“Self” limited to colonialism in Robinson Crusoe

As critic, Brett McInelly, suggests in his article, “Expanding Empires, Expanding Selves: Colonialism, The Novel, and ‘Robinson Crusoe,’” Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe reveals the globe’s limitlessness that “can produce close self-reflection of a kind not easy to achieve in ‘civilized’ society.”  He explains that Crusoe’s self-perception expands as he travels farther away from England, claiming that the focus on the individual stemmed from the empire’s influence on the novel. However, I argue that Crusoe’s self is not expanding, but rather further limits itself to colonialism.

McInelly explains that Crusoe stands as “a seemingly stable and coherent subject in the wake of, what is for him, an expanding empire,” adding that British self-confidence is the outlook colonialism necessitates. Crusoe’s solitude on the island strengthens his self-awareness, since there’s an evident focus on survival. One doesn’t need to look far from the title page, “The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,” to see that it’s invidualistic. The page declares that he’s the author of his own “Life and Adventures.” “Writer” of his life can translate to master or Colonialist. Right from the start, Defoe uses the word “I,” which tells us it is autobiographical. Later on, we begin to read Crusoe’s personal entries after he had secured paper, pen, and ink from the shipwreck. He gives “some little Account of my self, and of my Thoughts about Living” (51) by continuously reporting both his time on the island and writing down his activities in his journal. Crusoe’s self-reflection is undeniable, but that doesn’t mean his selfhood is expanding. His superiority as a White man allows him to reflect. It’s not his mastery of self-reflection that empowers him.

To further prove my point, when he finds himself stranded on an island afflicted with cannibals, Crusoe imagines himself “Lord of the whole Mannor; or if I pleas’d, I might call my self King, or Emperor over the whole Country which I had possession of” (128)— instead of showing fear because superior nature is instilled in him. At one point, when he begins to lose that power, Crusoe feels the need to teach his parrot— his only companion— to say, “Poor Robinson Crusoe! Where are you? Where have you been? How come you here?” (Defoe 143). He trains the bird in an act of desolation, which is in no way an expansion of self, but rather an act of self-help to regain the power he lost. He lets the bird call him “poor” in a bewailing tone without showing his unhappiness because he can’t let his “British self-assurance” diminish. Yet, the parrot’s words are Crusoe’s words, so he is pitying himself. His identity is therefore limited to colonialism. Soon after, we also see a shift when Friday, the Caribbean native, Crusoe saved “willingly submits to his white savior” as he “makes ‘all the Signs … of Subjection, Servitude, and Submission’ (206),” McInelly says.  Crusoe teaches Friday to call him master before any other word, which reveals a need for power to retain selfhood. As McInelly says, Friday’s “mimicry of Crusoe reinforces Crusoe’s belief in the superiority of his religion, culture, and social and political values.” Crusoe becomes an authority and is even considered a God.

McInelly claims that Crusoe mastered himself to master his situation and refashion “a world to his liking—a decisively colonial act,” but I disagree— as his identity is actually determined by and clearly limited to colonialism.

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