Colonialism and European Superiority in The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe

Colonialism is a theme that is evident in both Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The theory was not new to the world in the 17th century, however, it was this century which began many European conquests of colonization. The British Empire was focused on establishing new colonies outside of the mother nation. The active writing years of the English writers Daniel Defoe and William Shakespeare took place during this time, which may have fueled their inclusion of colonialism in their writings. That is to say, both the Tempest and Robinson Crusoe exhibit traits of colonialism, such as taking control over the land in which they inhabit and encouraging the natives to acquire European ideals.

Both The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe have island inhabitants who are grotesque in nature. Shakespeare’s character, Caliban, is the offspring of a witch and is referred to as the, “Monster of the isle, with four legs (Shakespeare, 42)”. In Defoe’s tale, the island Robinson Crusoe lives on is often visited by cannibalistic savages. One of these cannibals, Crusoe identifies as Friday, becomes Crusoe’s servant because he saved Friday’s life. In the novel, Friday exhibits “all the signs … of subjection, servitude, and submission imaginable.”

This leads to the view that the characters with European descent are somehow superior to the natives associated with them; another characteristic often associated with colonization. There is a point in Robinson Crusoe where Crusoe is observing the psychical characteristics of Friday. He says that Friday’s skin color is not an “ugly nauseous tawny color” like that of the Brasilians and the Virginians. He thinks however, that Friday has the “sweetness and softness of a European” (Defoe 150).  This quote, I think shows the European superiority complex in the novel.

Finally, the protagonists of both texts instill their values in those of the island inhabitants. Both Caliban and Friday are taught the English language. Robinson Crusoe goes as far as teaching Friday about Christianity and “the knowledge of the true god” (Defoe 158). This is an apparent link to colonialism in that the protagonist’s held the belief that their language and values needed to be taught to the natives.

 

 

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