Who am I? The Explorations of Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver by Sara Mantooth


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The Spiritual Journey of Robinson Crusoe


The word “identity” is defined as the fact of being who or what a person or thing is. In literature works like Johnathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and especially Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, identity is prominent, whether the character is gaining a new identity, adding to an identity, or losing an identity altogether. Now when identity is thought about, there are many questions: How are Crusoe and Gulliver the same? How are they different? One thing they already have in common though: an identity.

            Let’s start with Robinson Crusoe first. When I first read the novel, it is already known that Crusoe aspires for an identity that is different than what intended. Instead of aspiring to be a lawyer, Crusoe aspired to be a sailor. The minute he set sail, Crusoe was seen adding more traits to his identity. He was a slave. He was a plantation owner. He was a victim of a shipwreck. He was a hunter. He was Friday’s master. All of those things are added up to make one remarkable character, but with a price. By adding to his identity, he seemed to sacrifice emotional attachment. For example, when Friday was reunited with his father after his rescue from savages, Robinson noted that the scene was touching, but that is about it. Even with the emotional scene playing in front of him, he did not get emotional, let alone having thoughts about his own father. Now does that make him a bad character because of one scene? No, but it does say something about Crusoe being desensitized emotionally due to the combination of his adventures and the twenty-six years on an island after the shipwreck.

            Continuing on with Robin Crusoe, Brett C. McInelly, writer of an article called “Expanding empires, expanding selves: colonialism, the novel, and Robinson Crusoe,” insisted that the character itself is a cry for a study in its colonial contexts. And that is the main identity of Robin Crusoe: he became a symbol of British colonialism. His adventures illustrated that “the vastness of the globe can bring a corresponding enlargement of the venturing self and can produce close self-reflection of a kind not easy to achieve in ‘civilized’ society” (McInelly, Expanding empire, expanding selves). Now reading the novel itself, the reader can interpret can Crusoe would pay no mind as being labeled as the symbol of British colonialism. Instead, he would just continue on with his adventures. It would be sheer luck if Robinson Crusoe even noted the label with a gesture of any kind. But needless to say, McInelly will continue to stand by his word that Robinson Crusoe stands “as an allegory or figure of colonialism instead of being an exhibit of it” (McInelly, Expanding empire, expanding selves).

            In a way, the same thing can be said about Lemuel Gulliver. Now before I go any further, it should be noted that this piece made by Johnathan Swift is intended to be a satire. First off, he was also left on an island, but under different circumstances. But unlike Crusoe where he eventually found solace living on his own, Gulliver was under the care of what are called, Houyhnhnms, or a group of horses. Also, he had a desire to go home in the beginning. But as the story progresses, it is seen that Gulliver no longer wishes to be a savage, or a Yahoo, but instead wishes to be a Houyhnhnms, trying to gain a new identity. However, in the end, he was eventually returned to England, where he became repulsed by Yahoos, even revolts at his own family.

Now after his adventure, did Gulliver gain a new identity or lose his identity altogether. It depends on what angle it is observed. On the one hand, when his family showed his traits that even the Houyhnhnms would value, he disregarded those traits just because they were seen as Yahoos. So in a way, the answer is yes, he did lose it in some way. But on the other hand, according to William Pencak on his critical essay “Swift Justice: Gulliver’s Travels as a Critique of Legal Institutions,” one can say that Gulliver gained a new identity as a critique of English legal injustices by “writing the book for the Public Good, yet the man who would have his countrymen imitate these exemplars can stand neither the sight nor the stench of his loving family, can barely tolerate the civilized sea-captain who rescues him, and prefers a solitary life with horses to avoid the Yahoos of England” ( Pencak, “Swift Justice”)

Another feature that Robinson Crusoe and Lemuel Gulliver have in common is that they both have an aspect in relationships. In short, Robinson Crusoe developed a many camaraderie, including the companionship of a young slave boy named Xury, the friendship with the captain, and the master-servant/friendship with a former savage, Friday. Now did those relationships add to his identity? One can say that these relationships help enhance it. He was also a friend, a master and comrade.

Similar to Robinson Crusoe, Lemuel Gulliver also developed relationships and in his case, took a step back in some relationships. For example, while stranded on an island, he developed a loving family-like relationship with the Hyouhnhnms, but also at a cost. While his relationship with horses grew, his relationship with human, even his family, started to deteriorate. But what does it say about his identity? On the outside, not much. But in the mind of Gulliver, his identity is that of a horse all the while rejecting his identity as a human being.

Identities can be anything. Big or small. Significant or insignificant. But reading Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels, there is no such thing as just one identity. These two readings prove that there is one being with many facets to his identity. Either through enhancement or rejection, there is no denying that everyone, even literary characters, possess an identity.