Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Important keys to interpretation lie in the novel’s full title: in French, Vendredi: Ou, Les Limbes du Pacifique; in translation, Friday: Or, The Other Island. Both versions reflect an intent to shift Friday’s status from a secondary to primary one. The French subtitle means “the limbo of the Pacific,” but the episode in which Robinson fornicates with quillam flowers suggests a comparison of limbes to lombes (loins). “This Island” is the one that Robinson sees with civilized eyes, as mother, bride, or object to be domesticated."The Other Island” is the one indifferent to human projections of language, religion, and culture. Interesting readings of the title are “Friday: Or, The Loins of the Pacific” and “Friday: Or, The Other Robinson.”

Within this framework, the themes of time, provincialism, and subversion are essential. Robinson and Friday were divided by a time barrier. The Robinson of York had only the past (the baggage of family, Bible, and Poor Richard’s Almanack) and the future (the stubborn goal-orientedness of technology). Friday has no past or future but teaches Robinson to live in the present. To arrive at the present, Robinson must age backward. His personal transformation is a sort of Pilgrim’s Regress.

Provincialism is denounced in the novel on the levels of country (isolationism), race (xenophobia), and self (solipsism). Purity—not the morally upright abstinence but the crippling absence of otherness—is indeed a corrosive milieu. Purity is dirty. Thus, when Robinson soils himself in the mire, or Friday sullies Robinson’s mandrake grove, they perform positive acts of purification by inversion.

Ultimately, then, the novel is quite subversive. Friday does not merely undermine Robinson’s clockwork order; he literally blows it to kingdom come. Robinson is a man who takes a permanent vacation from his wife, family, and country, and enjoys it. He worships the sun, acquires blond hair and a nice tan, grows younger with the years, has no briefcase or bank account, and has gained a son without investing any biological resources in the maintenance of the species. One need only imagine what would happen if Robinson were to be held up in Sunday school as an example of a model citizen.