Robinson Crusoe

The Role of Race

'[Robinson Crusoe is] the true prototype of the British colonist, as Friday (the trusty savage who arrives on an unlucky day) is the symbol of the subject races.' Explore.

Unquestionably Robinson Crusoe is a novel of unbridled popularity; it has generated over seven hundred editions, and been abridged, translated, adapted, and imitated variously. To many critics it is the embodiment of the origins of the British Empire; the white man explores, assumes control, and exploits the new world he has discovered. To James Joyce it seemed obvious that Friday's enslavement was symptomatic of early eighteenth century attitudes towards other races and cultures, and it is this which is to be explored here.

Race is foremost in Crusoe and Friday's understanding of each other. For Crusoe the black man and the white man cannot meet on equal ground. The mere physical differences between them are emphasised when Crusoe first describes his new 'companion':

He was a comely handsome fellow ... but seemed to have something very manly in his face, and yet he had all the Sweetness and Softness of an European in his Countenance too, especially when he smil'd. ... The Colour of his Skin was not quite black, ... but of a bright...

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