In 17 th and 18 th century literature one finds many examples of exotic travelling adventures, and glamorous stories of discovery. Examples of these are Aphra Behns Oroonoko, written in 1688, and Daniel Defoes Robinson Crusoe, written in 1719. In both of these novels there are various indications that the foreigner encountered is much more European than the reader may have first thought. The foreigner is described in various terms, linking him to the white and European man.
These descriptions at many times are obvious, but there are also very subtle indications of the Europeanizing of the foreigner. The average European reader had not yet encountered people of such vast cultural and physical differences and would read about them in books. The colonization of the exotic places of the world, was an emerging idea, and in a time of discovery and travel, many people were excited to hear about the different foods, animals, land etc. In Aphra Behns Oroonoko and Defoes Robinson Crusoe, one finds many indications of the foreign European. It would seem that these descriptions are meant to appeal to the European audience, and make the exotic other more familiar with the audience. At a time of trade and expansion, travel and discovery, these two novels are set in the exotic worlds of the more primitive lands, where great cultural, visual, and geographical differences exist.
The difference between Europe and those places, the West Indies and Americas, viewed as sources of wealth, were themselves used to produce pleasure and fantasy for the English reader (Wiseman, 90).
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Throughout both of these works the authors have portrayed the foreigner with European traits, physical and psychological, in order to appeal to an audience which has just begun to understand other nations and perhaps is not open to accept a foreigner as one of the main characters. In Robinson Crusoe, the author uses animals as a way of first introducing the differences with exotic lands, and attract the European audience to the mysterious creatures that they have never seen before. The animals which Crusoe first hears made such hideous how lings and yelling’s, that I never heard the like (Defoe 40).
He continues on page 47, to say that these noises and animals were impossible to describe. The reader feels the suspense and terror, imagining themselves stranded on an island, with creatures never seen before.
Perhaps the way we would feel on another planet discovering new life, and a new environment. For those that fear the exotic and foreign animals and peoples, Defoe and Behn provide other subtle descriptions, which attract the audience to their characters. Behn introduces the creatures of Surinam in a positive manner in order to maintain the reader, and welcome the Europeans into accepting the Negro Oroonoko as the hero of this novel. The exotic other is not scary, and not indescribable, as in Robinson Crusoe. She describes the little Rarities (Behn 2) and concludes the description that there were other Birds and Beasts of wonderful and surprising Forms, Shapes, and Colours. The reader is prepared to accept the remaining story of the hero Oroonoko, and the criticisms of the Christian white men.
Oroonoko is described as being adorned with a native beauty, so transcending of all those of his gloomy race (Behn 6).
The description of his looks imply that he has a different and more attractive appearance than his gloomy race. On page eight, Aphra Behn describes Oroonoko with his nose being rising and Roman, instead of African and flat. He has long hair (8) and lips are not like the turn lips, which are so natural to the rest of the Negroes (Behn 8) The reason that Oroonoko is so beautiful, is because he is more European looking than the rest of his race. Aphra Behn needs to appeal to a European and white reader, and in order to make her Oroonoko the hero of this story, the reader must accept him. This indicates that Behn believes the English audience is more prejudiced against the exotic other, rather than interested in it.
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Robinson Crusoe saves Friday, and describes him in European terms, thus making his rescuing of a cannibal, and befriending of him acceptable. When Friday is first mentioned the reader feels anxious, because Crusoe has just decided that he wants to save a cannibal, so that he may have a slave. In saving Friday, the English audience must accept that Crusoe has just befriended a man-eating savage, and the audience too will need to accept and befriend him. He had all the sweetness and softness of an European in his countenance too, especially when he smiled. His hair was long and black, not curled like wool his nose small, not flat like the Negroes, a very good mouth, thin lips (Defoe 203).
It seems that the emphasis is in describing the foreign character as non-Negro.
Crusoe describes Friday as someone without the typical Negro characteristics, yet the emphasis makes it almost impossible to deny the fact that Friday does have Negro characteristics. The fact that he says not like the Negroes rather than not like the rest of the Negroes, means that Friday is not Negro, yet the description is so full of Negroid comparisons, it seems almost like Crusoe has chosen to save the one cannibal that does not have typical Negro features. This serves the same purpose as it does in Oroonoko, in describing a main foreign character as European as possible, in order to appeal to the European audience. Oroonoko is not only European looking, but also has European education and knowledge, which makes the reader even more attracted to this Negro hero. Oroonoko was trained by a Frenchman in Morals, Language, and Science (Behn 7).
He had heard of the late Civil Wars in England, and the deplorable death of our great Monarch (Behn 7).
Behn is referring to the up to date information Oroonoko has, and that he is knowledgeable in many respects. She goes on to say that he was as if his Education had been in some European Court (7).
She explicitly is saying he might as well have been white and European, because his beauty and education are of that background anyway. The 17 th century English reader can look at him as a European with black skin, and nothing else is different about him. This makes his slavery even more dreadful, because not only is he noble, but he is very European.
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The reader not only accepts Oroonoko, but actually feels sympathy anger for him. Aphra Behn not only wishes to describe the beauty and education of the hero, but of his lovers as well. On page six, Behn says that there are Beauties that can charm of that Colour. This is to introduce the idea that the Negro women are beautiful, specifically the one that Oroonoko has fallen in love with. Imoinda is so beautiful that Behn has seen white men sighing after her (9).
She is telling the reader that if Imoinda is good enough for these white men, than imagine how beautiful she is.
She has made the heroine of the story as beautiful and European as Oroonoko. The reader will feel romance, adventure, sadness and anger, on behalf of this Negro couple and unlikely topic for the 17 th century English novelist. Oroonoko is further Europeanized in Behns story, as she describes the love affair between Oroonoko and Imoinda. Oroonoko custom in marriage seems to be that of polygamy, since his grandfather has many wives, and concubines, it seems that would be accepted by all his people. However, due to his love for Imoinda, Behn says that contrary to the custom of his Country, he made her Vows, she should be the only Woman he would possess while he live (11).
Oroonoko has already taken up the Christian, European tradition of marrying only one woman, rather than practicing polygamy. The reader can further sympathize with Oroonoko, as they have similar beliefs. Although Behn describes him as not accepting or understanding Christianity, she mentions lies and vice as the traits that are not accepted, and it is not necessarily the religion itself. The reader does not feel that Oroonoko is denying Christ, but more that he is denying hypocrisy in the name of God.
The first foreign character that becomes Crusoes sidekick is Xury, the Spanish Moor. He does not need too much Europeanizing, as he is already from the civilized part of the world, as is Crusoe, and he too follows a western religion in being a Muslim. On page 47, Xury says to Crusoe if wild mans come, they eat me, you go wey (Defoe).
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Xury saying that he is scared of the wild man indicates that he is not a wild man, and not a cannibal. Xury is the same as Crusoe, in this respect. Further, Crusoe describes their encounter with the Negroes on the shore, and he says we could also perceive they were quite black and stark-naked (Defoe 50).
The fact that he says we, indicates that he categorizes Xury as a civilized non-black man, along with himself. Defoe must make him a foreigner in order to make the adventures truly exotic and interesting, and therefore makes him a Muslim, yet his similarities to Crusoe are stronger. In introducing Xury as semi-foreign, Defoe allows the reader to slowly come to accepting Friday, the savage and cannibal. Where Behn introduces the foreigner as the hero immediately from the beginning, Defoe gradually introduces foreignness so that the reader can accept the final sidekick of Crusoe. This seems necessary since Oroonoko is the foreign hero of the story, where as the hero in Robinson Crusoe, is a white European. Crusoe also is knowledgeable in religions, and he makes Xury swear by Mohammed and his fathers beard (Defoe 45).
He makes Xury swear by his own religious leader, ensuring his loyalty. The fact that he makes him also swear by his fathers beard is an indication of the similarities between Xury and Crusoe. The beard becomes synonymous with civilized, and European. Throughout the adventures, Crusoe encounters people and they are either without a beard, meaning not a European, or with a beard, such as the man to be eaten by the cannibal, who is one of the bearded men (233).
The fact that Xury father also has a beard, indicates that they have more similarities than differences. Xury is also of the bearded people, and therefore closer to the white European man.
Crusoe and Behn describe their foreign friends on the grounds of their clothing as well. The Caribs are natural, and naked, but the main character Oroonoko is not only clothed, but he looks so glamorous that he wishes to change into more slave like clothing. This indicates that the Negroes where clothes. Even if Oroonoko wants to look more like a slave, he only need change the style of clothing, not necessarily take it all off.
Xury is also a clothed man, as discussed in a previous section, Crusoe says we when saying that they observed the Negroes to be naked and black. The fact that we observed they were naked, indicates Xury is a clothed man. Friday also begins his role as a naked cannibal, yet when meeting Crusoe he becomes more European as he learns Crusoes language and must wear clothes (209).
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Friday is also taught to be Christian. Making him a Christian brings the reader closer to Friday, who at one point was a naked, cannibal savage.
It seems that in order for a foreign man to be accepted, he must become Christian. On page 212, Crusoe says He had bestowed upon them the same powers, the same reason, the same affections, the same sentiments of kindness and obligation, the same passions and resentments of wrongs He has given to us. Crusoe is linking the savages with the Europeans, and with the civilized people in the world. He feels that these people could have been the same as his people are, but because God did not show Himself to them, they lacked this civility. His word, as Crusoe describes, was hidden from so many millions of souls (212).
There is a priestcraft even amongst the most blinded ignorant pagans the policy of making a secret religions not only to be found in Roman, but perhaps among all religions in the world, even among the most brutish and barbarous savages (Defoe 219).
Crusoe clearly realizes that the cannibals have a way of life different than his, but they do not lack religion or prayer, as most had assumed of these savages. They are not Godless, except that they are without the Christian God. This brings the entire savage people closer to Crusoe and to the European man, since they too have religious beliefs and customs. Another indication of Friday coming closer to the European man, is when he says on page 250, you see English mans eat prisoner as well as savage man. Friday cannot distinguish between murder, which is committed by the European man, and cannibalism, which is committed by the savage natives.
He assumes that as a prisoner he will naturally be eaten as well, since that is his custom. Crusoe clarifies that I am afraid they will murther them indeed, but you may be sure they will not eat him. Defoe seems to be indicating that although there are differences in the two peoples savagery, murder and cannibalism are equally wrong. The fact that Friday is shown as not understanding murder without cannibalism proves to make the reader sympathize with his ignorance in the matter, and that they both commit the same thing because they both result in the death of other people. In both Oroonoko and Robinson Crusoe, the foreigner is described as a European to serve the European audiences background, and allow them to welcome and understand the exotic other. The European audience not only accepts the exotic people, land and customs, but they are also able to compare themselves sympathize with them.
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In making the foreigner more similar to the European, both authors were able to attract an English audience, and keep them interested not only in the material and physical attributes of these people, but also in their ethics and morale. Through these two novels, readers of 17 th and 18 th century literature can understand what modifications authors had to make, in order to grab an audience and maintain its interest, and also understand the Europeans opinion of different nations at that time.