Robinson Crusoe And Oroonoko Essay Research Paper

Robinson Crusoe And Oroonoko Essay, Research Paper

In 17th and 18th century literature one finds many examples of exotic

travelling adventures, and glamorous stories of discovery. Examples of these are

Aphra Behn?s Oroonoko, written in 1688, and Daniel Defoe?s Robinson Crusoe,

written in 1719. In both of these novels there are various indications that the

foreigner encountered is much more European than the reader may have first

thought. The foreigner is described in various terms, linking him to the white

and European man. These descriptions at many times are obvious, but there are

also very subtle indications of the Europeanizing of the foreigner. The average

European reader had not yet encountered people of such vast cultural and

physical differences and would read about them in books. The colonization of the

exotic places of the world, was an emerging idea, and in a time of discovery and

travel, many people were excited to hear about the different foods, animals,

land etc. In Aphra Behn?s Oroonoko and Defoe?s Robinson Crusoe, one finds

many indications of the foreign European. It would seem that these descriptions

are meant to appeal to the European audience, and make the exotic other more

familiar with the audience. At a time of trade and expansion, travel and

discovery, these two novels are set in the exotic worlds of the more primitive

lands, where great cultural, visual, and geographical differences exist. ?The

difference between Europe and those places, the West Indies and Americas, viewed

as sources of wealth, were themselves used to produce pleasure and fantasy for

the English reader? (Wiseman, 90). Throughout both of these works the authors

have portrayed the foreigner with European traits, physical and psychological,

in order to appeal to an audience which has just begun to understand other

nations, and perhaps is not open to accept a foreigner as one of the main


In Robinson Crusoe, the author uses animals as a way of first introducing the

differences with exotic lands, and attract the European audience to the

mysterious creatures that they have never seen before. The animals which Crusoe

first hears ?made such hideous howlings and yellings, that I never heard the

like? (Defoe 40). He continues on page 47, to say that these noises and

animals were ?impossible to describe.? The reader feels the suspense and

terror, imagining themselves stranded on an island, with creatures never seen

before. Perhaps the way we would feel on another planet discovering new life,

and a new environment. For those that fear the exotic and foreign animals and

peoples, Defoe and Behn provide other subtle descriptions, which attract the

audience to their characters.

Behn introduces the creatures of Surinam in a positive manner in order to

maintain the reader, and welcome the Europeans into accepting the Negro Oroonoko

as the hero of this novel. The exotic other is not scary, and not indescribable,

as in Robinson Crusoe. She describes the ?little Rarities?? (Behn 2) and

concludes the description that there were ?other Birds and Beasts of wonderful

and surprizing Forms, Shapes, and Colours.? The reader is prepared to accept

the remaining story of the hero Oroonoko, and the criticisms of the Christian

?white? men.

Oroonoko is described as being ?adorned with a native beauty, so

transcending of all those of his gloomy race? (Behn 6). The description of his

looks imply that he has a different and more attractive appearance than his ?gloomy

race?. On page eight, Aphra Behn describes Oroonoko with his nose being ?rising

and Roman, instead of African and flat?. He has long hair (8) and lips are not

like the ?turn?d lips, which are so natural to the rest of the Negroes? (Behn

8) The reason that Oroonoko is so beautiful, is because he is more European

looking than the rest of his race. Aphra Behn needs to appeal to a European and

white reader, and in order to make her Oroonoko the hero of this story, the

reader must accept him. This indicates that Behn believes the English audience

is more prejudiced against the exotic other, rather than interested in it.

Robinson Crusoe saves Friday, and describes him in European terms, thus

making his rescuing of a cannibal, and befriending of him acceptable. When

Friday is first mentioned the reader feels anxious, because Crusoe has just

decided that he wants to save a cannibal, so that he may have a slave. In saving

Friday, the English audience must accept that Crusoe has just befriended a

man-eating ?savage?, and the audience too will need to accept and befriend

him. ?He had all the sweetness and softness of an European in his countenance

too, especially when he smiled. His hair was long and black, not curled like

wool?his nose small, not flat like the Negroes, a very good mouth, thin lips?

(Defoe 203). It seems that the emphasis is in describing the foreign character

as non-Negro. Crusoe describes Friday as someone without the typical Negro

characteristics, yet the emphasis makes it almost impossible to deny the fact

that Friday does have Negro characteristics. The fact that he says ?not like

the Negroes? rather than not like the rest of the Negroes, means that Friday

is not Negro, yet the description is so full of Negroid comparisons, it seems

almost like Crusoe has chosen to save the one cannibal that does not have

typical Negro features. This serves the same purpose as it does in Oroonoko, in

describing a main foreign character as European as possible, in order to appeal

to the European audience.

Oroonoko is not only European looking, but also has European education and

knowledge, which makes the reader even more attracted to this Negro hero.

Oroonoko was trained by a Frenchman in ?Morals, Language, and Science? (Behn

7). ?He had heard of the late Civil Wars in England, and the deplorable death

of our great Monarch? (Behn 7). Behn is referring to the up to date

information Oroonoko has, and that he is knowledgeable in many respects. She

goes on to say that he was ?as if his Education had been in some European

Court? (7). She explicitly is saying he might as well have been white and

European, because his beauty and education are of that background anyway. The

17th century English reader can look at him as a European with black skin, and

nothing else is different about him. This makes his slavery even more dreadful,

because not only is he noble, but he is very European. The reader not only

accepts Oroonoko, but actually feels sympathy anger for him.

Aphra Behn not only wishes to describe the beauty and education of the hero,

but of his lover?s as well. On page six, Behn says that ?there are Beauties

that can charm of that Colour.? This is to introduce the idea that the Negro

women are beautiful, specifically the one that Oroonoko has fallen in love with.

Imoinda is so beautiful that Behn has seen ?white men sighing after her?

(9). She is telling the reader that if Imoinda is good enough for these white

men, than imagine how beautiful she is. She has made the heroine of the story as

beautiful and European as Oroonoko. The reader will feel romance, adventure,

sadness and anger, on behalf of this Negro couple and unlikely topic for the

17th century English novelist.

Oroonoko is further Europeanized in Behn?s story, as she describes the love

affair between Oroonoko and Imoinda. Oroonoko?s custom in marriage seems to be

that of polygamy, since his grandfather has many wives, and concubines, it seems

that would be accepted by all his people. However, due to his love for Imoinda,

Behn says that ?contary to the custom of his Country, he made her Vows, she

shou?d be the only Woman he wou?d possess while he liv?d? (11). Oroonoko

has already taken up the Christian, European tradition of marrying only one

woman, rather than practicing polygamy. The reader can further sympathize with

Oroonoko, as they have similar beliefs. Although Behn describes him as not

accepting or understanding Christianity, she mentions ?lies? and ?vice?

as the traits that are not accepted, and it is not necessarily the religion

itself. The reader does not feel that Oroonoko is denying Christ, but more that

he is denying hypocrisy in the name of God.

The first foreign character that becomes Crusoe?s sidekick is Xury, the

Spanish Moor. He does not need too much Europeanizing, as he is already from the

civilized part of the world,as is Crusoe, and he too follows a western religion

in being a Muslim. On page 47, Xury says to Crusoe ?if wild mans come, they

eat me, you go wey? (Defoe). Xury saying that he is scared of the wild man

indicates that he is not a wild man, and not a cannibal. Xury is the same as

Crusoe, in this respect. Further, Crusoe describes their encounter with the

Negroes on the shore, and he says ?we could also perceive they were quite

black and stark-naked? (Defoe 50). The fact that he says ?we?, indicates

that he categorizes Xury as a civilized non-black man, along with himself. Defoe

must make him a foreigner in order to make the adventures truly exotic and

interesting, and therefore makes him a Muslim, yet his similarities to Crusoe

are stronger. In introducing Xury as semi-foreign, Defoe allows the reader to

slowly come to accepting Friday, the savage and cannibal. Where Behn introduces

the foreigner as the hero immediately from the beginning, Defoe gradually

introduces foreignness so that the reader can accept the final sidekick of

Crusoe. This seems necessary since Oroonoko is the foreign hero of the story,

where as the hero in Robinson Crusoe, is a white European.

Crusoe also is knowledgeable in religions, and he makes Xury ?swear by

Mohammet and his father?s beard? (Defoe 45). He makes Xury swear by his own

religious leader, ensuring his loyalty. The fact that he makes him also swear by

his father?s beard is an indication of the similarities between Xury and

Crusoe. The beard becomes synonymous with civilized, and European. Throughout

the adventures, Crusoe encounters people and they are either without a beard,

meaning not a European, or with a beard, such as the man to be eaten by the

cannibal, who is ?one of the bearded men? (233). The fact that Xury?s

father also has a beard, indicates that they have more similarities than

differences. Xury is also of the ?bearded? people, and therefore closer to

the white European man.

Crusoe and Behn describe their foreign friends on the grounds of their

clothing as well. The Caribs are natural, and naked, but the main character

Oroonoko is not only clothed, but he looks so glamorous that he wishes to change

into more slave like clothing. This indicates that the Negroes where clothes.

Even if Oroonoko wants to look more like a slave, he only need change the style

of clothing, not necessarily take it all off. Xury is also a clothed man, as

discussed in a previous section, Crusoe says ?we? when saying that they

observed the Negroes to be naked and black. The fact that ?we? observed they

were naked, indicates Xury is a clothed man. Friday also begins his role as a

naked cannibal, yet when meeting Crusoe he becomes more European as he learns

Crusoe?s language and must wear clothes (209). Friday is also taught to be

Christian. Making him a Christian brings the reader closer to Friday, who at one

point was a naked, cannibal savage. It seems that in order for a foreign man to

be accepted, he must become Christian.

On page 212, Crusoe says ?He had bestowed upon them the same powers, the

same reason, the same affections, the same sentiments of kindness and

obligation, the same passions and resentments of wrongs?He has given to us.?

Crusoe is linking the savages with the Europeans, and with the civilized people

in the world. He feels that these people could have been the same as his people

are, but because God did not show Himself to them, they lacked this civility.

His word, as Crusoe describes, was hidden from ?so many millions of souls?

(212). ?There is a priestcraft even amongst the most blinded ignorant pagans?the

policy of making a secret religion?is not only to be found in Roman, but

perhaps among all religions in the world, even among the most brutish and

barbarous savages? (Defoe 219). Crusoe clearly realizes that the cannibals

have a way of life different than his, but they do not lack religion or prayer,

as most had assumed of these ?savages?. They are not ?Godless?, except

that they are without the Christian God. This brings the entire savage people

closer to Crusoe and to the European man, since they too have religious beliefs

and customs.

Another indication of Friday coming closer to the European man, is when he

says on page 250, ?you see English mans eat prisoner as well as savage man.?

Friday cannot distinguish between murder, which is committed by the European

man, and cannibalism, which is committed by the savage natives. He assumes that

as a prisoner he will naturally be eaten as well, since that is his custom.

Crusoe clarifies that ?I am afraid they will murther them indeed, but you may

be sure they will not eat him?. Defoe seems to be indicating that although

there are differences in the two people?s savagery, murder and cannibalism are

equally wrong. The fact that Friday is shown as not understanding murder without

cannibalism proves to make the reader sympathize with his ignorance in the

matter, and that they both commit the same thing because they both result in the

death of other people.

In both Oroonoko and Robinson Crusoe, the foreigner is described as a

European to serve the European audience?s background, and allow them to

welcome and understand the exotic other. The European audience not only accepts

the exotic people, land and customs, but they are also able to compare

themselves sympathize with them. In making the foreigner more similar to the

European, both authors were able to attract an English audience, and keep them

interested not only in the material and physical attributes of these people, but

also in their ethics and morale. Through these two novels, readers of 17th and

18th century literature can understand what modifications authors had to make,

in order to grab an audience and maintain its interest, and also understand the

European?s opinion of different nations at that time.


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