier novel. Crusoe makes brief mention of his mother, during which he reviews his family history. Then only sparing but on sentence to the mention of his wife: “In the meantime, I in part settled myself here; for first of all I marry’d and that not wither to my disadvantage and dissatisfaction, and had three children, two sons and one daughter” (Defoe 219). When Barton is introduced, she is shipwrecked on the island with Crusoe and Friday. The way in which she carried herself on the island was to become the dominant figure of the group and correct or manage the Crusoe’s actions and decisions. Then she says, “I presented myself to Crusoe, in the days when he still ruled over the island, and became his second subject, the first being his manservant Friday” (Coetzee 11). Her dependence on Crusoe and Friday to do more of the manly duties allowed the reader to see her weaker side. Coetzee’s decision of adding into a woman allowed for there to be a new interpretation of the story. Crusoe’s character was altered to depict the descriptions that Susan Barton presented. In Robinson Crusoe, the reader gets authentic details of Crusoe’s identity since the male figure is the direct focus of the novel, but in Foe, Barton offers the reader individual, physical characteristics that was not depicted in the first novel.
Foe follows the aspects of a more modern view. Even though Coetzee portrays a more feminine viewpoint through incorporating Susan Barton, her decisions and mindset raise a debate in how they relate to the life of a woman in the twentieth or even twenty-first centuries. As Barton falls asleep one night, Crusoe begins to pursue her. She described that night by saying, “I pushed his hand away and made to rise, but he held me. No doubt I might have freed myself, for I was stronger than he” (Coetzee 30). Although she realizes she is stronger than him, she decides not to leave but to “let him do as he wished” (Coetzee 30). Barton’s reputation is altered from the beginning to the end of the book by reshaping her morals. For instance, all her encounters with men all include having sexual relations only excluding Friday. Barton told herself “I did him (Friday) wrong to think of him as a cannibal or worse, a devourer of the dead. But Crusoe had planted the deed in my mind, and now I could not look on Friday’s lips without calling to mind what mean must once have passed them” (Coetzee 106). At the beginning of Coetzee’s novel, the reader would argue that Barton’s character is going to remain as a strong, female character, one who is bravely sacrificing for others. As the novel goes on the reader’s opinion on Barton shift because her character is not as clear as in what she stands for. On “Crusoe’s island” she is merely the “woman washed ashore,” and in England she is haunted with the question, “What life do I live but that of Crusoe’s widow?” (Coetzee 99). In England, she searches to define her role, but end up defining it through her gender. Although the novel does allot several chapters to Barton’s writing and thoughts, she is still hesitant to proclaiming her own truth by waiting for the go ahead from the male characters to feel accepted.
Defoe’s Robinson Crusoeis used across the generations and influences writers who are separated by centuries. The novel offered the writing world the style of having island narration and displayed the seventeenth century views whether it be social, political or creative aspects. It stimulated J.M. Coetzee to write in response to that novel, Foe, which sought to offer a modernized interpretation of Defoe’s novel, and provide room for others to be able to compare these two pieces. In Coetzee’s work, it has a female protagonist Susan Barton telling how the story really was before Mr. Foe sat down to turn it into a novel of his own intention, altering and disproving it. She tells her own story in the first-person perspective, in terms of the plot even before the writer Mr. Foe would have finished his Robinson Crusoe. Through this, Coetzee generates the illusion that Ms. Barton’s account might have indeed been the forerunner of the literary classic Robinson Crusoe. Although both books carry a different plot, they have similarities in techniques and in some social aspects. Whether discussing the presence of a woman figure, incorporation of a new setting, or more modernistic viewpoint, either novel depicts different perspectives on the matter, and portrays the evolution of the island narrative. Defoe makes certain that good writing is what it says it is and provides today’s generation a definite glimpse into the past.