Throughout his wandering journeys, Robinson continually encounters the unknown in a variety of forms. He visits unknown lands, sees strange plants and animals, and encounters foreign peoples. His first response to such experiences with various "others" is usually fear. He is especially frightened by the strange beasts he sees in Africa and on his island, as well as by the African natives he sees and the Caribbean "savages," who come to his island. Stemming in part from this fear, Robinson continually shows a prejudice against non-European peoples, whom he automatically refers to as "savages." Over time, Robinson at least becomes fond of Friday, but his relationship with Friday is still unequal. Friday acts as his servant, and Robinson is constantly condescending toward him. Although at times Robinson respects the cultural difference between him and the Caribbean people he sees (as when he decides not to involve himself in their cannibal rituals), he does not hesitate to teach Friday Christianity, not considering what beliefs of his own Friday might have. Moreover, Robinson does not allow Friday to try to translate or share his own name but instead decides on his name. It is telling that one of the first words Robinson teaches Friday is "master": despite any friendship between Friday and Robinson, their relationship is, at its core, one between a master and his servant. Beyond Friday, Robinson also has no qualms participating in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, as he leaves Brazil to gather slaves from Africa. While he is not as cruel as the Spanish colonists whom he criticizes for murdering natives, Robinson repeatedly establishes an unequal hierarchy between Europeans and natives of other lands. Such an attitude can even be seen in how Robinson approaches foreign lands: he buys land for a plantation in Brazil, regardless of any indigenous peoples, and claims ownership over "his" island. Robinson sees wild nature as something to be owned or tamed, much as he sees indigenous or foreign people as inferiors to be used or employed.
Nonetheless, while Robinson Crusoe cannot be taken out of its colonialist context (it is, after all, set in the 17th century), it is possible to find a reading of Defoe's text more amenable to the colonized, enslaved, and oppressed people it depicts. Most of the time, Robinson's fears about the unknown are later revealed to be unfounded. The natives he sees while sailing along the coast of Africa and fears turn out to be generous, kind, and helpful. The island whose wilderness he fears supplies him with goats, grapes, turtles, and other things he needs to survive. And Friday, supposedly a "savage," is a loyal friend and companion. Indeed, the English mutineers who land on Robinson's island are just as dangerous to him as any cannibal (if not more dangerous). Thus, while there are real differences between Robinson and those he encounters during his journeys, one can read the novel as showing that prejudices against an "other" are often the result of irrational, false fears.
Strangers, Savages, and the Unknown ThemeTracker
Strangers, Savages, and the Unknown Quotes in Robinson Crusoe
For who would have supposed we were sailed on to the southward, to the truly Barbarian coast, where whole nations of negroes were sure to surround us with their canoes and destroy us; where we could not go on shore but we should be devoured by savage beasts, or more merciless savages of human kind?
He offered me also sixty pieces of eight more for my boy Xury, which I was loth to take; not that I was unwilling to let the captain have him, but I was very loth to sell the poor boy's liberty, who had assisted me so faithfully in procuring my own. However, when I let him know my reason, he owned it to be just, and offered me this medium, that he would give the boy an obligation to set him free in ten years, if he turned Christian; upon this, and Xury saying he was willing to go to him, I let the captain have him.
I could not tell what part of the world this might be, otherwise than that I knew it must be part of America, and, as I concluded by all my observations, must be near the Spanish dominions, and perhaps was all inhabited by savages, where, if I had landed, I had been in a worse condition than I was now; and therefore I acquiesced in the dispositions of Providence, which I began now to own and to believe ordered everything for the best; I say I quieted my mind with this, and left off afflicting myself with fruitless wishes of being there.
And therefore it could not be just for me to fall upon them; that this would justify the conduct of the Spaniards in all their barbarities practiced in America, where they destroyed millions of these people; who, however they were idolators and barbarians, and had several bloody and barbarous rites in their customs, such as sacrificing human bodies to their idols, were yet, as to the Spaniards, very innocent people; and that the rooting them out of the country is spoken of with the utmost abhorrence and detestation by even the Spaniards themselves at this time, and by all other Christian nations of Europe, as a mere butchery, a bloody and unnatural piece of cruelty, unjustifiable either to God or man.
But it occurred to my thoughts, what call, what occasion, much less what necessity I was in to go and dip my hands in blood, to attack people who had neither done or intended me any wrong? who, as to me, were innocent, and whose barbarous customs were their own disaster, being in them a token, indeed, of God's having left them, with the other nations of that part of the world, to such stupidity, and to such inhuman courses, but did not call me to take upon me to be a judge of their actions, much less an executioner of His justice - that whenever He thought fit He would take the cause into His own hands, and by national vengeance punish them as a people for national crimes, but that, in the meantime, it was none of my business.
My island was now peopled, and I thought myself very rich in subjects; and it was a merry reflection, which I frequently made, how like a king I looked. First of all, the whole country was my own property, so that I had an undoubted right of dominion. Secondly, my people were perfectly subjected - I was absolutely lord and lawgiver - they all owed their lives to me, and were ready to lay down their lives, if there had been occasion for it, for me. It was remarkable, too, I 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 allowed liberty of conscience throughout my dominions.