Robinson Crusoe and Oroonoko

In 17th and 18th century literature one finds many examples of exotic
travelling adventures, and glamorous stories of discovery. Examples of these are
Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, written in 1688, and Daniel Defoe’s 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 Behn’s Oroonoko and Defoe’s 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). 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

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 howlings and yellings, 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 surprizing 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’d 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.

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