The Savage vs. the Civilized in Robinson Crusoe

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  • Topic: Robinson Crusoe, Culture, Man Friday
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  • Published : February 10, 2013
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Savage versus Civilized

By definition, a savage is someone who is natural or of nature. Today’s definition of a

savage is also any person, group or behaviour that is distinct from civilization. In the novel,

Robinson Crusoe, the character Friday does not fit this description. Defoe describes Friday,

not in terms of a savage but in European terms. Clearly Friday is not European, yet his features

are not consistent with the description of savage. Throughout the novel, Crusoe

attempts to civilize Friday. In doing so, Crusoe shows us his own negative traits and the darker

side of his own personality which makes us question the idea of “civilized” being better than

“savage”.

Friday is a product of the civilization that surrounds him where he comes from. His

appearance, behaviour and beliefs are that of all the others in his tribe. Yet, he seems

not to be barbaric in any way. Defoe describes Friday not being barbaric or surly but more

softened like a European. “And yet he had all the sweetness and softness of an European”

(Defoe 219). Except for his cannibalism, Defoe does not depict Friday as being savage-like.

Crusoe preconceives an idea of a savage, but it is not apparent in Friday. When they first meet,

Friday uses sign language to communicate with Crusoe, which is an indication that Friday is

civilized to some degree. He is quick to learn Crusoe’s language and eager to learn more. This

clearly shows that Friday is more cultured than what Crusoe thinks of as savage, especially by

the 18th century standards.

It is apparent that Friday has some religious beliefs, which are also a sign of civilization.

When Crusoe saves him from those who want to devour him, Friday is extremely grateful and

offers himself as an eternal servant to Crusoe. This shows that he has a sense of higher order.

Later, when Crusoe teaches Friday English, they have a discussion about God and Friday’s God

Benamukee. Friday questions Crusoe about the devil and why Crusoe’s ever powerful God did

not just kill the devil. (Defoe 220-230) This question shows Friday’s openness and willingness

to embrace a new religion as well as his intellect. Crusoe does not have an answer for Friday.

Later, Crusoe remarks that Friday is learning Christianity so well that he may be better than him

(Defoe 233). Religion is also a sign of civilization.

Friday is completely loyal to Crusoe, an honourable human characteristic. After a while

Crusoe is aware of this but still does not trust him. He thinks Friday will leave the island and

may attempt to kill and eat him. He shows Crusoe that he is a completely loyal servant. “for

never Man has a more faithful, loving, sincere servant, than Friday was to me without passions,

sullenness or designs, perfectly oblig’d and engag’d; his very affections were ty’d to me, like

those of a child to a father;” (Defoe 222). Later, a group of natives land on the island with

three canoes and prisoners. Crusoe is afraid that Friday may not be loyal to him. Friday says,

“Me die, when you bid die, Master” (Defoe 241). This reveals Fridays complete loyalty to

Crusoe. Friday’s simplistic and honest approach to life goes against Crusoe’s beliefs of

humanity.

Being able to learn so quickly, it is evident that Friday is not as primitive as Defoe

reveals. During three years they are together, Friday teaches Crusoe many things that are useful.

Friday explains the currents surrounding the island. He tells Crusoe that the current goes one

way in the morning and another in the afternoon. (Defoe 227). This explanation clearly shows

that Friday is knowledgeable in navigation around this island. Friday, explains to Crusoe about

the cannibalism of his tribe....
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