Robinson Crusoe: Novel Summary: 16. "I have been in all my Circumstances."

Average Overall Rating: 2.5
Total Votes: 714

16. "I have been in all my Circumstances."

"I have been in all my Circumstances." through ".never to remove from the place while I lived" (pages 140-52)
In this section, Crusoe presents what modern audiences might call a "flashback" as he recounts a time in the twenty-fourth year of his time on the island when he, once more overwhelmed with fear of falling into the "merciless Hands. of the Savages," resolved to capture one of them who comes ashore and make him his servant in order to escape the island. Crusoe rationalizes this plan of action as self-defense: "these Men were Enemies to my Life, and would devour me, if they could." Thus, Crusoe, in his twenty-sixth year (where the previous section left us), comes upon a large number of "savages" around a fire, preparing to kill and eat a victim. Crusoe creates a disturbance, shoots one of the "savages," and delivers their captive, who-through an improvised language of hand gestures-pledges himself to Crusoe's service and whom Crusoe names "Friday."
Analysis
This section contains more examples of the moral and ethical lessons Crusoe draws from his exile, confirming his statement that he serves as a "Memento"-that is, a cautionary example-to his readers. For instance, he discourses at length upon the dangers of dissatisfaction with one's God-given station in life, claiming such dissatisfaction is "ordinarily the Fate of young Heads." Whether Defoe intended readers to question such conclusions is left for them to decide; after all, a completely passive acceptance of one's station would never lead to self-improvement, and Crusoe himself, even as an island castaway, has learned much about life and about himself as an albeit unintended consequence of leaving Hull all those years before. Perhaps Defoe crafted his tale as a warning against only the excesses of such dissatisfaction. It is theologically significant and consonant with classic Christian thought, however, that Crusoe labels this dissatisfaction Original Sin, for it was Adam and Eve's wanting to become as gods that led to their disobedience and expulsion from Paradise (Genesis 2-3). This reflection therefore further cements the identification between Crusoe and Adam in the reader's mind.
This section also presents an apparent "relapse" in Crusoe's semi-enlightened thinking about the "merciless" native population. For example, he wonders how good and wise God "should give up any of his Creatures to such Inhumanity; nay, to something so much below, even Brutality itself." Gone now are all theoretical defenses of cannibalism as blameless in the "savages"' own worldview, now that Crusoe is more desperate than ever to leave the island. This further dehumanization of "the other" exemplifies the problems inherent in accepting one's own context in life as a God-given fait accompli: when and how does acceptance of one's own station become, instead, oppression of others of different and "lower" stations? Readers may profitably use Defoe's text to examine such questions. Although Crusoe claims that he "greatly scrupled the Lawfulness" of his plan to capture a "savage," he is ultimately able to justify his scheme in the name of self-interests-as human beings, then and now, justify so much. Readers will also recall (as, indeed, Crusoe himself does in this section), that Crusoe was involved in the slave trade prior to his shipwreck; in fact, slaving was the primary purpose of his fateful sea voyage. This realization may lead readers to question exactly how much Crusoe has, actually, learned during his two decades and more of isolation. He is apparently quite ready to return to his former way of life, both in its good and bad, moral and immoral aspects. (Of course, readers should also bear in mind the eighteenth-century mindset in which Defoe wrote the book. All texts are conditioned by the "zeitgeist" in which they were produced.)
Along these lines, readers should note how effortlessly Crusoe portrays himself as Friday's savior: for example, "I was call'd plainly by Providence to save this poor Creature's Life." Certainly, saving life is a noble aim; note, however, the ease with Crusoe, who for so long has seen himself solely as a subject upon whom God acts, now sees himself as one through whom God acts. Again, modern readers will be more sensitive to the negative aspects of colonialism and imperialism than were Defoe and his European readers; nevertheless, that troubling concept of what would come to be called the "white man's burden" or, in nineteenth-century America, the "manifest destiny" is present in the text, even if Defoe was not troubled by it: namely, the moral obligation of the "civilized" toward the "savage." Even as an isolated castaway, Crusoe, so thoroughly conditioned by his upbringing and society, remains an imperialist! "I. made it my business to teach him every Thing." Crusoe feeds and clothes Friday; he brings "civilization" into even this island wilderness; he even "cures" (not Defoe's word) Friday of his cannibalistic impulses, threatening to kill Friday if Friday indulges those yearnings.
Incidentally, the naming of Friday further establishes Crusoe as an Adamic figure, for Adam gave the wild beasts of the earth their name (Genesis 2:19). This name, readers should note, is only bestowed after the immediate danger to Crusoe has passed: tellingly, Friday is initially "my Savage, for so I call him now" (emphasis in Defoe's original text). Notice the language of possession: even though Crusoe will come to value Friday as a close companion-so much so that the name "Friday" has at times entered the popular lexicon as a synonym for a good friend and ally, "a right-hand man"-Friday is still not a human in his own right. Crusoe's (and perhaps Defoe's) language betrays his imperialistic mindset. Friday will always be "my Man Friday." Indeed, Crusoe seems so fond of Friday precisely because Friday is "less than human": note such passages as, "never Man had a more faithful, loving, sincere Servant than Friday was to me, without Passions, Sullenness or Designs." (emphasis added).

Quotes: Search by Author

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z