Master of Your Domain

July 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

Daniel Defoe shipwrecks Robinson Crusoe on a deserted island, leaving him stranded for twenty-eight years. Rather than succumb to his primal urges and animal tendencies while alone, Crusoe maintains his humanity by establishing dominance over his island surroundings. Crusoe’s ability to adapt juxtaposes the unvarying nature of the island’s animals and cannibals. However, Crusoe’s isolation on the desert island is not Defoe’s first example of human mastery. Early in the story, after being captured by the “Turkish Rover of Sallee,” Crusoe plans and executes a daring escape from slavery (17). His flight represents Defoe’s introduction of adaptability, and Crusoe’s dominance over Xury illustrates mastery. When Crusoe analyzes his survival of the shipwreck, he is distraught by his isolation, but also thankful for his survival. Similarly, Crusoe has the good fortune of being chosen as a prize by the Captain of Sallee. While he does not feel lucky as he enters servitude, the alternative of being “carried up the Country to the Emperor’s Court” to probable death is most definitely less desirable (17). Admittedly, Crusoe feels “perfectly overwhelmed,” and as if “the Hand of Heaven had overtaken me, and I was undone without redemption”(17). Crusoe’s pessimism is understandable and fundamentally human. After all, no one can consistently maintain Odysseus-like optimism.Crusoe’s attitude soon shifts away from negativity, after being enslaved, as he surveys his situation and begins to adapt; “I meditated nothing but my Escape” (18). First, he “hopes that he [Captain] would take me with him when he went to Sea again, believing that it would some time or other be his Fate to be taken by a Spanish or Portugal Man of War; and that then I should be set at Liberty” (17). When Crusoe is left on “Shoar to look after his little Garden,” he begins to contrive different escape schemes (18). For two years, no method seemed to have any probability of success until the Captain entrusts Crusoe with the responsibility of fishing offshore in a Longboat equipped with a “Compass and provision” (19). When Crusoe is deployed in the fully stocked Longboat, with only a Moor and the slave Xury, Crusoe’s “Notions of Deliverance darted into my Thoughts” (20). He sneaks provisions and tools onto the boat, and then pushes the Moor overboard once far from shore. Crusoe, who had been passive and dependant until this point, immediately transforms into a risk-taking and assertive man, willing to “shoot you [Moor] thro’ the Head” if the Moor does not swim back and allow Crusoe to escape (21).With the Moor overboard, Xury is the only remaining obstacle. Crusoe’s options include pushing Xury into the water, embracing him as a companion, or confining him to servitude. He chooses the latter, threatening to “throw you into the Sea,” if Xury does not “stroak your face to be true to me” (21). In response, Xury “swore to be faithful to me, and go all over the World with me,” thus clearly defining their master-slave relationship (21). Defoe uses Crusoe’s formation of racial dominance to reiterate human adaptability. Furthermore, the ease with which Crusoe imposes servitude on Xury sets a precedent for the virtual enslavement of Friday later in the story. However, Crusoe’s relationship with Xury, and later Friday, does not easily fit a black or white color binary because Crusoe regresses from his racist mindset and embraces companionship. Here, companionship is an adaptation. When conversing about the dangers of lions with Xury, Crusoe remarks, “I was glad to see the Boy so cheerful, and I gave him a Dram” (22). Later, when Xury offers to risk his life gathering much-needed water, Crusoe notes that “The Boy answer’d me with so much Affection that made me love him ever after” (23). Crusoe’s embrace of Xury seems commonplace to the modern reader desensitized to racial equality, but the affection Crusoe feels for Xury, and later Friday, serves to criticize and transcend the racial barriers of Defoe’s time. Crusoe’s affectionate but semi-dominant interaction with Xury is also unchanging, even when adaptation to nature is necessary. When a “dreadful Monster on the side of that Hillock fast asleep” is spotted, Crusoe orders that Xury “go on shore and kill him” (25). Xury timidly responds, “Me Kill! He eat me at one Mouth” (25). Crusoe acquiesces and shoots the monstrous lion himself, again asserting his primacy. Choosing to kill the lion also demonstrates adaptation, and the kindness to Xury shows compassion. Later in the story, when Crusoe first takes Friday as a companion, he knowingly sacrifices a permanent portion of his food supply. This sacrifice of food is a parallel to Crusoe’s aforementioned kindness to Xury. Even though he is not necessarily dependent on Xury, Crusoe’s compassion outweighs his survival instinct.Finally, after weeks of sailing on their makeshift boat, Xury catches sight of a ship and yells, “Master, Master, a Ship with a Sail” (29). When Crusoe identifies the ship as Portuguese, he resolves “to speak with them if possible” (30). However, the two boats are too far apart. Crusoe adapts by using his Patroon’s Antient as a “Signal of distress, and fir’d a Gun, both which they saw” (30). Thinking that Crusoe’s boat is “some European Boat, which as they supposed must belong to some Ship that was lost,” the Portuguese ship waits (30). After telling their story, Crusoe and Xury are saved. Because Crusoe is master over all that is on his ship, including Xury, he offers everything as a “Return for my Deliverance,” but the captain refuses the gift (30). Piece by piece, the captain generously purchases Crusoe’s belongings. When he offers “60 Pieces of Eight more for my Boy Xury,” Crusoe is “very loath to sell the poor Boy’s Liberty” (31). For Crusoe, Xury’s sale is a dilemma because he has compassion for his slave. Taking the money would improve his situation, but would also mean losing a friend. In the end, Crusoe’s dominant nature overtakes his compassion for Xury, and he sells Xury.Crusoe’s escape from the Sallee Rover, his survival in foreign waters, and his eventual deliverance by the Portuguese ship all demonstrate his mastery over his environment. His adaptation in the face of adversity foreshadows his eventual mastery of the deserted island. While Robinson Crusoe will always be remembered for the “footprint in the sand” and Crusoe’s mastery of the island, it is clear that Defoe established these themes of adaptation and dominance early in the story and carried them throughout.

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