Charlie McWilliams                

Cultural differences in Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe is a classical adventure with themes ranging from imperialism to providence but one of the key features of the novel is the cultural differences displayed throughout the tale. Crusoe embarks on a journey, which sees him confronted with contrasting cultures such as middle class England and indigenous tribes. These cultural clashes are evident through the narration that Defoe uses. When looking at the depiction of such cultures it is important to recognise who is telling the story. It primarily appears that each of the different cultures introduced are described through the eyes of Robinson Crusoe. However it is equally vital to recognise Defoe’s own cultural prejudices that creep into the narration of the tale. The most obvious one of these is Crusoe’s nonchalant acceptance of the slave trade, a form of slavery that would shock and appal contemporary cultures but was an aspect of everyday life in the eighteenth century. The clashes between the cultures in the novel and that of Defoe’s contemporaries is also apparent, particularly the themes of imperialism and religion, aspects of eighteenth century life that were seen as imperative to the survival of man.

Daniel Defoe was writing Robinson Crusoe at a time of great communal and economic change.  At the time of the novels publication the country social culture was changing quite considerably, no longer were ones standing in society based on predetermined wealth and status of your forefathers, but a persons own determination to succeed. This cultural change is blatantly paralleled by Defoe in Robinson Crusoe when Crusoe tries to escape the trite “middle station” of life in search of adventure and riches. Crusoe’s father explains to him that, “The middle station had the fewest disasters, and was not exposed to so many vicissitudes as the higher or lower part of mankind” (p.4). The father refers to the middle class as having the fewest surprises or “vicissitudes”, however where the father uses this aspect of middle class life as a positive Defoe almost seems to present it as a negative, perhaps indicating that Crusoe’s desire to leave the life of mediocrity and boredom behind him in search for a better life is a key aspect to imperialistic and colonial culture that the novel was written in.

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        Colonialism is a major feature of Robinson Crusoe and is shown in the wide spectrum of situations that Crusoe is successful through implementing western capitalist practices such as farming. Ultimately it is his plantation in the “Brasils” (p. 37), a western development, which is used as the novel’s positive resolution with only a sentence on his family. At the end of the tale Crusoe describes briefly how, “In the meantime…I married, and not either to my disadvantage or dissatisfaction” (p. 305). It is interesting to note that this brief mention of Crusoe’s personal life is lodged in between a section of ...

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