The novels Robinson Crusoe of Daniel Defoe and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift Comparison

The novels Robinson Crusoe of Daniel Defoe and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift had become popular fictional sources

It illustrate the ideas and tenets of colonialism/ imperialism, specifically British colonialism, in the eighteenth century. Robinson Crusoe typifies the British colonialist who embodies the typical ideas of sea adventure for the purpose of economic gain through exercising European superiority over the natives who they believed to be savages and uncivilized.

Gulliver’s Travels, on the other hand, opposes the ideas of colonialism, arguing that some people being colonized are not really savages but people who have their own respectable, simple culture and the author exposes the selfish ambitious motives and human wickedness acts that hide beneath the cloak of pretending to make other groups civilized.

The words “colonialism” and “imperialism” are two words that carry the meaning of overseas expansion.

In the book Colonialism : A Theoretical Overview , colonialism is define as a relationship that exist between two groups of people belonging to different cultures in which the alien minority ( “colonizers” ) ,who are not willing to adapt to the local culture, are the ones who are making important decisions concerning the life of the “colonized” majority.

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These decisions are largely based on the economic, political or ideological interest of the alien minority (Leonard 355).

The word colonize comes from the Latin word colere which means “to cultivate, to till the soil and to inhabit “(Calder 160). Historically, colonialism began in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries during the rapid European overseas expansion and ends during the anti -colonialism campaign after the Second World War.

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Imperialism, on the other hand, describes an activity of a later date (around the middle of the nineteenth century) when new ideas and concepts were incorporated to colonialism, especially with respect to capitalism.

Other historians, however, ascribes a wider and all inclusive meaning to imperialism, describing it as “any efforts and activities aiming at the creation and maintenance of a transcolonial empire” or in other words, it means “all collective efforts producing colonialism” (Leonard 355). The story of Robinson Crusoe is written by Daniel Defoe. Robinson Crusoe as a young man had dreamt of going on sea voyages. However, his father wants him to become a lawyer and encourage him to choose a life that is of middle-class status.

Since his parents did not allow him to embark on a sea journey, Crusoe run away and went to London with his friend. Afterwards Crusoe sails towards Guiana but the ship is attacked by Turkish pirates and he was brought into the Moorish port of Sallee where he became a slave. After two years, Crusoe escapes with a Moorish youth name Xury and sailed to an uninhabited island. Later, they spotted a Portuguese ship that took them to Brazil where Crusoe sells Xury to the captain.

In Brazil, Crusoe flourishes in a plantation business but later is persuaded to join a slave trade and upon sailing he and the crew is shipwrecked. Crusoe is the only one who survived. Crusoe then swim to an uninhibited island where he manages to make his life comfortable using the provisions from the ship. It is after twenty years later that Crusoe meet Friday, the native cannibal whom he rescues from other savages and later turned into his servant. After two years, Crusoe rescued two other prisoners, a Spaniard and Friday’s father.

Then a European ship that is in mutiny came to the island and carried Crusoe and Friday to England. Crusoe then married and have three children. He later went back to sea voyage after his wife died (Defoe et al, 1-201). “Gulliver’s Travels” is written by Jonathan Swift. It tells the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a ship’s surgeon, who is shipwrecked on an island, Lilliput, inhabited by little people with a height of six inches. The inhabitants engage in ridiculous pageantry and debates with their neighbors, Blefuscu, regarding whether an egg should be broken at the big or small end.

Gulliver also meets other people or humanoids such as the giants of Brobdingnag whom Gulliver is repulsed by their human physical flaws that is magnified by their monstrosity, the scientists and philosophers of Laputa who waste their time in trying to extract sunshine from cucumbers while neglecting to do anything that is practical and important. Finally, Gulliver meets the dignified, orderly and sensible horse-looking Houyhnhnms and the contemptible and brutal Yahoos who resembles like human and serves the Houyhnhnms.

Even though Gulliver is treated with kindness and courtesy by the Houyhnhnms, his naked body betrays his likeness to the Yahoos so that he is banished from them. Gulliver then sails to a nearby island where a Portuguese captain rescues him but he is repulsed by his rescuer’s resemblance to the hated Yahoos. In the end Gulliver recognizes that these islands do belong to England but he questions colonialism (Swift & De Maria 1-305). The actions and adventures of Robinson Crusoe support the idea of colonialism/ imperialism.

Crusoe uses two terminologies that are of significant reference to colonialism/imperialism: King and Master. Both words means leadership and authority over certain subjects or servants. Crusoe refers to himself as “king “of the island where “like a King I dined…attended by my servants …whose lives of my subjects are under my command! ” (Defoe et. al. 229).

On the other hand, Crusoe instructed Friday that he should call him “Master” after Friday made known his intention (as interpreted by Crusoe) to be his servant as long as he lived.

Another way that the idea of colonialism/ imperialism is supported by Robinson Crusoe is in the subjugation of Friday. Friday is depicted in the story as the docile, submissive subject who voluntarily recognized his lowly status, dependence and gratitude to Crusoe. Crusoe came into the life of Friday as a liberator when the former saved him certain death in the hands of fellow savages. Friday especially admired (and could have worshipped) Crusoe’s use of the gun in killing his enemies.

In colonization strategy, these are in fact, the kind of image that the colonizers want to present to the colonized people: as a liberator and as superior in terms of technology. Friday , in gratitude and in awe of Crusoe’s gun,“. …. lays his head flat upon the ground… and sets my (Crusoe) other foot upon his head and made all the signs of subjection, servitude and submission imaginable, to let me know that he would serve me as long as he lived”( Defoe et. al. 215).

The truth of the matter is that the main objective of Crusoe in saving Friday is to get a servant. Later he teaches Friday to do some task so that he can be “useful, handy, and helpful” (Defoe et al 321). The Europeans, in arrogance of their conceived superiority, had expected that the savages from far away shores should serve them. Moreover, the introduction of civilization in the story also suggests a favorable view on colonialism and imperialism. Europeans thought that they are civilized and the Others in the tropics were savages.

Therefore they find it a necessity and their duty to introduce the civilized way of life by way of education and re-construction. In the uninhabited island Crusoe survived following the civilized way of making corn and rice plantations as well as taming the animals. Later, when Friday joins him, he teaches Friday to eat animal flesh rather than human flesh ( to abandon cannibalism ) , let him wear clothes and instruct him how to make bread from corn, let him eat meat with salt and convert him from paganism to Christianity.

But perhaps the greatest task that Crusoe did is to teach the English language to Friday. Crusoe had faced the problem of communicating with Friday and assumed that the solution is to teach Friday his language and not the other way around. This clearly demonstrates European superiority, seeing it more appropriate for the colonized people to learn their own linguistic culture rather than vice versa. The story of Gulliver, on the other hand, did not support the idea of colonialism/imperialism.

For example, Gulliver, after a shipwrecked, arrives at the country of Lilliput where the inhabitants are small people. But unlike Crusoe’s savaged people, the people of this land have their own distinct culture, custom and political organization as well as their own ideas although they may seem ridiculous to Gulliver. What Swift was trying to say through them is that the inhabitants that the Europeans colonize were not all savaged and uncultured although they may appear peculiar to them.

Moreover, there is no relevance in colonizing places or islands similar to the tiny Lilliput , especially under the alibi of eradicating savagery or cannibalism (if no savagery actually exists ) so that in this respect it is “hardly worth the charge of a fleet and army to reduce them” but that on the contrary and in the light of the ideals of justice a British attack on Lilliput can be similarly compared to the Lilliputian idea “of reducing a free and brave people to slavery” (Swift & De Maria 51,268) .

In another aspect, the senseless political debates and arguments that Lilliput engages in with the neighboring Blefuscu reflects the senseless debates that Europeans back home engaged in about the people and places in far way lands which could not be accurate. Furthermore, the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos illustrates an opposition to colonialism for they reflect a particular situation in which the colonizers behaved as more brutal and degenerate than the ones they are trying to colonized.

The Houyhnhnms organized an orderly society based on what nature has assigned to them. They are therefore simple people who live peacefully before the ambitious, selfish and wicked European colonizers (Yahoos) came. It is interesting that these colonizers are described as the Yahoos who “hate one another more than they did any different species of animals “and that “if given a surplus of food, they will instead of eating peaceably, fall together by the ears, each single one impatient to have all to itself”( Swift & De Maria 239).

Furthermore, these people love to make war and make enemies with no justifiable reasons. Swift , in portraying them as serving the Houyhnhnms , suggest that it is in fact much better if they are the ones to be colonized because of their selfish, brutal and bad behavior. Lastly, upon observing the different kinds of humanoids that Gulliver met in his travels, one can understand that Swift is trying to expose the flaws and wickedness of humans, the main reason for his misanthropy.

For example, in meeting the giant Brobdingnagians Gulliver is so disgusted with the human flaws that is magnified, in meeting the scientists and philosophers of Laputa Swift exposes the senseless preoccupation of man on issues or things that are not relevant and in meeting the Yahoos, he is repulsed by their selfishness and brutality. Therefore the quest for colonization, of making others “civilized “ is questionable for the root cause of it is not actually for the betterment of others who do not belong to the European society , but it is a product of a more selfish ambition for gain and subjugation.

The two novels Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels reflect opposing views on eighteenth century colonialism/imperialism. Crusoe typifies the spirit of British colonialist who supports the idea of European superiority and subjugation. Gulliver on the other hand, opposes colonialism on the basis that not all colonized people are actually savages but that they have their own unique culture and sometimes ordered simple societies while the main motives of colonialism is actually selfish ambition carried out through human brutality.

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The novels Robinson Crusoe of Daniel Defoe and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift Comparison. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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