Colonialism in ‘Robinson Crusoe’

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Robinson Crusoe, a novel which written by British writer Daniel Defoe in 1919, has been hailed as a classic literary work by readers from all over the world. The exciting plot is attracting reader and triggering a series of discussions on different topics. Over the years, the topic of this book has focused on the topics of adventurous spirit and praising freedom. Certainly, colonialism in the context of his work is also a topic which worthy to discussing. This essay would analyze the novel on the view of colonialism and to restore a ‘colonizer Robinson’ in this background.


The full title of the book is The life and strange surprizing adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, mariner: who lived eight and twenty years all alone in an un-inhabited island on the coast of America, near the mouth of the great river of Oroonoque; having been cast on shore by shipwreck, wherein all the men perished but himself, it is considered as the first realistic novel in the UK. It is a story about how Robinson lived on the isolated island after the shipwreck, and eventually became the owner of the island and ruled the cannibal tribe.

Behind the promotion of the adventurous spirit, this novel also has a strong colonialism color and characteristics. The author expresses the psychology of being influenced and assimilated under the colonial background at that time by shaping the typical character of Robinson. As a Puritan, Defoe was also influenced by Puritanism in the creation of his literary works. While affirming that hard work and self-reliance could change the destiny, he actively supported expansion through colonial methods. Robinson did not feel despair on the isolated island, he survived through various skills he possessed, and improved his life quality with hard-working and resourceful mind. In a sense, the image of Robinson also bears the shadow of the author Defoe himself. After rescued Friday, Robinson showed his true feature, and trained Friday as his slave. Also, even the Spanish sailors and Friday’s father who lived on the desert island could not escape the destiny of being slaves of Robinson. It can be said that on this isolated island, Robinson became a veritable slave owner, or more accurate, a colonialist.

The historical background of the book

At the beginning of the novel, Robinson was introduced as a restless young man who is not satisfied with the stable life, he pursues excitement and wants to explore the world alone. His idea represented the psychological state of the young people of that era. Robinson was bold and energetic, at the same time, he also represented the spirit of the UK and implying the rapid development of capitalism. Defoe belongs to the middle class in society, therefore he extremely concerned about the development of the capitalist economy, especially in the industrial and commercial trade. However, he is only a merchant with a small number of funds. Obviously, in terms o his ambitions, what he has is not enough, therefore he wants to engage in an adventure which reflects his colonial trade and expansion consciousness from the side. He was in a period of rapid economic development during the transition from handicrafts period to industrialization, at which time capitalist development progressed by leaps and bounds. The continuous development of the economy has made the British government willing to expand its status and pursue to expand outwards. With the help of technology and capital, the UK is drawing a blueprint for the planning of colonization abroad. In this novel, Defoe expressed his colonial concept and consciousness very well. On the deserted island, he turned the island into his own private property, even every single tree, mountain, and river. Therefore, Robinson Crusoe is a reflection of British colonial behavior in the 18 century.

Colonization through cultural penetration

“As Defoe transforms colonialism through representation, Crusoe refashions himself and the island, in part, through the imagination and language.” (Brett C. Mcinelly, 2003)

After Robinson landed on the deserted island, he did not even have much depressions. On the contrary, he stabilized his life through his viability and made himself the landlord of the island. He rescued a man from the cannibal tribe and named him Friday. Friday did not become a person of equal status or a friend, but became his slave. As a primitive man whose education level and ability are not as good as Robinson, he was deeply influenced by Robinson in many aspects such as the way he think, he act and the life habit. “First is to change the lifestyle. From dressing, eating cooked food, to using advanced tools and to the baptism of language and culture, the rapid changes of “Friday” made Robinson psychologically satisfied.” (Li Rui, and Dan Jiao, 2018) For Robinson, Friday without a Western education seems like a blank, his own culture and language could be easily erased by western cultures. The fact was as same as what Robinson thought, regardless of his words and deeds or his way of thinking, he became more like Robinson because of the cultural influences.

Colonization through religious belief

“Also Crusoe introduces English language as the medium of teaching and learning on the island. Because language has power more than the use of military violence.” (Nourin Binte Saeed, 2013)

Language is always the most basic and important training tool. It does not only represents the power of the speaker, but it is also the only way to build the relationship between the self and the other. Robinson is the naming person of Friday, the master, the governor and the person who arranges, formulates, and builds the social order of the desert island. In the novel the author mentioned, the first English word which Robinson taught Friday was Master, and it is not difficult to feel the strong possession and enslavement of him on Friday. Generally when people have pets, they give them names that are subjectively conscious of being the owner, and the origin of the name on Friday is the same. As the same as people teach pets to follow the instructions and let the pets understand the words they say, so does Robinson. Also because Robinson is a devout Puritans, he insisted on his faith and asked Friday to be a Puritan as well. Obviously Robinson is full of faith in his religion and believes that it could be used as a tool for ideological slavery. Many wars in history were caused by religions disputes. From the Crusades to multiple various wars, European religions culture was established, assimilated and unified during the war. In the country where politics and religion are integrated, religion is a tool which used to control people’s thinking. In that social background, Robinson believed that religion could bring ideological control to slaves and make them be loyal, which is why he as a colonizer asked Friday to believe in his religion.


As a representation of British colonialism, Robinson Crusoe shows not only adventurous spirit, but also the idea of colonial. Daniel Defoe lived in the period of rapid development of British overseas colonial expansion, therefore his work Robinson Crusoe became the epitome of that era and a product of colonialism. Also, Robinson became the representative of the western colonist at that time. Whether it is Robinson’s psychological movement or his construction of the colonial culture of the entire island, it clearly reflects his colonial behavior. When people look at this work from a critical perspective of colonialism, it could also be seen as a rethinking of the colonial history of the western developed countries.

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Colonialism In 'Robinson Crusoe'. (2021, Jul 28). Retrieved February 29, 2024 , from

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