THE PRACTICES OF SLAVERY IN ROBINSON CRUSOE AND IN ENGLAND IN THE 17TH CENTURY
Robinson Kreutznauer was born in the year 1632 in the city of York. English corrupted Kreutznauer into Crusoe that is why he was more famous as Robinson Crusoe. His parents gave him good education, and they wanted him to be a lawyer. But Crusoe was more interested in sailing. He really wanted to go on a voyage. On his voyage to Guinea, he was captured by Turkish pirate and was made a slave. He was later saved by a Portuguese captain. Later he moved to Brazil and had a sugar plantation there. He was then on another voyage with his friends to Guinea to look for slaves for their sugar plantations. Unfortunately they were shipwrecked. Crusoe was the only survivor, and he was deserted in a remote island. He lived there for 28 years.
The story of Robinson Crusoe is an adventure fiction written by Daniel Defoe. He was an English writer, journalist, and pamphleteer. He was born in 1659 when the practices of slavery were all over the country. It was also the era of pirates. Defoe wrote many articles about politics. He began writing fiction when he was 60, and Robinson Crusoe was his first fiction novel. Robinson Crusoe was first published in 1719. He turned to be a businessman in his later life, but he was not successful. He died in poverty, hiding from his creditors.
I am interested in reading Robinson Crusoe because it is considered as the first modern English novel. I first heard the story of Crusoe from a movie titled Cast Away, and I was more interested in the story since then. As I read the story, I find out that slavery is one of the themes of the novel. Slaves were treated as properties. I think the slaveries in Robinson Crusoe represent the condition of slaveries in England in the 1600s. It was the era of pirates and slaveries. The Sack of Baltimore was one famous event when pirates attacked Baltimore and captured almost the whole population of over 100 people who were put in irons and taken to a life of slavery in North Africa.
Through the life of Robinson Crusoe, Defoe probably wants to show that slavery has to be halted. Crusoe was once made a slave. Slaves were once his objective of his voyage. But then in the island Crusoe met a slave named Friday who later became his fellow companion. Crusoe even brought Friday to England, and they worked together as companions. I think this is what Defoe wanted to show to the people: everyone has the same rights and must work together side by side. Defoe wanted to show his disagreement on the practices of slavery in his era. People must work side by side like Crusoe and Friday, not in master-and-slave-relationship.
Frederick Douglass ever said, "I didn't know I was a slave until I found out I couldn't do the things I wanted". Frederick Douglass was once a slave, but he managed to escort his freedom, and he started to write. He was an eminent human rights leader in the abolition movement in America, and he was the first black citizen to hold a high U.S. government rank. His words define slavery well. He did not have the freedom to do things he wanted when he was still a slave. His rights to do things he wanted were imprisoned. Oxford Dictionary defines slave as a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them. These two definitions bring me to a conclusion that slave is someone who loses possession of his or her own freedom.
Mimetic criticism is best used to compare the practices of slavery in Robinson Crusoe and in England in the 17th century. Mimetic criticism views a literature as the imitation of the world. I believe that Robinson Crusoe was written as the imitation of the condition of the practices of slavery in that era. Barbary pirates were really popular at that era. They attacked many cities and took the citizens as slaves. That is why Defoe inserted some significant events of the practices of slavery that change the life of Robinson Crusoe. Defoe wanted to compare and contrast the practices of slavery in his era in England and in his literature, in the Robinson Crusoe. Defoe wanted to express his opinions on the practices of slavery through his work.
I also add the use of expressive criticism in this essay. I think expressive criticism can also be used to strengthen the criticism. Expressive criticism analyzes the relation between the background of the author and the literature itself. How does the author's background impact the literature? Daniel Defoe lived in England in the 17th century. At that time, the practices of slavery were all over the country. I believe Daniel Defoe wanted to raise the issues of slavery through his writing, through his fiction Robinson Crusoe. He wanted to create a new perspective regarding to the issues of slavery. He wanted to show his disagreement of the practices of slavery: everyone should live side by side in peace, and everyone should work together as companion, not in master-and-slave-relationship.
Robinson Crusoe shows us some significant events in Crusoe's life related to the practices of slavery. Crusoe was once made a slave when he got captured by the pirates. Then he managed to escape, and he finally got his freedom back. He moved to Brazil, and he had sugar plantations there. His last voyage which brought him to the remote island was actually to bring slaves from the Guinea to Brazil to help him with his plantations. In that deserted island, he got a friend named Friday who was a slave. Crusoe saved him from the savages, and they became companions since then. In the end of the story, Crusoe brought Friday to England, and they worked and lived together as companions.
The 17th century was really the century of slaveries in Britain. Slaveries were brought by the pirates at that time. Pirates ruled the sea. They attacked port cities, robbed them, burned them down, took the civilians, and made them their slaves. It was the age of Barbary Pirates. In that era, pirates came from the continent of Africa. They sailed all the way to Europe and started that piracy.
Barbary corsairs, pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa were authorized by their governments to attack the shipping of Christian countries, ranged all around Britain's shores. They often captured sailors and made them slaves. An American historian, Joseph Morgan found the fact that there were thousands British men and women taken into slavery in that era. "Morgan also noted that he had a '...List, printed in London in 1682' of 160 British ships captured by Algerians between 1677 and 1680. Considering what the number of sailors who were taken with each ship was likely to have been, these examples translate into a probable 7,000 to 9,000 able-bodied British men and women taken into slavery in those years" (Davis, 2011).
The corsairs also sometimes raided coastal settlements which were not well-guarded. They crept on villages in the dark and captured their victims before the alarms could not be sounded. One famous event happened in that era was the Sack of Baltimore. It took place on June 20, 1631. The village of Baltimore, West Cork, Ireland was attacked by the Barbary corsairs. That attack was the biggest attack by the Barbary pirates on Ireland and Britain. The attack was led by a Dutch captain turned pirate, Jan Janszoon van Haarlem, also known as Murad Reis the Younger. They successfully captured 108 English settlers and some local Irish people. They made them slaves. The slaves were sent to North Africa to be worked there. Some of them were sent to serve in the Sultan's harem or within the walls of the Sultan's palace as laborers.
There are no records of how many men, women, and children were enslaved. An American professor, Henry Davis, tried to calculate roughly the number of fresh captives that would have been needed to keep populations steady and replace those who died, escaped, or ransomed. "On this basis it is thought that around 8,500 new slaves were needed annually to replenish numbers - about 850,000 captives over the century from 1580 to 1680. By extension, for the 250 years between 1530 and 1780, the figure could easily have been as high as 1,250,000" (Davis, 2011).
In that era, there was also known workhouse slavery. Workhouses took people in poverty and made them slaves. Those people had no other choices because they were in poverty. They had no alternatives. Workhouses also took many abandoned babies, usually presumed to be illegitimate babies. When they grew old enough, they were used as child labor. White slaves at that time were generally from impoverished family. They had little hope of buying their freedoms back as the Africans were brought to America as slaves. They would mostly end their life as slaves in North Africa, dying of starvation, diseases, or even maltreatments.
Those conditions tell us that slaveries happened in all sections in the society at that time. Young men, old men were all trapped in the chains of slaveries. People showed no respects to the others. They took people who were in poverty who had no other choices to be their slaves. They treated people as they were not in the same level as them. Their life as slaves was really heart-breaking. They were given two or three leaves of black bread each day that the dogs themselves would not eat and limited water. They got one change of clothing every year. Those who collapsed from exhaustion or malnutrition were beaten up until they got up and got back to work again.
This condition moved Defoe. Defoe wanted to show to people how inhuman slavery was. He showed it through the life of a man named Robinson Crusoe. In the story Crusoe was told to be captured as slave also when he began his second voyage. Turkish pirate captured his ship and brought everyone abroad to the African Moorish port of Salee, where the pirate captain made Crusoe his slave. One of Crusoe's duties was to catch ship under the watchful eye of his master. As the time passed, he became a master in his job.
After two years, an opportunity for escape opened for Crusoe. He and two Moors were ordered to catch fishes in the middle of the sea without the captain on board. The captain stayed on the back watching. Crusoe overpowered one Moor who swam ashore, and he asked the other Moor, a boy named Xury, to vow to serve him. Xury agreed and he vowed obedience. Then they sailed southward to an island where they found a Portuguese ship.
The captain welcomed them and promised to bring them to Brazil. The captain even bought Crusoe's boat for 80 pieces of eight. He also bought Xury under a condition that he would free him in 10 years if he converted to Christianity. That was how Crusoe managed to escape from slavery. He was really lucky to meet that Portuguese captain, unless he would be still in that slavery.
After Crusoe spent four years in Brazil, three businessmen approached him. They asked him to go on a voyage to look for slaves from Africa. Crusoe was chosen to do the trading because of his knowledge of Africa and the slave trade. He would receive slaves of his own also in the bargain. Then he set sailed. Unfortunately that voyage was not successful. A big storm approached, and they were shipwrecked. Crusoe and ten others abandoned the boat, and they rowed as fast as possible to make it to the nearest shore. A giant waves brought Crusoe to the land, but the sea swallowed the others.
Crusoe was the only survivor of that voyage. He later lived in that remote island for 28 years before coming back to England. In his final years in the island, he got a companion named Friday. Friday was a slave from a savage tribe. Friday served Crusoe after he was saved from the other savages who hunted him. At first Crusoe wanted to make Friday his slave. He taught Friday to call him 'master', but as the time passed Crusoe made him his friend, not his slave anymore. In his voyage back to England, he brought Friday with him, and they finally worked together on a plantation.
In the beginning of Robinson Crusoe, Defoe successfully brought readers to slavery, a condition that was popular in that era. It was the imitation of the condition in England at that moment. Defoe showed how slaves lived in no freedom. They had to obey everything their masters commanded. Defoe wanted to bring readers to a perspective of a slave.
Defoe then told readers that Crusoe was finally free from slavery and lived happily in Brazil working on his plantation, but he decided to go on voyage again for slaves trading. This is an irony. Crusoe was once a slave, and he surely had felt how bad it was to have no freedom, but he looked for people to be his slaves after he managed to escape from slavery. Crusoe was then shipwrecked on his voyage for slaves trading. He was the only survivor from the boat, and he lived in a remote island for 28 years. A possible analysis for this event is Defoe wanted people to see that slavery was not good, since he was shipwrecked in last voyage looking for slaves.
In his life in the island, Crusoe finally found that humans were not supposed to be enslaved. Defoe wrote that Crusoe made Friday his friend, and on he brought Friday to his voyage back to Britain. They worked together in a plantation later. Defoe wanted to give this message to all readers. He wanted to show that humans should live like Crusoe and Friday. They worked together and lived side by side. This was a new concept, a new perspective to be brought to English society in that era. At that time, slaveries made people live in master-and-slave-relationship.
This is the power of literature. Defoe successfully used the condition in his society, the condition of the world in his era, to write a story. His life background affected his writing also. Defoe successfully showed the practices of slavery in England in the 17th century compared and contrasted with the practices of slavery in Robinson Crusoe. Defoe shouted his arguments and opinions on the practices of slavery through the life of Robinson Crusoe. He showed his disagreement in that master-and-slave-relationship. He successfully spread the concept that humans should live in peace, side by side, like Crusoe and Friday.
Davis, R. (2011, February 17). British Slaves on the Barbary Coast. Retrieved December 6, 2011, from BBC - History: www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/…