The reading of Daniel Dufoe’s Robinson Crusoe has changed a great deal over the ages. Once read as a great classic of British literature, it was hailed as perfectly capturing the beauty and adventure of British colonialism. Today, Robinson Crusoe is still considered a great work of literature, but we no longer look at it in the same light. With the coming of the post-colonial school of critics, the view of Robinson Crusoe has shifted from the gentle light of the generally held world view at the time it was written, to the harsher reality of slavery and racism. Before, we were content to see Friday as the willing, humble slave and servant, who knew his place in the world, but the post-colonialists challenge this view, seeing the treatment of Friday as proof of the inherent, deep-seated racism in Britain at the time.
The post-colonialists would notice things in the text that were never before commented on, particularly in the passage concerning Friday’s appearance and naming. They would notice that Crusoe is very accepting of Friday’s submissive attitude and even goes so far as to tell Friday that his own name is “Master”. Friday would have no idea what such a word meant, and the word would therefore be meaningless to him, really, but Crusoe names himself that anyway. Post-colonialists would also point out that in the matter of names, Friday gets the short end of the stick for sure. Not only does Crusoe not bother to ask Friday what his real name is, but he names him for the day he found him, something quite plain, ordinary, and unimportant. Crusoe also makes no attempt to learn Friday’s language at all, but goes about immediately teaching him his own language. But the thing that the post-colonialists would probably single out the most is that, historically, this was seen as a novel that epitomized the times! Dufoe probably wasn’t a particularly racist man; he was just reflecting the world in which he lived when he penned Robinson Crusoe.