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

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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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Robinson Crusoe

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