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Cultural Legacy of Colonialism and Imperialism in Robinson Crusoe

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Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe considers the general effect of post-colonization which is based on a critical study of the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism, focusing on the human consequences of the control and exploitations of colonized people, and their lands. Therefore, from a post-colonial perspective, the value of identity and ownership tend to rely on the opinion and viewpoint of ‘Robinson Crusoe’, who like any Western man during this period, believed in white supremacy until his misfortunate arrival to the ‘Island of Despair’ or some distant Caribbean island awakens his senses and understanding of the broader world which ultimately creates his own identity as a devout Christian, only subjected to the will of God. Most importantly, the religious effect on this novel is significantly important since it demonstrates that a spiritual awakening can take place in a location of isolation, ‘barren’ and the absence of ‘human society.’ Overall, Robinson Crusoe creates an important insight into postcolonialism and how the superiority and ownership derived from European empires brought about the changes in these unknown locations.

Edward Said, for example, refers to the continuous prose narrative, Robinson Crusoe as ‘a work whose protagonist is the founder of a new world, which he rules and reclaims for Christianity and England.’ Throughout the novel, the protagonist’s understanding of ownership within the new world remains stagnated since he is blinded by the fact that he owns everything. Crusoe sells his fellow slave Xury to the Portuguese Captain even though he has no claim of ownership over Xury. Therefore, Defoe’s illustration and characterization of Crusoe enables the reader to understand that he is a reflection or an embodiment of white supremacy and Colonialism, in which non-Europeans were considered inferior, and were often sold into slavery. Also, the rescue of Friday’s father and the Spaniard from the ‘savages” develops into a sense of pride which Crusoe falsely represents himself as a ‘king’, ‘an absolute lord and lawgiver’ towards these people he had saved from the cannibals which suddenly he claims the Island was now his ‘mere property’ in which he governs. This shows that these people were now his subjects or possession, he had the right to dictate over them.

Crusoe’s point of view about ownership and control dominates the novel as it shows the reader how deeply colonialism depended on the proprietary way of thinking. The metaphor used in the quotation ‘King ” historically illustrates the absence of an absolute monarchy in England which in 1651 was under the power of the English Commonwealth, and until his return to Western Civilization after 28 years: the monarchy was restored. Therefore, Crusoe notably remarks himself as the ‘king’ to assume ownership over his limited number of subjects (which are only animals) but to also justify his political knowledge towards the absence of monarchy and being ‘divided from mankind’ in the ‘Island of Despair.’ Moreover, the significant effect of this metaphor demonstrates Crusoe’s illusion of being a monarch, or a ‘King” as he assumes ownership over an inhabitant location with the presence of only animals as his subjects, so clearly he is the king of nothingness as he even claims his home within the Island as his ‘Castle.’ this is clearly showing the reader that he is forcing the

monarchial title to be bestowed upon him and his urge to have contact with human society including the hierarchy system. Most importantly, Crusoe frequently compares his superiority as the ‘King” of nothingness to prominent Biblical prophets such as ‘David’, the King of the United Monarchy of Israel and Judah and his successor, ‘Solomon.’ The analysis of key biblical figures is used purposely by Crusoe in order to create a unification of kingship, capitalism and Christianity to justify his obsession with ownership over the Island. As the novel advances, Daniel Defoe includes a significant, allusive location ‘Old Castile” which links with the foundation of Western superiority and the discovery of new indigenous lands during the final years of the 15th century. Therefore, Crusoe’s aim to ‘rule and reclaim Christianity and England’ in the New World creates an allusion that he is similar to Columbus, developing an identity for himself as an explorer and navigator, but also a ’King.’

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However, Edward Said’s claim that Crusoe is the ‘founder of a new world’ and wants to ‘rule and reclaim for Christianity and England’ is ambiguous since Robinson Crusoe is solely based on a youth’s desire for exploration as opposed to the serious claim of identity and ownership. Crusoe solely desired oceanic adventure, but also prosperity and the indulgence of elevating himself from the ‘middle station of life’ or ‘middle security.’In general, Defore’s Robinson Crusoe evaluates the degree to which Crusoe values over ownership and dictating instead of companionship and equality, especially with those who he had rescued from the savages. Although his youth is blinded by the desire of seeking adventure and increasing his ‘revenue’, Robinson Crusoe’s protagonist is often evaluated by his view of identity and ownership through the means of power and conquest, especially during the 17th century where colonialism had advanced the need to gain wealth from different parts of the world. Crusoe’s aim to ‘rule and reclaim Christanity’ is based on the fact that Crusoe is rarely without a gun, which is a metaphorical symbol of power, strength, and conquest as he uses this weapon to rescue the savage or also known as ‘Friday.’ Instead of reclaiming for Christanity, it seems to be as if he reclaiming the power he once had before the shipwreck and now his sudden ‘determination’ to show his control over those who are ‘lesser breeds without the law’ as Kipling notoriously claims. Overall, his idea of ownership is visible as his isolation simultaneously becomes apparent, he becomes increasingly desperate to use his newfound control over the island, and those who are within it.

The protagonist ‘Robinson Crusoe’ has been described by Karl Marx as ‘a potential or evolving capitalist’ as the Island becomes an allusion of Bourgeoisie individualism since Crusoe’s isolation not only reflects his banishment from ‘human society’, it also represents individual ownership of property and individual prosperity. This is evident as Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719, which at the beginning of this century it began to witness great changes in the economic order or the hierarchy system. During this era, the aristocratic order was slowly shifting into a capitalist society where individuals make their fortune in order to become wealthy, instead of their wealth or prestige being decided by their birth or ancestral social standing. The evidence behind this claim appears in Crusoe’s desire to alternate his identity as ‘middle fortune’ to ‘being a rich and thriving man’ who establishes himself as a plantation owner in Brazil and takes an interest in buying slaves from West Africa, instead of taking the advice of his father to study law. Therefore, this emphasises the theme of individuality. Homo economicus’ a term used in the eighteenth century which is also known as the economic man, who are known to be a rational, intelligent and self-interested person as they are capable of making judgements subjectively towards wealth and prosperity. Therefore, using the example of the economic man, the Marxist’s claim suggests that Crusoe is an embodiment of capitalist oppression and superiority towards the Natives from foreign lands. The accuracy of this claim tends to rely on the significance of ownership and individuality in Robinson Crusoe when the relationship between Crusoe and Friday in which the latter is taught to say ‘Master’ before any form of communication evolves between them. This, therefore, links with the theme of the ambivalence of mastery as Crusoe is seeking to dominate Friday with his newfound control. In addition, Crusoe’s newfound control becomes increasingly apparent as his ’great desire’ to demonstrate his superiority over Friday. While the claim developed by Karl Marx may be ambiguous in the sense that Robinson Crusoe’s protagonist was simply inspired by the Scottish Privateer and Royal Navy Officer, Alexander Selkik, who spent over four years as a castaway on an uninhabited Island in the South Pacific Ocean before rejoining ‘civilisation’ in 1709. Therefore, the key exploration of Robinson Crusoe is the separation from society and survival.

Although, the description of Friday as a Caribbean tribesman is relatively and culturally important in English novels since Defoe is giving a realistic, individualised, and humane portrayal as opposed to the traditional representation of non-whites who are generally considered the ‘worst of savages… cannibals or men-eaters.’ Nevertheless, Crusoe’s description of Friday lacks the humane portrayal or an identity as Friday had the ‘sweetness and softness of a European in his countenance too.’ This demonstrates that Friday was only relevant to Crusoe’s or his ’Master’s’ companionship was due to the fact that his physical appearance possessed few similarities with a European. Therefore, considering the general effect of one’s identity in an inhabitant location is significantly affected by the visual perception of Europeans through Crusoe with his ‘strange kind of passion’ for the Caucasian world against the Natives’ external appearance. It can be analysed that Crusoe’s superiority and ownership over Friday represents the later oppression of European Imperialism. In addition, Crusoe purposely selects the name for the ‘savage’ is ’Friday”, which illustrates bad luck since the biblical events prior to this date are significant within Christanity including the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the start of the Great Flood, and the Crucifixion of Jesus. Nevertheless, the secularised reason behind the naming of the savage ‘Friday’ suggests that Crusoe wants to constantly remind Friday the day his ‘Master’ had saved him from death, and to remind Friday he was indebted to Crusoe. Therefore, there is an element of superiority that can be assessed through Crusoe’s obsession with dictating his ’inferior.’ Moreover, Crusoe uses an idiom ‘my Man Friday’ to alter the persona of his faithful servant instead of treating him as a companion during his isolation.

Robinson Crusoe considers the effect of identity with Crusoe’s use of allegory towards Christian figures such as Jonah. Since the Biblical prophet ‘Jonah’ receives redemption from God as he is swallowed by the giant fish due to his attempt to flee from the presence of God by boarding in the ‘ship of Tarshish.’ Crusoe includes a personification to reflect on the connection between his denial to English society and his failure to settle at home ‘according to his father’s desire’ and instead relies on his sense of individuality to join his quest for an oceanic adventure. Overall, it can be argued that Crusoe was demonstrating specific examples from biblical narratives to compare to his lack of duty towards the nature of society in which he aggressively rebukes and to the ‘dismal prospect of his condition.’ Historically, it can be analysed that seventeenth-century Puritans were apt to regard Scriptural events as prefiguring their own lives. Significantly, the relation between Defoe and Puritanism is apparent in the sense that Defoe employs the Puritan interpretation and allusive meaning through Crusoe. These interpretations and references serve as ways for Defoe to show Crusoe’s struggle to be pious or to provide guidance for Crusoe in tough situations. However, it can be argued that Jonah is rather an example of economic deprivation and figure who is derived and isolated from ‘human society’ which is a prominent theme throughout the novel. As the Christian figure ‘Jonah’ is not understood as a moral model, but rather an example of economic defeat for Crusoe as he is also thrown into the depths of the ocean. The ocean in Christian analogy symbolises Crusoe as someone is forgotten, invisible, and the bottom of society. He is instantly removed from the ‘middle station of life’ and the life of ‘ease and pleasure.’ However, his removal from the life of comfort and ease increasingly pushes him towards God, and instead becomes a pious Christian as his isolation within the Island allocates him to continue his life without sin. Overall, the value of ownership and identity is assessed by Crusoe’s economic downfall and his departure from human society allows Crusoe to develop into a better individual and increases his understanding of life beyond the English society.

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Cultural Legacy of Colonialism and Imperialism in Robinson Crusoe. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Cultural Legacy of Colonialism and Imperialism in Robinson Crusoe.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
Cultural Legacy of Colonialism and Imperialism in Robinson Crusoe. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2023].
Cultural Legacy of Colonialism and Imperialism in Robinson Crusoe [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:
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