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Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Defoe

Chapters XXIV–XXVII

Chapters XVIII–XXIII

Chapters XXVIII–XXXI

Summary: Chapter XXIV — We Make Another Canoe

Crusoe begins to love Friday and, in the course of rudimentary conversations with him, learns that the cannibals periodically visit the island. Crusoe also acquires enough geographical information to locate himself near Trinidad. Crusoe finds out that Friday is aware of mainland Spaniards who kill many men. Crusoe attempts to educate Friday in religious matters and finds that his servant easily understands the notion of God, to whom Friday draws similarities with his own deity Benamuckee. Friday has more difficulty understanding the devil, not grasping why God does not rid the world of this evil being permanently, and Crusoe has trouble answering this question. Crusoe admits that he lacks the religious knowledge necessary for instructing Friday in all the aspects of God and the devil. Friday reports that the cannibals have saved the men from the shipwreck discovered by Crusoe before Friday’s liberation and that those men are living safely among the natives now. When Friday expresses a yearning to return to his country, Crusoe fears losing him, and when Crusoe considers trying to join the shipwreck survivors, Friday becomes upset and begs Crusoe not to leave him. Together, the two build a boat in which they plan to sail to Friday’s land in November or December.

Summary: Chapter XXV — We March Out Against the Cannibals

My island was now peopled, and I thought myself very rich in subjects . . . how like a king I looked.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Before Crusoe and Friday have a chance for their voyage to the cannibals’ land, the cannibals visit Crusoe’s island. Twenty-one natives come in three canoes to carry out another cannibalistic attack on three prisoners. Hesitant on moral grounds to kill so many, Crusoe reasons that since Friday belongs to an enemy nation, the situation can be construed as a state of war in which killing is permissible. Approaching the shore, Crusoe observes that one of the prisoners is a European. Crusoe and Friday fall upon the cannibals and quickly overcome them with their superior weapons, allowing only four to escape. Friday is overjoyed to find that another of the prisoners is his own father. Crusoe and Friday feed the dazed prisoners and carry them back to Crusoe’s dwelling, where a tent is erected for them. Crusoe reflects contentedly on the peopling of his kingdom with loyal subjects.

Summary: Chapter XXVI — We Plan a Voyage to the Colonies of America

After conversing with his “two new subjects,” Friday’s father and the Spaniard, Crusoe revisits his earlier dream of returning to the mainland. Crusoe asks the Spaniard whether he can count on the support of the remaining men held on the cannibals’ territory. The Spaniard says yes, but reminds Crusoe that food production would have to be expanded to accommodate so many extra men. With the help of his new workers, Crusoe increases his agricultural capacity. He gives each of the new men a gun.

Summary: Chapter XXVII — We Quell a Mutiny

One day Friday comes running to Crusoe with news that a boat is approaching the island, and Crusoe, with his spyglass, discovers it to be English. Crusoe is suspicious. Near the shore, Crusoe and Friday discover that the boat contains eleven men, three of whom are bound as prisoners. Friday suspects that the captors are preparing for cannibalism. When the eight free men wander around the island, Crusoe approaches the prisoners, who mistake him for an angel. One prisoner explains that he is the captain of the ship and that the sailors have mutinied. Crusoe proposes that in exchange for liberating him and the other two, he and Friday should be granted free passage to England. The captain agrees and Crusoe gives him a gun. Crusoe realizes that the other seamen may notice something wrong and send more men onshore to overpower Crusoe’s men. They disable the boat to prevent the additional men from escaping.

Sure enough, ten seamen come in from the ship to discover the boat destroyed. Leaving three in the second boat as watchmen, the other seven come ashore. Crusoe then sends Friday and another to shout at the men from various directions, and Crusoe succeeds in confusing and tiring them so that they are finally separated. The men in the boat eventually come inland and are overwhelmed by Crusoe’s stratagems. On behalf of Crusoe, the captain, finally addressing the remaining men, offers to spare everybody’s life except that of the ringleader if they surrender now. All the mutineers surrender. The captain makes up a story that the island is a royal colony and that the governor is preparing to execute the ringleader the next day.

Analysis: Chapters XXIV–XXVII

The affectionate and loyal bond between Crusoe and Friday is a remarkable feature of this early novel. Indeed, it is striking that this tender friendship is depicted in an age when Europeans were engaged in the large-scale devastation of nonwhite populations across the globe. Even to represent a Native American with the individual characterization that Defoe gives Friday, much less as an individual with admirable traits, was an unprecedented move in English literature. But, in accordance with the Eurocentric attitude of the time, Defoe ensures that Friday is not Crusoe’s equal in the novel. He is clearly a servant and an inferior in rank, power, and respect. Nevertheless, when Crusoe describes his own “singular satisfaction in the fellow himself,” and says, “I began really to love the creature,” his emotional attachment seems sincere, even if we object to Crusoe’s treatment of Friday as a creature rather than a human being.

As the bond between Crusoe and Friday becomes stronger, the similarities between the two men’s cultures gain more importance than their differences. Crusoe is struck by the ease with which Friday learns about the Christian God, finding a close resemblance with the native’s own deity Benamuckee. Friday is less able to understand the devil, but it is soon revealed that Crusoe does not understand him perfectly either, when Crusoe admits that he has more “sincerity than knowledge” in the subject of religious instruction. Crusoe first believes the savages to be wicked, but we soon learn that the cannibals have shown an almost Christian charity in saving seventeen European men from the shipwreck. Moreover, Chapter XXVII, with its mutiny and scheduled execution, reminds us that Europeans kill their own kind too, just like Friday’s people. The coincidental numerical equivalence between the eleven savages arriving in Crusoe’s dream in Chapter XXII and the eleven Europeans now arriving after the mutiny is Defoe’s method of emphasizing the similarities between natives and Europeans. Both groups can be violent and murderous, yet both groups can also produce individuals—like Crusoe and Friday—who are kind and good. Generalizing them into the good and the bad, or the civilized and the wild, proves impossible.

Crusoe’s story, which has until now been mainly about his own individual survival, takes on a strong political and national dimension when Crusoe wonders whether he can trust the other sixteen Spaniards—who are, historically, often enemies of the British—as his comrades-in-arms against the cannibals. Ironically, it turns out that he can trust these foreigners much more than he can his own countrymen, the eight English mutineers he encounters later. Furthermore, the two non-European cannibal “nations,” as Friday terms them, enlarge this national dimension. Friday explains that the cannibals do not eat each other randomly, but that each nation eats only its enemy. Therefore, those cannibalistic actions that seem steeped in savagery are in fact governed by political motives. In Chapter XXV, Crusoe is reluctant to kill the cannibals until he reasons that Friday is in a state of war, thus making murder permissible. This nationalist thinking permeates Crusoe’s language too. As usual, our hero’s vocabulary reveals much about how he imagines his role on the island, and he starts to describe himself as “generalissimo” of an “army,” with Friday as his “lieutenant-general.” No longer a mere castaway, Crusoe now openly refers to himself as a national leader of military forces. When he refers to his two new guests on the island as his “subjects,” we sense how deeply ingrained his imagined national role as king of the island has become.

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