Describe the presence of colonialism in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.

The presence of colonialism can be seen in Robinson Crusoe through the way Crusoe appropriates the island as "his" domain and through his treatment of Friday. Crusoe renames this native, converts him to Christianity, and uses him as his slave. Crusoe assumes European culture is superior to anything Friday might offer him, and behaves as European colonizers usually did towards native peoples.

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Having defeated a group of twenty-one islanders (to whom he distainfully refers as “savages”) and rescued their prisoners, Robinson Crusoe remarks that his island “was now peopled.” He has long since fallen into the habit of regarding the island as his personal property, and now goes even further, describing himself as kinglike. In his mind the island is his country, over which he has “an undoubted right of dominion.” Crusoe then describes himself as “absolute lord and lawgiver” on the island and observes that, while his new subjects follow different religions, he allows “liberty of conscience throughout my dominions.”

The tone of Crusoe’s description is facetious, but the target of his irony is the size and modesty of his domain, not the colonial nature of his rule. At no point does he show the slightest doubt that he is lord and master of the island. Everything and everyone on it is his to exploit or kill if they will not fall in with his plans. His attitude to Friday is benevolent, but recognizably despotic and unequal. He teaches Friday to call him “Master” and treats him more like a faithful dog than a fellow man.

Although he has always regarded himself as the island’s colonist and master, Crusoe is proud to have gained the island by right of conquest. He boasts that he managed to kill at least seventeen of the twenty-one “savages.” This appears—in his eyes—to be a justification and affirmation of his colonial rule. Although his country is a small one, he reigns over it with the assurance and entitlement of any absolute monarch.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on April 30, 2020
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Colonialism refers to one country taking over the land or territory of another group of people. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Europeans engaged in a scramble for "uninhabited" land in the New World and other unexplored parts of the globe.

Robinson Crusoe reveals 18th century European attitudes about colonialism. Crusoe, for example, never questions the assumption that he has the right of appropriating the deserted island where he shipwrecks as "his" domain, even though he becomes aware that it is sometimes used by natives who come over from another island. Crusoe also does what other Europeans did, which was to transplant European agricultural methods, planets, and livestock to his new environment with no awareness of the ecological issues this might create.

Further, when Crusoe saves a native man, he immediately renames him Friday, converts him to Christianity, and uses him as his personal slave. He has no concept of cultural reciprocity. Crusoe simply assumes that his culture is superior to Friday's and that all the cultural benefits to be bestowed flow from him to Friday. He appreciates Friday, in part, because his looks appeal to Crusoe's European norms of beauty.

Crusoe never makes any attempt to learn about or show respect for Friday's background. This mirrors the way colonizing Europeans behaved towards the people's whose land they colonized.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on May 5, 2020
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Colonialism is defined as...

...the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. 

England was for a long while, by far the most powerful and widely spread colonial empire in the world. For instance, there were the American colonies, as well as a British presence in China and India. In fact, it is only in the last ten years that Hong Kong reverted from the English back to China.

Colonization occurred primarily in...

...the late 15th to the 20th century...the justifications for colonialism included...Christian missionary work, the profits to be made, the expansion of the power of the metropole and various religious and political beliefs.

Portugal was, at one time, a dominant colonial force in Europe, as was Spain. Their position as colonial powers faltered in the seventeenth century, while England and France surged ahead to become the prevailing world powers. 

In DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe, colonialism is clearly apparent. To put the literary work into its proper context, it should be noted that the story was published in 1719, and England was enjoying the prosperity of the American colonies. England had adopted the stance that "God is on the side of the English" during Queen Elizabeth I's reign (after defeating the Spanish Armada—the strongest naval fleet in the world); this attitude had not diminished. Surely it only increased as the nation's holdings increased, which also included "islands in the West Indies."

Based upon the time in which it was written, Crusoe would have found the benefits of his country's "international policy" in keeping with his own capitalist endeavors. Colonialism is seen in the story after Crusoe leaves the island—for while he is there, he realizes that the things he valued in England, Brazil and on his travels revolved around money. He has no need of money on the island, but he does value materials that will aid in his survival—such as gunpowder and fresh water. Returning to civilization, his desire for money emerges again.

When I took leave of this island, I carried...the money I formerly mentioned, which had lain by me so long useless that it was grown rusty or tarnished, and could hardly pass for silver...

Colonialism is also seen in how Crusoe treats Friday once they leave the island. Crusoe's answer to prayer, one who he looked to like a son, he "civilizes" so that he can become a part of the great land of England, but not as a brother or friend—only as a servant. ("My man Friday" indicates a sense of servility on Friday's part, and "ownership" on Crusoe's...even though he was technically not a slave. This reflects the English's attitude towards natives of countries which they assimilated. man Friday accompanying me very honestly in all these ramblings, and proving a most faithful servant upon all occasions.

Finally, we see a clear representation of colonization with regard to Crusoe's island. He has discovered and claimed it—in the same spirit as England's explorers and military leaders had claimed England's own colonies. When he is rescued, the ship's captain tells the mutineers that Crusoe is employed by "the governor."

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.

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