Robinson Crusoe: the masculinity role Robinson Crusoe is one of the first books we read as children. The image of Robinson has already become archetypical, with a lot of other books and films exploiting its idea and a lot of philosophers arguing about its deeply rooted meanings. The classic novel of the English literature is obviously not just an easy adventure story for the youth but also a political and philosophic work.
Some of the most controversial themes of the novel are the masculinity role of Robinson and his relationships with his companion Friday. Let us therefore try to look at them closer.
Talking about Crusoe’s relationships with Friday, it is quite possible to state that the novel’s main topic is not loneliness but social interactions. Robinson’s attitude towards Friday is definitely the attitude of the “Big brother” to his servant, even though Crusoe seems to be a very nice and caring master. Although Robinson’s views and beliefs are quite politically correct if we talk about a European citizen of the 17th century – he is far from accusing the cannibals in their habits to eat people, teaches Friday English and the Bible and believes that a white man should teach cannibals the best of their civilized culture – for the present time such a position would be considered offensive and violating the equality principles. Globalization and attempts to impose upon other people the values of any major civilization is a form of colonial expansion, since every nation’s culture, beliefs and traditions are worth attention and precious. However, in Crusoe’s novel, a cannibal is happy to receive Robinson’s good advice and his condescending patronizing.
Friday is an extremely interesting character in the novel from the viewpoint of the concept idea of Robinson’s loneliness at the island. Why is Friday a man, not a woman? We could have presumed that D. Defoe was just attempting to protect the feelings of the chaste and readers-puritans (especially those living in the 17th century). However I do not really think such an explanation is justifiable: after all, if Crusoe’s companion had been a woman, the only thing that Defoe would have to do would be to describe their feelings in a discreet and appealing manner.
In fact, Robinson Crusoe’s sex life is only described in the last paragraphs of the novel: “In the meantime, I in part settled myself here; for, first of all, I married, and that not either to my disadvantage or dissatisfaction, and had three children, two sons and one daughter.” One might ask – how come Robinson had been all alone in sexual aspect all these long years on the deserted island? However, let us remember that the novel is not of medical or psychological background, and one of its most important aspects is allegoric. Since by the end of the novel Robinson gets married and has kids, we can see that his “virile strength” is completely alright. What is interesting though is how it is actualized during the years of Robinson’s life on the island.
If we understand the essence of Robinson’s life on the island, it will be easy to see that for twenty-eight years he was utterly and extremely happy because he had the total and undivided control over the entire island – and such a power is the sexiest thing on Earth for many men. The feelings this power gives substitute the feelings of satisfaction from possessing a woman – something that the majority of men aim at. For a very long period of time, Robinson possesses a vast piece of land, invests his work into it and yields results – and hence he has the power over this land. After certain time, he gets a “servant” – Friday – who simply does not have to be a woman, as the female part of the gender relationships with Robinson has already been taken by the Island.
By the way, if we get back to the issue of Robinson’s marriage at the end of Daniel Defoe’s novel, I am sure that this episode is only mentioned by Defoe so that to show that his character is a normal and healthy man. However, for his entire life, island remains his only passion and obsession. The reason for this is simple – Robinson was happy there.
Gulliver’s Travels: the masculinity role
Gulliver’s Travels are all one big metaphor. Gulliver is a giant in the land of Lilliputians, and a little man in the land of giants. Being a giant, he has tender romantic feelings to the small women surrounding him. Being a little man among the giants, he feels repulsive towards a giantess who puts him onto her nipple. How symbolic is this in terms of inter-gender relations?
The love and relationships between a small and a big creature is in a way archetypical for the world culture. Remember H.K. Andersen’s Thumbelina. Where does this metaphor come from?
I believe that at times all people, disregarding of their gender, feel themselves either a Lilliputian or a Giant in the love relationships. Sometimes when we need care and protection we would rather be small in the embrace of the loving ones. Sometimes our hearts grow so big with the warm feelings that we are ourselves ready to embrace not only our lovers but the whole world – isn’t that the ultimate apotheosis of love?
We could have found in the Swift’s novel the signs of a female Lilliputian’s love to Gulliver and his feelings to the Giantess. For example, the Giantess certainly has feelings towards Gulliver, and Gulliver staying on her nipple is the symbol of achieving the pleasures of love. However, by stating this, we have not discovered anything new as all people are at times Lilliputians and Giants in the love relationships. When we love, we sometimes dream to be as small as to fit into our lover’s palm – or at other times to take into our palms the ones we have feelings to. Seems that possession is in human nature, disregarding of our gender…
1. Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. University of Virginia Library: Electronic Text Center, 2000. E-version. Retrieved on May 3, 2009 from the University of Virginia Library database: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/modeng/modengD.browse.html
2. Swift, Jonathan. Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World; By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships. University of Virginia Library: Electronic Text Center, 2004. E-version. Retrieved on May 3, 2009 from the University of Virginia Library database: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/modeng/modengS.browse.html