Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe made contributions to the evolution of John Smith’s “American Dream.” The dream tempts those of few resources with visions of fertile land and abundance of commodities awaiting industrious settlers in pursuit of quick profits. Many people felt Smith’s tales were an exaggeration, but upon reading Robinson Crusoe it substantiated in part Smith’s story. Smith and Crusoe exemplify the modern adventure capitalist, full of energy and resourceful ingenuity. Smith wrote of trading commodities and planting in Virginia. Crusoe was a trader to Africa and planter in Brazil. Smith journals the fishing seasons: Crusoe journals the planting seasons. They seek profit in the face of great risks―Smith was a slave in Turkey, and Crusoe was a slave in Morocco. Smith and Crusoe have determination and an undaunted spirit: their accounts of the island and Virginia, respectively, offer portraits of strong adventuresome leaders. Both claim to be superior representative and leaders of the European society. Crusoe and Smith led a romantic lifestyle, traveling throughout the world and meeting different civilizations. They rose up from adversity to found a new world community, but they struggle with the notion of equality.
In the late sixteenth century, the struggle for equality began in America with the introduction of European immigrants. By 1608 Smith was elected leader of the colony in Jamestown, and he initiated a policy―”he who does not work shall not eat” (Smith 170). Although the policy appears to be one of equality, fairness, and impartiality, it only applied to European immigrants. The policies did not distribute power, or ownership of land and labor equally among the European immigrants, Native Americans, and African slaves. The European immigrants gained land, Native Americans lost land, and African slaves provided free labor for the land. In Smith’s narrative, a noble Native happily yields to the “superior” representative of European civilization. In Crusoe’s adventure his reaction to the cannibals is personal, visceral, and violent. Crusoe finds the remains of a cannibal feast on the beach, and vows to exterminate them. The cannibals, who were Natives, have done him no wrong. Smith and Crusoe perpetrate the worst European imperialistic atrocities, most notably―inequality, unfairness, partiality, and righteous indignation in pursuit of land, labor, and profit.
Although Smith alludes to slaves as potential “paid labour” and “Apprentises,” he then refers to the slaves as “Servants” (Smith 177). Smith declares the European immigrants are “Masters,” and the slaves are their “Servants” (Smith 177). The terms “Master” and “Servants” defines the inequality of dignity, rank, and privileges. That is similar to Crusoe deciding he is “king,” the island his “own meer property,” and the people his “subjects” (Defoe 190). Crusoe has defined rank and privileges; he is lord and others are subjects. Crusoe descends as though an avenging angel on the cannibals, and an amazing bewilderment on the mutineers. Crusoe is comparable to Prospero in “The Tempest,” an all-powerful governor of his island. It is Prospero who says “We’ll visit Caliban, my slave, who never yields us kind answer” (Shakespeare The Tempest I.ii.311-312). If Prospero asks Caliban for something, he will always respond with a kind affirmative. There is no process of democracy: Smith and Crusoe controls the fates of others; as they preside suddenly over a new political order in Virginia and on the island. The servants and subjects are property, and therefore are divested of freedom and personal rights. If questions of their freedom or personal rights arise, Smith and Crusoe are the judges, and they will rule in favor of themselves.
The notion of equality was approached and an attempt to define it was made by many writers, and include William Bond, William Stewart, and may be defined as the condition of being equal in power, ability, achievement, or excellence. Smith writes of “many faire cities, goodly townes, strong fortresses” (Smith 172). Smith writes of fortresses because he defines excellence―as the power to conquer land and Natives. The Natives define achievement―as the ability to live in harmony with land and people. The English were well equipped with military components, including fortresses and guns. The Natives were not well equipped: they had bows and arrows, and were not formidable adversaries. Smith similar to Crusoe are apprehensive of enemies. Fearful of potential enemies, Crusoe prepares by building a fence or fort into which he “carry’d all [his]riches, all [his]provisions, ammunition and stores” (Defoe 49). Crusoe builds a fort because he defines achievement― as the power to conquer land and the cannibals. When Crusoe sees a man’s foot print, he “immediately went to work with this piece of ground . . . [he]had so fenc’d it round, that [his]flock or herd . . . were well enough secur’ed” (Defoe 129). The Cannibals were not well equipped, and were not formidable adversaries. Due to the inequity in power, Smith like Crusoe’s dominance of the Natives and Cannibals was not worthy of praise or admiration.
Once the land was enclosed with forts, fences, hedges or other natural barriers it was deeded or entitled to one or more owners. The process of land enclosure was accompanied by force, resistance, and bloodshed. The enclosure process ends traditional rights of the land such as mowing meadows for hay, grazing livestock on common land, or hunting wild animals. Once enclosed by the English, these uses of the land became restricted to the owner, and it ceases to be common land of the Natives. Enclosures were not equal, fair, or impartial for Englishmen and Natives.
John Smith and Daniel Defoe made contributions to the definition of equality. Smith and Crusoe’s narratives offer: personal growth, self-realization, development, maturation, and the opportunity to become owner, master and lord of land and subjects. Those dreams tempt those of few resources with visions of fertile land and abundance of commodities awaiting industrious settlers in pursuit of quick profits. The dream does not include quality of opportunity for all members and subject. The Latin word, æquus― equal, fair, and impartial―should be applied for all rules of conduct: the body of rules, whether proceeding from formal enactment or from custom, which a particular state or community recognizes as binding on its members and subjects. This concept is more seriously discussed in the late nineteenth century. In 1891 the Economic Review, in the United States: “It will possibly be contended that here the ideal is equality of opportunity.” The ideal is the dream for all to have equality of opportunity: the right to own land, the right to vote, and the right to be employed without prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, and physical or mental handicap. In 1925 D.H. Lawrence, in Reflection Death Porcupine, writes, “They talk about ‘equal opportunity’: but it is bunk, ridiculous bunk. It is the old fable of the fox asking the stork to dinner.” Equality of opportunity eludes us. It is the tale of the rich asking the poor to dinner. The rich profit off the poor, a practice to which the rich are devoted.
Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Penguin Classics. London, England. 2001.
Economic Review. I. 474.1891.
Lawrence, D.H. Reflection Death Procupine. 155.1925.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tempest.” The Norton Shakespeare. Oxford Edition, Second Edition. W.W. Norton and Company. New York, New York. 2008.
Smith John. ”A Description of New England.” Ed. Barbour, Philip L. The Complete works of Captain John Smith. London, England. 1986.