Slaves Written by Defoe and Behn

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  • Topic: Robinson Crusoe, Civilization, Man Friday
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  • Published : March 2, 2012
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Major Slaves Written by Defoe and Behn

Introduction

In Robinson Crusoe and Oroonoko; or, the Royal Slave, we are familiar with two black people, Friday and Oroonoko. They both came from undeveloped areas and became civilized in certain degree. Hence, making some comparison and contrast between the two and see narrators’ different point views of colored people may give us more sense in the appreciation of these two novels. Also, we have the chance to understand the core value of that time.

Chapter I Comparison of Appearance Descriptions

Both Defoe and Behn had detailed description of their slaves, and both of them were endowed with beauty. Friday was “a comely handsome Fellow, perfectly well made; with straight strong limbs, not too large; tall and well shap’d” “He had a very good Countenance, not a fierce and surly Aspect; but seem’d to have something very manly in his Face, and yet he had all the Sweetness and Softness of an European in his Countenance too” “a great Vivacity and sparkling Sharpness in his Eyes” “The color of his Skin was not quite black, but very tawny; … but of a bright kind of a dun olive Color, that had in it something agreeable;” “his Nose small, not flat like the Negroes, a very good Mouth, thin Lips, and his fine Teeth well set, and white as Ivory.”(148-149)[i]

Oroonoko was “pretty tall”. “His Face was not of that brown, rusty Black which most of that Nation are, but a perfect Ebony, or polish’d Jett.” “His Eyes were the most awful that cou’d be seen, and very piercing;” “the White of ‘em being like Snow, as were his Teeth.” “His Nose was rising and Roman, instead of African and flat. ”(43-44)[ii]

To compare two descriptions of appearances, we find common necessity when we can praise a black as handsome. Firstly, the man must be tall and strong, which represents a manly beauty; however, the one has to be evenly shaped, not too large scare others. His face has to be sweet and soft without manly elements, such as a sharp and sparkling eye. Nose must not be flat or African, but rising and Roman. Last but not least, a beautiful Negro should have a right color, bright and polished dark olive color.

Even though both authors had rich experiences, Defoe was an English writer, journalist and pamphleteer while Aphra Behn worked as a spy and first women writer who earn herself a living, they had common aesthetic standard, which rooted in their shared background culture. This shared “beauty sense” can be explained by the term of “imitative judgment” which is the expression, in the field of aesthetics, of what Trotter has called “herd instinct,” the tendency on the part of the gregarious animal to make his acts and habits conform to those of another member of the same group, particularly if that member is a leader or represents the majority.[iii] In the 17th century, European culture dominated the world, so as their view to beauty. It was the cultural core that reflected in both novels. Therefore, the narrators judged the slaves by European standards of beauty. To make the reading audience identify with them to a greater extent, the modifying of the features accredited a sense of authenticity and reality to the story. If bad things happen to a regular Negro, the feelings are not stirred nearly as much as if that particular Negro looked fairly like oneself. Although the admiration of them is still valid, it only serves to reinforce the cultural centricity of the white European being the pinnacle of human evolution. Through "misrepresenting" the slaves as "flawed" Europeans, readers gradually discarded their discrimination and learnt to love a so-called “lower race”.

Chapter II Contrast of Family/Tribe Value

Friday is not only an “honest, grateful creature”, but also loyal to his blood relations. When he succumbed to Crusoe, he did whatever to serve him, and would not eat his enemies and worshiped God, he was so glad to find his father though he never complaint missing him. Crusoe said...
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