Crusoe and the Cannibals

Upon Crusoe’s discovery of the cannibals with whom he shares the island, he begins a moral debate about whether or not it would be just to attack them. He first plots to kill them, but later decides instead to let God be their judge. This passage sparked my own internal debate about whether or not Crusoe had come to the ‘correct’ (or perhaps most moral) conclusion. Crusoe’s morality is based entirely in his religious beliefs, and after questioning his instinct to attack the complete ‘otherness’ that he encounters in the cannibals, he realizes that he is in no position to judge a culture that divine wisdom has allowed to exist. Crusoe’s deference to a spiritual authority at first struck me as a denial of what might be considered human nature; war, especially motivated by fear and a lack of understanding, seems to be a recurring theme in the history of humanity. ¬†Crusoe solidifies his decision by stating that attacking the cannibals would be much like the Spaniard’s slaughter of the natives in America. This is where my thinking diverged from Crusoe’s (or rather, Defoe’s). Native Americans were not cannibals, and in fact, when confronted with cannibalism (as they were in Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative), found the practice to be completely abhorrent. The Spanish treatment of American natives was based entirely on greed and the fear of their ‘otherness,’ while Crusoe’s was based at least partially on survival and self defense. He is presented with the possibility of a kill or be killed situation, which leads him to plan for preemptive action. However, the spirituality and religious devotion he has cultivated in his many years on the island stay his hand.

One Response to “Crusoe and the Cannibals”

  1. Kim Sasser says:

    A very thoughtful and thought-provoking post. Great point about the historical occurrence of cannibalism versus the specter of it in the mind of Defoe.

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