Was Robinson Crusoe…….ehm, gay????” “Eh?” was my astonished reply, as the question had been seriuosly posed by one of my brightest and most diligent, sensitive students; it didn’t actually look like a kind of joke. She was also so confident about her intuition that she wanted to know whether the Puritan reading public of the age had favourably accepted the character of Robinson Crusoe. This serious statement made me giggle a little, as I found unlikely and somewhat daring that Daniel Defoe, the Dissenter, the author who is commonly regarded as the father of the English novel , would have openly exposed his very first fictional hero to a discussion on his sexuality or sex in general without a moral implication. A certain prudery, in fact, pervades the novel. I remember an episode in particular that struck me. As soon as Robinson recovers from the shock of the shipwreck and understands to be all alone on the desert island, his very first concern, before thinking about food, water or even a safe shelter, is actually his own nakedness, as his clothes are ragged and has no change. He had not realized that there were no pleasures of society to be enjoyed on a desert island yet, and clothes were, actually, quite unnecessary.
However, there must have been something that had nourished the suspects of my student and the passage indicted was Robinson’s description of Friday. Friday is a twenty-six-year-old native Caribbean and cannibal, Crusoe had saved from the hands of other cannibals. Very likely Defoe wanted his readers to favourably accept him, therefore when it came the time to introduce him, he made a very accurate but implausible portrait of a native savage, who was not so like the other savages. Crusoe tells us that Friday was “comely” and “handsome“, words that, I am pretty sure, were the origin of my student’s confusion, and soon invites the reader not to listen to his prejudices, because the man is NOT what everybody would believe. He does NOT have ” a fierce and surly aspect” , but “a very good countenance” and when he smiles he has “all the sweetness and softness of a European“. His hair is NOT “curled like wool“, but long and black; his nose is NOT “flat like the negroes“, but small ; his lips are strangely thin and he can admire his beautiful set of teeth as white as ivory; his skin is NOT “quite black“, but “very tawny“, NOT “the ugly, nauseous tawny as the Brazilians the Virginians, and other native Americans are”, but something “very agreeable“. A very tanned Italian in short. Defoe crashes even the last prejudice, telling us that Friday must be also a clever, young man, because Robinson notices a certain sparkle in his black eyes and his forehead is very large and high, the distinctive trait of an intelligent man.
Robinson, is not attracted by Friday the man, but rather, Friday the potential slave. Robinson used to trade slaves and looks at him with the eyes of somebody who could have made a good profit from that young man standing in front of him, as he is “ perfectly well made, with straight long limbs, not too large, tall and well-shaped”, therefore strong and those beautiful set of white teeth are a sign of his good health. Therefore, the only relationship possible between Robinson and Friday, and that we are allowed to know, is that of master and slave. It is really interesting to remark that Robinson does nothing to subjugate Friday, but rather the latter instinctively understands that the white man is naturally superior. Robinson teaches him good manners and gives him the name of Friday, because that was the day he had saved his life and as soon as he can understand him, teaches him to call “Master”, rather than “Robinson”, just to underline that they will never be equal on that island.
Yes this is another sad reminder of how narrow and shallow, to muddy an image, present ideas of maleness have become.
I suppose, in amelioration, as young people the students are still fitting things into something they can recognise in the welter of the grown up world: stereotypes have their purpose when you first enter that world. And that purpose is to be outgrown.
Bravo for your student thinking outside established norms and precepts. Here’s to curious, younger minds. Rather than subscribe to labels, assignations, and staid interpretations, I applaud her imagination and willingness to question. Who knows, perhaps her intuition may be more accurate than history’s and historians. 🙂
Yes, who knows? She’ll be happy to read this. Thanks Eric. 🙂
you are a great writer – and sounds like a great teacher too – 🙂 enjoyed this post – and still chewing on it…
Ok, I’m blushing 😀 Really glad you enjoyed it. Cheers. Stefy 🙂
🙂 hope you have a great week e-tinkerbell
Stefy I am smiling at your Canadian response to your student’s question.. “Eh?” I think it fantastic that not only is your student thinking out of the box but that you have created an atmosphere for your students where explorative questions are welcomed.
Hi Sue, Canadian? Really? It was just an Italian expression with a Roman accent, actually. You see, how many things we have on common? 🙂
Oh yes Stefy. It is a standing joke that Canadians say ‘eh’ at the end of their sentences. I’m notorious for doing it. Of course I am delighted to have this in common with you. 🙂
Thought-provoking question of course, but whatever our sexual inclinations we are all capable of admiring somebody’s appearance if they are beautiful in some way. That doesn’t mean that we fancy them, just that they are aesthetically pleasing.
Of course, I guess my student was misled by Defoe ‘s lingering on the description of Friday and his words of praise. You know,she is young and instintive. 🙂
Stefy, this is a wonderful post and presented in a manner that causes me to stop and really think about the title, “Man Friday” and the following question, “Was Robinson Crusoe…….ehm, gay????” This is a great topic, which is open to much discussion, and analysis. My understanding is that there exists some questions as to Defoe’s sexuality (whether overtly or unconsciously), dose this change his work, absolutely not. Defoe, the man, a very interesting character indeed. Thank you as always for introducing ideas that create much thought, and leave me to wonder, and even to look further into the questions that you pose. Please enjoy the rest of your week.
Hi Pepperanne, I do agree with you, Defoe was a peculiar kind of man, that’s why I linked to “Interesting literature” , who had recently published a nice article on some secrets of his life. Once again, thanks for your warm support.
Hi! I had to close my old blog “Panic Yesterday”. But if you would like to visit my new blog, please click on the link http://cecilia1964.wordpress.com/
Have a great day in Italy!
Etinkerbell, Thank you for your friendship
My pleasure. I hope everything goes fine.
A great post as always dear Stefy…
Your insights made me think that this book might be clearly proof of a ethnocentric perspective.
An antropologic idea behind it might be the “Noble savage”…
(Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_savage)
I am also thinking in one of most well known books by Nobel Prize-winning English author Rudyard Kipling, “Kim”.
The guilty feelings regarding nudity link this ethnocentric approach with the Christian Morality, a bond which is still in force nowadays…
Thanks for sharing. All the best to you. Aquileana 😀
Hi Aquileana, yes it could be read from an ethocentric perspective, you are right. Nudity for the Christian morality has always been associated to sin. For example, once Adam and Eve are banished from heaven , they soon cover their nudity as they feel it sinful. Defoe’s works are pervaded by Puritanism, he was a Dissenter after all. Thank you for being here.
“a very tanned Italian…” (I love it!) he may well have been but his unfortunate pigmentation pigeonholed his position in this novel by a European writer. The relationship was of the ‘Colonial’ variety and white supremacy clearly dominated, but although colonial preoccupation often involved sexual relations with the natives, I don’t think it can be found in this book. It is wonderful though that a work of fiction can beget such lines of inquiry and result in as excellent an article as this. Thank you for a pleasant distraction to my day eT.
Good morning Mrs. Tink, actually I had saved this post early this past week when it entered into my inbox, save it for my Sunday class with you.
It was interesting to know that Dafoe is considered the father of the English novel, have no idea why so I´ll check it out later.
So Robby boy is not gay then, although you did say bright student who thought of that……dim bright I have to say, sorry. But I´m pretty sure a bright student would have picked what you later described as the relationship of master and slave instead of confusing it with gay, that to me seems that student had something going on in her head already, which didn´t let her be open and really analyse the text without any preconceived notions.
Anyways, as always, a good interesting read for my Sunday morning class.
I know you are very busy …. 😉
I still have to get my head around, how in the world do people make it to do so many things in the same day.
I read about writing novels while I´m trying to write a novella so go figure that one out, I read the posts of word press answer to comments, that intself will take me 3 hours. Since I really do read the post instead of just hitting LIKE and move on, then I have to go out and do errands here and there and not many by the way. And then I can´t go back to the writing thing since I have to write in the morning, has to be before lunch, later in the evening I just can´t. Some organisational skills I think I lost, plus after living not a very common life you might say you can also say I have also lost some of the work ethic I had. But is all practice and practice and getting use to a new way of life that´s all. I´ll get there hopefully sooner than later.
But yes, the girls do keep me very very but very busy. You should talk to them, and tell them to leave me alone, that I´m a great “thinker” and shall not be disturbed or distracted by their evil maquiavelic shenanigans…….not all the time though, they can disturb me some times.
Forgot, maybe having a cell phone with internet access may help with the blog thing, instead of having to sit my behind and not move from the inside of a house.
Nice nice photo of you!
I have known of this story since I was a young kid but your story gave me a lot of information that I was totally unaware of. Even though I have know of the story, I have never read it. Thank you for increasing my knowledge of it.
At the beginning we couldn’t understand. For example I thought Robinson would describe so Friday because he didn’t see people for a long time and he thought to be alone. Now I understand that the truest motivation is this: Robinson was a slave trader and he found a “good merchandise”.
As a young girl, I understand what your student said. I think that it’s impossible for our generation to imagine a man who looks at another one as a slave. Very often adults say that young people mentality is different from the past as a negative thing, but in this case we have a demonstration that sometimes it can be positive. From this point of view, I’m happy to live in 2019 and I’m happy to know the horrible mistakes of human beings only by reading them in history books and to have not lived them.
In my opinion the question that the student asked about Robinson being gay derives from the accurate description of Friday’s physical aspect which might mislead the modern reader. Robinson is not sexually attracted by the beatiful young native but considers him as a merchandise to be sold on the slave market.
I never thought Robinson was gay and maybe I never thought what it was his true personality but reading the article I think that the master is attractive to Friday like slave not like person.
Knowing what Robinson’s job was, I never thought he was gay. was attracted to Friday just for the money.