Friday’s Silence

“We must make Friday’s silence speak, as well as the silence surrounding Friday.” (Foe, pg 142)

All throughout Foe, Susan Barton obsesses over the tongueless Friday – unable to tell his own story – and his silence takes center stage at the conclusion of the novel. Language, or lack thereof, plays an important role in the identity of characters such as Friday, representing the oppression of other black peoples in society at the time when Foe was written in 1986. Susan spends an extensive amount of time obsessing over and trying to determine how Friday’s tongue was removed, whether by Cruso or by a former slaver. When she fails to retrieve the answer from Friday, she makes it her responsibility to teach him to understand the English language and to be able to write it, although she is not particularly successful.

In this way, is she not also acknowledging his inferiority in their relationship? Barton attempts to impose her own language on Friday for her own curiosity and because his account will add interest and legitimacy to her own story produced by Mr. Foe. Barton speaks to Foe, saying,”But if Friday cannot tell us what he sees, is Friday in my story any more than a figuring…?” To her, language is an affirmation, the story is an affirmation of her time on the island and her longing to teach Friday English is an affirmation of her will over his. Similarly, Crusoe in Robinson Crusoe takes it upon himself to simply teach Friday simple English commands so he can serve Crusoe on the island, beginning with the word “master”. If language is to be an aspect of one’s identity, a way to speak one’s opinions, the replacement of Friday’s native language with the English language can be seen as essentially erasing part of Friday’s identity at the will of his “superiors” in yet another form of oppression.

In addition, Susan Barton’s ability to use her voice through Foe and tell her story to the world is a source of empowerment in a society where female voices were not generally acknowledged. Therefore, Friday’s continued silence represents the opposite, and his lack of speech does not afford him the ability to empower himself, as a direct representation of those victimized by the apartheid system in South Africa in Coetzee’s time.

The final few paragraphs focus explicitly on Friday’s fate in Susan’s dream as she visits the ship wreck. The text reads, “But this is not a place of words. Each syllable, as it comes out, is caught and filled with water and diffused. This is a place where bodies are their own signs. It is the home of Friday.” This scene only serves to reinforce the idea of Friday’s eternal silence. As his mouth opens, the words dissolve into the water, never to be heard. His body is all that remains to tell of what has happened. The final image of him – chained, to be forgotten at the bottom of the ocean – for that image of his body to be the sign of Friday and his home is a permanent reminder of all the horrible things done to him and that is how he will be remembered. His body is a symbol for the voices of those that Friday’s character represents, silent and suppressed, with no voice to speak out from under their chains.