In Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, can Friday ever be Crusoe's equal?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe begins his adventures traveling to several places before he is shipwrecked. On his way with business partners to take slaves in Africa (you might think his own experience as a slave might have affected this decision), his ship is destroyed by a violent storm and he becomes a castaway on an island alone: all of his companions are lost. Over time, Crusoe has a religious awakening when he becomes extremely ill. However, this does not include any transformation regarding his station in life and the station of the black native, Friday, who Crusoe eventually saves from cannibals. Crusoe is never able to realize the value of Friday as a man because of his skin color. Friday comes to represent the prevailing attitudes of English colonization.

On an island, where society does not exist, Crusoe and Friday eventually help each other.  The social standing (one would think), as well as the money Crusoe finds on the shipwreck, should have no meaning. I think if the men were to continue on the island for the rest of their days, they might be more equal. However, Crusoe never quite succeeds in seeing the man in Friday, even while Friday ends Crusoe's isolation after so many years alone. Crusoe finds new purpose as he teaches Friday (like a pet), and Cruose begins a society on the island that is still based upon the dictates of Crusoe's English society. Crusoe first teaches Friday the words, "Master," "yes," and "no." It would seem you can take the man from "civilization," but not take the "civilization" out of the man.

Even when Friday tries to teach Crusoe a better way to make a boat, Crusoe refuses to consider it—he is still the white man, and acts, therefore, "naturally" superior. Crusoe will not treat Friday as an equal as seen in his refusal to consider Friday's ideas or knowledge.

[This] symbolizes general European attitudes toward "the savage."

Returning to a "civilized" nation, little has changed; ultimately, Crusoe's life is once again guided by "money" and societal norms. Where one might expect him to look at the "business" of slavery differently, Crusoe only perceives that he has successfully managed to "civilize" Friday, the "savage."

Friday becomes Europeanized, accepting English customs and religious concepts.

Crusoe and his contemporaries can only see Friday as a "convert." The two men will never be equal.

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