Analysis of the Colonial Mentality and Character Relationships in Robinson Crusoe

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Robinson Crusoe has only one narrator, the whole story is told by Crusoe, while other voices (Friday and the other indigenous) are completely silenced; Crusoe speaks for them. Crusoe says upon saving Friday’s life, Friday “lays his head flat upon the Ground, close to my foot, and sets my other Foot upon his Head, as he had done before; and after this, made all the Signs to me of subjugation, servitude, and Submission imaginable” (Defoe 244).

Crusoe interprets Friday’s gesture as a sign of submission, and thinks that he wants to serve him. And because Friday is not given a voice to express the meaning of his gesture Crusoe enslaves him. Crusoe’s interpretation is an embodiment of colonial ideology; Crusoe treats Friday as a colonizer treating his colonized. The relationship of the two men is “a microcosmic representation of the whole concept of Master-slave culture that persisted during those time in Europe” (B. Gohil).

Another place where colonial mentality can be clearly observed is when Crusoe saves the boy. Crusoe does not show any interest knowing the boy’s name or trying to understand his language. He also has no desire learning about his religion and culture. Therefore, instantly after rescuing him, Crusoe names him Friday. Instead of giving the boy an appropriate name of a normal person, Crusoe names him after a thing. This demonstrates how the British colonizer dehumanizes the colonized. Afterwards, Crusoe imposes on Friday his language, religion and culture; he teaches him English, makes him a Christian and forces on him the western norms and habits. Crusoe behaves like an English imperialist, who disregards other peoples’ cultures and forces his own on them (Bachelorandmaster).

Likewise, In the first Act of Pantomime, Harry, who perceive himself as a master, takes advantage of his authority to subjugate Jackson. Harry orders Jackson, “Friday, you, bring Crusoe, me, Breakfast now. Crusoe Hungry” (Pantomime 133). However, Jackson is unlike the boy Friday of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Friday in Defoe’s novel was silenced; he could not express his opinion or disobey Crusoe, but Jackson has a voice and a choice to either submit to Harry’s orders or reject them. Consequently, Jackson refuses to Act as Friday commenting, “I ain’t walking in front a set of tourists naked playing cannibal” (ibid), which diminishes Harry’s authority. Jackson’s disobedience connotes an implicit subversion of the authority of the colonizer over the colonized.

Role reversals in Pantomime serves raising the awareness of the audience about the hidden truth of slavery. Walcott wants to make the Europeans feel themselves in the position of the enslaved and see how bad and embarrassing servitude is. This can be seen in the play when Jackson acts the role of the black master and Harry the white servant:

Jackson: Suppose I wasn’t a waiter, and instead of breakfast I was serving you communion, this Sunday morning on this tropical island, and I turn to you, Friday, to teach you my faith, and I tell you, kneel down and eat this man. Well, kneel, nuh! What do you think you would say, eh? (Pause) You, this white savage? (136)

Moreover, Jackson explains to Harry that Crusoe westernizing Friday (teaching him English and converting him to Christianity) has taken away his identity. Harry starts grasping the negative outcome of slavery, “And Crusoe would then have to teach him things…about Africa, his gods, patamba, and so on…and it would get very, very complicated” (141). Another important thing Walcott attempts to point out in his play is that the West does not want to admit his injustice against those he distorted their identity. Likewise, as soon as Harry recognizes the awfulness of such nonhuman practice and starts to have a sense of guilt from knowing the unjust his ancestors did to the colonized, he decides to stop the play. He does not want to dig any deeper into this topic because such realities are disturbing, “[i]t’s not the sort of thing I want” (ibid).

Now, disproving slavery and showing that it was a bad practice would suggest that the civilizing mission was based on selfish motives, which would in turn alludes that three hundred years of civilization was wrong, “[he]e comes across this white naked cannibal […] who is Christian […] he’d have to be taught by this – African that everything was wrong […] his civilization, his culture, his whatever, was…horrible” (ibid).

Jackson wants to help Harry to break free from his colonial self, but Harry hesitates and tries to abandon the whole thing. Harry realizes that it is “much more profound” than a light entertaining Pantomime. Reversing roles stipulates reversing the entire colonial history, which according to Harry “could get offensive” to the West (Khan and Raza 228). Walcott delivers the kind of truth that disturbs the colonizer; the truth that colonizer seeks to hide from the world. Harry says, “if you take it seriously, we might commit art, which is a kind of crime in this society…it would make them think too much” (Pantomime 140).

Defoe’s Crusoe uses many racial terms to describe Friday, most prominently ‘Negroes’. Jackson upon being called as such by the parrot (“Heinegger, Heinegger”), expresses anger and kills the parrot. Jackson perceives the words as a racial slur because their phonological structure is similar to ‘hey nigger’ (Khan and Raza 226). The “Creole parrot” symbolizes the indigenous people who got poisoned by colonial ideologies.

These people parrot their colonizer; hence, they reiterate the colonial experience again and again even after the independence; they still spread hatred and racism toward each other (Gilbert 130). Jackson blames colonialism for corrupting them, “The same damn way they corrupt a child. By their upbringing. That parrot survived from a precolonial epoch, Mr. Trewe” (Pantomime 134). Jackson does not tolerate the parrot because it brings back the bad colonial memories. Jackson adds that the colonizer transferred his poisoned ideas to the indigenous through language, “[l]anguage is ideas, Mr. Trewe. And I think that this precolonial parrot have the wrong idea” (133).

Walcott, speaking through Jackson, explains that colonialism erased the indigenous cultures and forced new westernized ones on them, “its your people who introduced us to this culture: Shakespeare, Robinson Crusoe, the classics, and so on” (140). As a consequence of this process, they lost their identities to become no more than shadows who mimic everything their masters do:

Jackson: For three hundred years I served you breakfast […] I was your shadow, I did what you did […] Every movement you made, your shadow copied […] and you smiled at me as a child does smile at his shadows helpless obedience, boss, bwana, effendi, bacra, sahib, Mr. Crusoe” (137).

Harry has great incline toward white supremacy; therefore, he perceives himself as the superior one among the two. However, Jackson’s witty acting introduces gradual subversion to Harry’s self-confidence. Jackson pushes Harry to act the role of a ‘sea bird’ and a ‘goat’. By doing so, he destroys Harry’s pride. At a certain point, Harry starts losing his sense of superiority and accepts acting the ‘sea bird’.

Another part where Harry weakens and Jackson dominates is when Jackson proposes a new reserved version of Robinson Crusoe, where the name of Friday becomes Thursday, and where everything goes up-side-down, so that, it is Thursday who finds the cannibal Robinson and enslaves him later, “Robinson obey Thursday now. Speak Thursday language. Obey Thursday gods” (ibid). This new version forms a challenge for the authority of the West because it does not merely reverse the colonial history, but it reverses the hierarchy of power positioning. In other words, the colonizer falls under the domination of the colonized. Accordingly, Jackson says, “it is the shadow that start dominating the child, it is the servant that start dominating the master” (ibid).

Over the course of the play, things like social status, origin, skin color starts losing its significance and an atmosphere of equality and acceptance begins to prevail the Jackson-Harry relationship (academicresearch). Role reversals is major factor through which Jackson could lead Harry to show mutual respect. Harry becomes aware that he made a mistake interrupting Jackson’s act and his attitude towards him changes over the course of the play; he showed more consideration and respect towards him (Khan and Raza 229). He rethought about his behavior and asks Jackson, “Are you hurt? Have I offended you?” (Pantomime 141). By the end of the first act, Harry seems to withdraw the idea of the inferior other and apologies to Jackson, “I…am sorry” (ibid).

In the second Act, the power-based relationship starts to fade away as Harry changes the way he speaks with Jackson; he speaks with him more respectfully and as an equal, and for the first time he calls him “Mr. Philip”. Harry admits the change in his perception of the other, “A man’s life slowly changes and he does not understand the change. Things like this have happened before, and they can happen again” (151).

Jackson causes disfunction in the colonial based master-servant relationship with his acting. Eventually, the hierarchy in the relationship loses its ‘naturality’ and its ‘meaningfulness’, and a new relationship based on mutual respect is founded. Walcott’s Pantomime is “a new version of the Crusoe story – the story of emergent racial equality” (Loudon 3).

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