Something I found interesting about Robinson Crusoe was the relationship between Crusoe and Friday. The novel was published in 1719, a time when slavery was at an all-time high and a view of European dominance loomed over nonwhite populations around the world. However, Friday, a Native American who Crusoe meets on the island, is portrayed as an individual with commendable traits who develops an affectionate bond with Crusoe. How did readers react to the portrayal of Friday and his relationship with Crusoe when the novel was published?
Sure, Friday isn’t portrayed as an equal to Crusoe. He is treated as a slave and is inferior in rank and power, but the fact that he receives individual characterization seems like a big feat in literature at the time. As the novel progresses, Crusoe develops a caring friendship with Friday and despite treating Friday as a “creature,” his attachment to Friday is completely sincere. As a modern reader, it’s a strange contrast, but it must have been a big leap from the global Eurocentric attitude at the time.
Crusoe teaches Friday English and converts him to Christianity, which Friday learns at a quick pace. Some readers might see this as a symbol of European colonialism, but Crusoe also draws comparisons between his Christian God and Friday’s own deity, Benamuckee, and acknowledges that there are similarities between the civilized people of the Western world and the uncivilized savages on the island in terms of religion.
“By this I observed, that there is priestcraft even among the most blinded, ignorant pagans in the world; and the policy of making a secret of religion, in order to preserve the veneration of the people to the clergy, not only to be found in the Roman, but, perhaps, among all religions in the world, even among the most brutish and barbarous savages.” (p. 217)
Considering the racist views that dominated Daniel Defoe’s world, the bond between Crusoe and Friday seemed like a special one to me because it completely broke free from the norms in 1719. It’s important to remember that some important points of the novel can be missed if you don’t view it from the perspective of a reader at the time it was first published.