Critical Context

Tournier’s original version of Friday won the esteemed French Academy Prize for best novel in 1967. It is often considered to be the first installment of a trilogy including Le Roi des aulnes (1970; The Ogre, 1972) and Gemini. Vendredi: Ou, La Vie sauvage (1971; Friday and Robinson: Life on Esperanza Island, 1972), an important adaptation created for children, deletes Robinson’s private journal and adds seven scenes of interpersonal exchange in which Friday transfers to Robinson his knowledge of gourmet cooking, metaphor, and mime. These modifications strengthen Friday’s role as mentor and mirror. Tournier’s autobiographical essay Le Vent Paraclet (1977) includes comments on Friday in terms of urban isolation and problems of the Third World.

The novel is highly discussable, and comparison to Gemini is especially indicated. Friday and Robinson become twins with two bodies and two souls, whereas Jean and Paul have two bodies and one soul. Important theories of morality, perception, and sexual composition can be extracted from the novel. Speranza can be studied independently as an ecological system, and each of the behaviors exhibited by its two main inhabitants (nudity, urination, mimicry, mating, signal systems, death rituals, and so on) count as formal objects of ethnological inquiry. Most important, through its case history of solitude, its laboratory encounter between two cultures, and its structure of creation through compensation, Tournier’s Friday continues Freudian thinking on the origins of neurosis in technological societies. As Sigmund Freud wrote, “It is easy...for the barbarian to be healthy; for the civilized man, the task is a hard one.”