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Bears, Cannibals, and Wolves

Frederick Schumm ENGL3164 

 Throughout the second half of the book, Defoe has a lot of focus on the native population which he refers to as “savages” because of their social view of cannibalism which he finds deplorable and a risk to his survival. Eventually Robinson is able to teach the rescued native Friday to eat and behave as he does, and to the very end he is a faithful companion.  

I find Robinson’s opposing feelings towards bears and wolves somewhat interesting and possibly related to his feelings about the natives’ cannibalism.

Robinson begins by describing the bear as “a heavy clumsy creature” and the wolf as “swift and light”pg246/7-249. He continues to almost be affectionate towards the bear as it does not usually attack people unless provoked, then almost praises them for never stopping until the act of revenge is settled. When Friday eventually kills the bear he seems remorseful as the bear was “only going about his business another way” pg248

The wolf on the other hand is a constant threat, like the natives usually only heard and feared. The wolves descend on their party, are harassed, and eventually have to be battled. When they discover the other travelers and their horses semi-eaten he calls the wolves “ravenous creatures” pg252 In the battle, which he describes as if fighting pirates or natives, the particulars seem to be rather embellished, and the wolves’ ferocity and intelligence exaggerated as if describing a terrible enemy after an epic battle. The wolves are after all an animal following animalistic instincts honed by generations of evolution, and the natives just adhering to generations of social protocol, but Robinson seems to view both as vile and dangerous. 

In the end Robinson’s feelings about cannibalism, and his feelings about animals could be slightly linked, but untimely his consciousness despises the cannibalism, and his disdain towards the wolves is more of a nuisance than anything deeper. It is interesting to compare the two, and gain some insight into Robinson’s feelings towards the natural world. 

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One thought on “Bears, Cannibals, and Wolves

  1. I think you bring up some really interesting points here. I confess I haven’t actually made it to this part of the book yet, so I don’t know how relevant my response will be, but I like the connection that you’re drawing here between the eating/hunting habits of the bear and the wolves as regards the cannibals in the text. The bear, whom Crusoe seems to have at least an amount of sympathy for, is capable of revenge and killing, but unless provoked doesn’t really attack men, and doesn’t eat them. In this way he embodies the same kind of morality as Crusoe and other non-cannibals. After all, Crusoe himself has been capable of murder, yet he does not consider himself to be totally evil on that account. The wolves on the other hand will hunt people and kill them (and EAT them). In this way they are like the cannibals, and so Crusoe perceives them as being evil. I think that this connection that you’re drawing is interesting for two reasons. First, it locates a person’s moral credibility and “goodness” in what they eat, which I think ties nicely into some of what we’ve talked about in class. It’s another view of the “you are what you eat” argument. The second thing that I think is interesting is that, in the context of this metaphor both the wolves and the bears are following their nature, founded upon “generations of evolution” as you pointed out. I am interested in how this then reflects on the cannibals and also on non-cannibalistic men. Are they also a product of their nature? What does this mean in the context of God in the book? I seem to recall there being a passage somewhere, in which Crusoe ponders on the omnipotence of God. (If God really did create all, and really does control everything, and Crusoe is in this horrible fix, then it is because God willed it so. And if Crusoe fails to learn from his mistakes, this too is God’s will) This same reasoning can be applied to the “nature” of the cannibals, which makes them evil in Crusoe’s eyes.

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