Social Sensitivity

Robinson Crusoe contains references to two issues-racism and religion-that should be addressed by parents and teachers of precocious young readers. Certainly Crusoe’s attitudes toward Xury, his companion in slavery and his fellow fugitive, and toward Friday, his faithful servant, are typical of the 17th-century English condescension toward people of darker-skinned races. Crusoe clearly believes the white man to be superior to other races. Furthermore, Crusoe’s business ventures have included slave trading. But Crusoe is very much a man of his time. His brand of bigotry is, for that earlier age, rather mild, tempered as it is by a sincere desire to do the right thing always. Thus it is that although Crusoe sells Xury to a Portuguese captain, he does so only because the captain has promised to give Xury his freedom after ten years.

Robinson Crusoe insists on continuing his religious devotions during his long exile and makes frequent references to a Christian God who determines human destiny and indeed daily life. The reader will remember that Crusoe is very much a product of his society. His brand of Christianity was typical for a man of his class, and his frequent self-analysis was very much a part of his religious heritage.

The questions raised by Defoe’s treatment of racism and religion are valid ones, and might serve as points of departure for discussions of the novel. Young readers with little knowledge of the world will more than likely concentrate on the tale of adventure; young adults would benefit from a discussion of how values and ideas have changed and evolved over the last two centuries.

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