Just as “Moloch” London depended upon a fresh influx of bodies to grow faster than its death rate, England depended upon its colonized bodies to feed its “necessary” needs that resulted from its expansion. Defoe, ostensibly the professional booster of such a vigorous economy of expansion, points repeatedly to its cost, its dependence on slavery, upon violence, upon death.

Crusoe does his part to stock the island with “Supplies” including “seven Women, being such as I found proper for Service, or for Wives to such as would take them: as to the English Men, I promis’d them to send them some women from England, with a good Cargoe of Necessaries (220).

Slavery—physical and sexual-becomes “Necessary” here, sustaining not just life, but Crusoe’s jaunts around the world. While Defoe repeatedly presents the rigors of the slavery system . . . he remains oddly outside of his own analysis of the system. Peter Earle ruefully notes that Defoe “went so far as to hope that one day all Englishmen might be masters, wishing for his country’s good ‘that it might please God that all our people were masters and able to keep servants, tho’ they were obliged to buy their servants, as other nations do.’”

            –Carol Houlihan Flynn, “Consumptive Fictions: Cannibalism and Defoe,” p. 424 and pp. 430-1.

Carol Houlihan Flynn’s essay (quoted above) is interpreting Robinson Crusoe through a postcolonial lens.  As soon as Crusoe stepped foot on the island, he begins an imperial expansion. He identified the ‘other’ and proved his right as ruler through moralizing rhetoric, based on his disgust of the savages’ custom of consuming the flesh of man. Also, he began his own civilization from the ground up. He collected what he deemed useful, began working on a house, and started farming to provide for his own sustenance. What’s even more fascinating is the way he naturally and systematically acquires knowledge of the mechanical arts in order to survive on the island. Looking at the work through a postcolonial lens can also help tease out the anti-Enlightenment critiques at work in the novel. Rasmussen writes, in “Contempary Political Theory as an Anti-Enlightenment project,” “… thinkers of the Enlightenment were dismissive of or even hostile toward individuals and groups whom they saw as “different” or “other,” which included everyone other than white European bourgeois male. Behind the Enlightenment’s seemingly neutral, egalitarian, and progressive façade, its detractors allege, lay a tendency toward and justification for the exclusion, marginalization, and exploitation of these “others” – hence the frequent association of the Enlightenment with practices such as slavery and colonialism” (18).  Rasmussen’s statement brings two things to light; one, the ways in which Enlightenment thought created an elite group of individuals, that is, European men to be exact; two, the hypocrisy behind the movement’s rhetoric of advanced reasoning and the belief of it being for societal improvement. Instead, there is a hierarchical solidification of European/Anglo power masked behind protestant work ethic. Both points can be read when examining Crusoe’s capitalistic actions on the island, and his desire to be ruler on the island.     

Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe illustrates a modern capitalistic model of working hard so that you may become master over your business affairs, and become successful enough to relinquish your stocks to others so that they may work for you, instead of vice versa. This capitalistic and enlightenment work ethic can be seen early in his inhabitation of the island. Crusoe never wastes anything that is deemed useful from the moment he steps foot on the island. Crusoe gathered a lot of inventory, as we read,  

…I brought away several Things very useful to me; as first, in the Carpenter’s Stores I found two or three bags full of Nails and Spikes, a great Skrew-Jack, a Dozen or two of Hatchets, and above all, that most useful Thing call’d a Grindstone; all these I secur’d together, with several Things belonging to the gunner, particularly two or three Iron Crows, and two Barrels of Musquet Bullets, seven Musquets, and another fowling piece, with some small Quantity of Powder more; a large Bag full of small Shot, and a great Roll of Sheet Lead (41).

In this passage, we read how masterfully he began to make an inventory out of all his items, in true capitalistic fashion. Like an entrepreneur, he realizes what’s important to his economy. Crusoe says, “I smi’d to my self at the Sight of this Money. O Drug! said I aloud, what art thou good for? Thou art not worth to me, no not the taking off of the ground; one of those Knives is worth all this Heap” (43). While itemizing his goods and recognizing what’s of true value in his economy he is enlightened, as well. Crusoe says, “… every Man may be in time Master of every mechanic Art. I had never handled a Tool in my Life, and yet in time by Labour, Application, and Contrivance, I found at last that I wanted nothing but I could have made it, especially if I had had Tools” (51). Hence, not only do we witness his awakening as capitalist but also as Master technician. Crusoe needs to become a craftsman to satisfy his hunger.

Unlike the savages, who ate the flesh of man, Crusoe seems to be consuming the natural resources and those around him in a different way, but just as savage. Flynn writes, “He proves himself to be the most professionally savage inhabitant of his island as he feeds needs that grow increasingly complicated” (424). Crusoe needs seem to be illustrated best when looking at his relationship with Friday, because it’s not just a need of sustenance but a need to dominate and subjugate those around him.

            As Crusoe continues his success on the island, he begins to see himself in another light, that of King or Conqueror. Crusoe says, “I was Lord of the whole Manor; or if I pleas’d, I might call my self King, or Emperor over the whole country which I had possession of” (94). But one is not a king without servants. For this reason, his relationship with Friday cannot be seen as that of two comrades but as ruler and subject. In fact, Friday becomes the first subject of his economy. Interestingly, before Crusoe rescues Friday, he is thinking about adding slaves to his economy. Crusoe says, “… I fancied my self able to manage One, nay, Two or Three Savages, if I had them, so as to make them entirely Slaves to me, to do whatever I should direct them” (145). Crusoe is always thinking about making use of everything around him, even other human beings. Not only does Crusoe rescue Friday to subject him, but believes he’s rescuing of the savage deems it right for him to subject him. After rescuing Friday, Crusoe says, “… he came running to me, laying himself down again upon the Ground, with all the possible Signs of an humble thankful Disposition, making a many antick Gestures to show it” and “[Friday] made all the Signs to me of Subjection, Servitude, and Submission imaginable, to let me know, how he would serve me as long as he liv’d” (149). The next thing we read is that Crusoe names him Friday and teaches him to say “Master.” Throughout the novel, we read how Crusoe succeeds in mastering and subjecting everything around him, from the land to the people. For this reason, Flynn’s essay on Robinson Crusoe and Rasmussen’s anti-Enlightenment critique seem to come into conversation when reading Robinson Crusoe through both lenses.   

   "An example of Crusoe's dominance over Friday""Depiction of 'Others'"An example of Crusoe collecting his economy"

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