Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe: Travel, Trade and Colonial Context

Composing from a point of view that concludes “that the unique, as a cultural artefact of bourgeois society, and imperialism are unthinkable without each other”, Edward Said views Robinson Crusoe as “explicitly allowed by an ideology of overseas expansion– directly linked in design and kind to the narratives of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century expedition voyages that laid the foundations of the terrific colonial empires”. Alternatively, J Paul Hunter has actually analysed the impact of guidebook on the origins of the novel and decided that “The journey is normally, however, a structure of convenience– motion through space implies knowing– rather than a feature officially adapted from guidebook […] the novel is an item of severe cultural thinking about comparative societies and the several nature in human nature”. This view of the novel as understanding the way it represents different societies and utilizing travel as a function, is a way of checking out Gulliver’s Travels that supplies an insight into the objects of Swift’s satire. The difference in between these two views highlights that these books can be checked out from different viewpoints, which do not necessarily supply a meaningful and uniform image. Eventually, there are numerous forces which shape these novels, with the pursuits of travel, trade and manifest destiny being a few of the most essential, as they supplied much of the vibrant for the society that was being reflected or critiqued.

The preliminary factor for Robinson Crusoe taking a trip is that he is forced to see the world. Although this implies rebellion against his father and God’s providential styles, which have actually integrated to provide him with a comfy middle-class life in law, Crusoe is intent on travel. Nevertheless, Crusoe’s desire to take a trip is encouraged by the chances supplied by the nascent colonialism of the seventeenth-century. Crusoe shows very little fascinating in merely ‘seeing’ the world, he wishes to flourish from what he finds and manipulate the legitimised, but not yet institutionalised, colonial practice of seizing gold and importing products. In this respect, travel is merely a way for building up wealth, regardless of the preliminary glamour that a life on the seas might hold for a boy (although this appeal is temporary for Crusoe). Throughout Robinson Crusoe, travel is a means for escape from the island, for safety when his little boat goes astray, for exploration of his island to discover the capital at his disposal, as a risk of penalty for the mutineers by bringing them back to England and for remaining in the appropriate locations, i.e., Lisbon and London, to carry out service. The different usages of taking a trip mean that this process of moving through area becomes a hindrance to achieving the desired outcome, and Crusoe feels required to ensure the reader that “As I have actually troubled you with none of my Sea-Journals, so I will problem you now with none of my Land-Journal”. There is an assumption of what the reader wishes to check out, and subsequently Crusoe’s travels are edited by an author whose intents are to supply an instructive example instead of a description of the lands he has actually seen– descriptions which he acknowledges have actually been carried out by other travellers “with far more benefit that I”.

This distancing of Robinson Crusoe from travel books has caused its autobiographical or allegorical features being stressed. However, the majority of the novel takes place in regions of the world alien to its readership, and these areas are keenly observed in factual terms, so it threatens to dismiss the travel aspects of the book. This is because much of the significance of the book is kept in the presumptions that Crusoe makes about the world he observes. In this regard, Crusoe is one of the cultural productions that created and reinforced European views of the larger world. For instance, when Crusoe reveals surprise “that the Eyes of an unlimited Power might search into the furthest Corner of the World, and send Aid to the Unpleasant whenever he pleased”, it must be kept in mind that his God is Euro-centric, for a universal and universal divine being ought to not differentiate Crusoe’s island– although seemingly remote to European Male– from any other location. Gulliver’s Journeys looks for to satirise fiction like Crusoe that presents itself as accurate, but is in fact a thoroughly constructed work of fiction. Defoe’s beginning unambiguously declares the work as reality, which can be utilized didactically;

The Editor believes the important things to be a simply History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it: And nevertheless believes, due to the fact that all such things are dispatch ‘d, that the Enhancement of it, as well to the Diversion, regarding the Direction of the Reader, will be the exact same.

Swift observed this introduction of fiction provided as truth as troubling, not just due to the fact that of the deceptiveness, however because he saw that such creations would enable the promo of one view of the world above others, even if the content was erroneous. Experiences such as Crusoe’s would offer in greater numbers if the public believed it to be real and Swift saw this as endemic of a commercialised and corrupt society. His action was to have Gulliver insist unswervingly on the reality of his hugely great story, mentioning that “the truth immediately strikes every reader with conviction”. Whilst Gulliver’s deadpan character might have written these words, the voice of Swift comes over more plainly when he examines his fellow writers:

I thought we were already overstocked with books of journeys […] I questioned some authors less sought advice from reality than their own vanity, or interest, or the diversion of oblivious readers. That my story could consist of little besides typical occasions, without those ornamental diversions of odd plants, trees, birds, and other animals, or of the barbarous customs and idolatry of savage people, with which most writers abound.

Swift observes the objectification of the residents of countries gone to by European visitors, and even in the passing description above they are represented pejoratively. Although Gulliver goes to sea to participate in trading activities, he does so as part of a ship’s company, not as a personal trader like Crusoe. When he is shipwrecked and arrive on foreign soil he does not evaluate the land for energy, however as a curious viewer. Throughout the lands he goes to, Gulliver tries to engage with the native population and although he finds himself subjected or considered inferior he sets out “in observing the good manners and dispositions of individuals, along with discovering their language”. He even notifies us that he has composed thoroughly about Lilliput for the advantage of an English audience. This desire to find out turns into an anti-travel belief when Gulliver wishes that instead of travelling to the Houyhnhnms, “they were in a capability or disposition to send enough variety of their inhabitants for civilizing Europe”. Gulliver’s function within the novel modifications in relation to his environments and their inhabitants. He is a topic in Lilliput, a novelty in Brobdingnag, a traveler in the lands of Book 3 and a social inferior in the land of the Houyhnhnms. He is also a father and husband who leaves England “to get riches, whereby I might maintain myself and my household”. Gulliver’s relationship with the reader changes too, as he can be an informative storyteller, an unskilled and comic figure, a mouthpiece for Swift or a trader and imperialist. His views are vulnerable to alter as Swift looked for to satirise different targets. For instance, Gulliver is the guardian of liberty when he declines to assist in assaulting Blefescu, but provides the King of Brobdingnag the secret of gunpowder so he can be “outright master of the lives, the liberties, and the fortunes of his people”. For that reason, Gulliver can not be read as a standard characterisation, but used a recommendation for comparison with his specific circumstance, enabling Swift to not just satirise contemporary society, however also to condemn guy as an animal tending to corruption, pretension, injustice and avarice.

The effects of trade are not a popular target in Gulliver’s Travels, however the book’s concerns arise out of a society that was increasingly being formed on the possible advantages of trade. Questions of financial and ethical good arose from the increase in trade, and writers participated in a debate over how best to accomplish both these goals. Standard economic thinking throughout the seventeenth-century was that the balance of trade need to be crafted so that the optimum quantity of bullion flowed into the country and the least flowed out. This involved increasing domestic manufacture, limiting intake and importing raw materials rather than consumable products. As a result the function of traders and imperialists was to found nests capable of producing capital in the form of currency or basic materials and creating new markets for English items. Defoe dedicated a few of his time as a writer and thinker to economics and assumed that, in the words of Peter Earle, “more and larger colonies were a great idea […] to supply much-needed strategic goods, however likewise to consume the items of England”.

The simple financial model of the previous century was continuously expanding to appreciate the significance of investment in increasing production. This ended up being evident as individual business owners, intending to prosper, developed wealth for others. Robinson Crusoe is an example of what Liz Bellamy refers to as “the figure who was to end up being referred to as the capitalist […] These people started to be appreciated as vital to economic progress, rather then being represented as simply passive parasites”. Crusoe shows a practical approach to his travels, taking chances as they develop. He is not content with merely accumulating the couple of ounces of gold he revives from his first trip, but aims to become an established trader in Guinea. After he is enslaved and leaves he discovers himself in Brazil, where he raises capital by selling the skins of the animals he eliminates, the wax and guns he has actually stolen and, in the very first example of treating non-Europeans as capital, his servant young boy Xury. Once established in Brazil, Crusoe imports English ironwork and acquires a slave. His fortunes remain in the ascent and even after over twenty years on his island he still laments the possibilities that avoided him; “I might have been worth an hundred thousand Moydors; and what Service had I to leave a settled Fortune, a well-stock ‘d Plantation, improving and encreasing, to turn Supra-Cargo to Guinea, to fetch Negroes”. In keeping with Defoe’s views on economic expansion, Crusoe turns his attentions to slave trading because as Earle observes, “In Defoe’s view of the world slavery was essential. Economic development in England depended on the development of the American nests”. The moral objections to slavery might be dismissed with the view that God had degraded natives and they were inherently subservient to White Man. Friday appears the model, in Defoe’s view, of a servant. He quickly understands his inferiority and reveals unquestioning compliance with Crusoe’s wishes when he “laid his Head upon the Ground, and taking me by the Foot, set my Foot upon his Head; this it seems remained in token of swearing to be my Servant for ever”. Whilst Crusoe is gratefully for Friday’s friendship, it is primarily his energy that he values. Nearly instantly Crusoe guarantees that he “made it my Organisation to teach him every Thing, that was proper to make him helpful, handy, and helpful”.

Swift’s opposition to colonialism implied that it is the European Gulliver who ends up being the object of slavery, either in the Lilliputian style to blind him and use him for labour or in his treatment by the farmer in Brobdingnag; “the more my master managed me, the more unsatiable he grew. I had quite lost my stomach, and was nearly decreased to a skeleton”. Likewise, the Houyhnhnms are surprised by the use of horses in England where they are valued for their capability to labour after which they are dealt with and their bodies stripped for capital worth. Gulliver discuss the Houyhnhnms’ action that “it is difficult to represent his noble resentment at our savage treatment”. Swift’s turnaround of the common presumptions of nobility and savagery reveals that slavery was only possible when validated by a sense of moral superiority over colonial topics, which was something he did not have. His anti-colonialism may have been centred on his Irish background, but there is no doubt that he hated the concepts of financial need and ethical supremacy that underpinned the colonial objective.

One location of financial idea worrying trade that Swift and Defoe would have shared views on is the opposition to the consumption of high-ends. Not just did these items originate from England’s trading competitors such as France, however they also diverted gold from the colonies and the pockets of the domestic poor. Such trade was for that reason viewed as bad economic sense and morally subversive. If Crusoe is Defoe’s business archetype we can note that throughout the unique he reinvests his capital, lives a sensible way of life and moves bullion in between nest and mother nation, which motivates advancement in both. Gulliver honestly attacks the elegant and costly tastes of the rich:

England (the dear location of my nativity) was computed to produce 3 times the amount of food, more than its occupants have the ability to take in. […] in order to feed the luxury and intemperance of the males, and the vanity of the females, we sent out away the best part of our required things to other countries, from whence in return we brought the products of illness, folly and vice, to spend among ourselves.

Trade suggested that males travelled around the globe as never ever previously and an exchange of products ensured an exchange of culture. This is most clearly revealed in the Academy of Lagado, where there is a plan to create a “universal language to be comprehended in all civilised countries, whose items and utensils are normally of the same kind”. If items and utensils were common internationally and were capable of expressing the meaning necessary for carrying out service then the effect of trade on globalisation is evident in 1726.

If trade offered the requirement for colonies, then assumptions of racial and ethical superiority validated them. Crusoe shows the confidence of the European coloniser in asserting his supremacy over the ‘Savages’ he experiences throughout his story. A glance of Africans suffices to petrify Crusoe, who classifies them below animals; “we should be devour ‘d by savage Beasts, or more unflinching Savages of gentle kind”. The possibility of significant interaction with them is not preferable for Crusoe, whose thoughts turn instantly to massacre and enslavement when he sees people for the very first time on his island; “if there was twenty I should eliminate them all: This Fancy pleas ‘d my Ideas for some Weeks”. This desire to eliminate and enslave is just enabled due to a martial supremacy. It is Crusoe’s guns and his fixation with strengthening his residential or commercial property that allow him to face and subject the native population. But such is Crusoe’s conviction of his right, he concludes that it is God who has actually armed him as a pious male challenged by degenerates, pricing quote as assistance “Call upon me in the Day of Problem, and I will deliver, and thou shalt glorify me”. Swift’s scathing attack on colonialism in the last chapter of Gulliver’s Journeys straight confronts this kind of colonialism; “totally free licence provided to all acts of inhumanity and desire, the earth reeking with the blood of its residents: and this execrable crew of butchers utilized in so pious an exploration, is a modern-day nest sent to transform and civilise an idolatrous and barbarous individuals”. It is Gulliver that gets the uninformed classification that was carried out in European observations of native individuals. He is concluded to have fallen from the stars in Lilliput, to be a piece of clockwork in Brobdingnag and expresses “my anxiety at his giving me so frequently the appellation of Yahoo”. When revealed by an English voice, this process of category seems unfair and reckless, but for colonial topics it served to validate their repression.

An important tool in this repression is the use of language. The first word Crusoe teaches Friday is ‘Master’, so that he can just reveal his thrall. This is directly reflected during Gulliver’s stay with the Houyhnhnms; “My primary endeavour was to learn the language which my master [… was] desirous to teach me”. Gulliver informs the reader that the Houyhnhnms had no words for “Power, federal government, war, law, punishment, and a thousand other things”, and this adds to his ability to boast of having eliminated “that infernal routine of lying, shuffling, deceiving, and equivocating, so deeply rooted in the really souls of all my types, specifically the Europeans”. For Friday, the principle usage of his brand-new language, after being able to understand guidelines, is to read the Bible as part of his conversion to Christianity. As Defoe’s model colonial topic, Friday is appreciative of his salvation and he becomes conscious of the inferiority of his race;

I began to advise him in the Understanding of the true God […] and therefore by Degrees I open ‘d up his Eyes. He listned with terrific Attention, and receiv ‘d with Enjoyment the Notion of Jesus Christ being sent to redeem us […] you teach wild Guys be excellent sober tame Mans; you inform them understand God, pray God, and live brand-new Life”

In a novel that emerges as fact, this characterisation serves to strengthen the impression of the ‘Savage’ that it drew from earlier tales and assumptions about locals. As a male of God, Swift might have wished to disassociate the spread of Christianity with the colonising objective, and although he does condemn the claim of land in the name of Princes by Divine Right, his opposition to manifest destiny prevents any criticism of the Church itself.

Crusoe typically reveals the intrinsic nature of non-White Guy being formed by God as a form of penalty and he is grateful for not being likewise damned. Nevertheless, Crusoe’s own spiritual conviction appears as a matter of expedience. Although he acknowledges his ignorance of God prior to his fever on the island, when he leaves it his mind and inspirations turn to cash and his plantations. In England, Crusoe’s life is expressed in financial terms where the kindness of merchants is more fateful than providence.

The assumptions of moral, religious and racial superiority act in Robinson Crusoe to justify the conduct of colonisers who seek to develop trade with England. These presumptions proved to be so hassle-free that they helped to form the corpus of ‘understanding’ that subjected the non-European residents of nests to slavery and repression. Trade produced a desire for wealth and the methods of travel and conquest at the disposal of imperialists made that trade possible. Gulliver’s Travels provides a consistent attack on these presumptions and the form of writing that created them. Swift’s continuously changing angle of attack exposes the pretensions of Europeans and despairs at their inability to value a common human fate. When considering what it would be like to be a Struldbrug, Gulliver is excited by the prospect of observing “Barbarity overrunning the politest nations, and the most barbarous ended up being civilised”, which at a blow shows that human existence is cyclic rather than dialectic. This acknowledges that no race or group can suppress another which the recklessness of mankind will guarantee that poverty will follow wealth and injustice will follow liberty.


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Bellamy, Liz. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992.

Earle, Peter. The World of Defoe. Newton Abbot: Readers Union Group of Book Clubs, 1977.

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Fabricant, Carole. ‘History, Narrativity, and Swift’s task to “Repair the World”‘, in Gulliver’s Journeys. Ed. Christopher Fox. New York City: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

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Novak, Maximillian. Daniel Defoe: Master of Fictions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. London: Vintage, 1993.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. New York: Signet Classic, 1999.

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