This essay argues that at the center of Coetzee’s reading of Robinson Crusoe lies the exposure of the Christian secret in both the colonial enterprises of the characters and the authorial presences of Defoe and Coetzee. My argument draws on Jacques Derrida’s The Gift of Death, which outlines how Christianity tacitly incorporates (but does not destroy) older, non-Christian elements into its epistemic framework. Though Crusoe explicitly sets out to convert Friday to Christianity, and succeeds in that goal, their conversation on the worship of God offers a startling subversion of the Christian subject position. Foe highlights this subversion through the nonpresence of Friday, showing the work of colonial Christianity still in transition, convulsed by the repetition of what it is attempting to subordinate in secret: the non-Christian other whose sacrifice cannot be openly acknowledged.
Secrecy, Sacrifice, and God on the Island: Christianity and Colonialism in Coetzee’s Foe and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe
Jay Rajiva is assistant professor of global anglophone literature at Georgia State University. His work has appeared in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing and Research in African Literatures. His forthcoming book, Postcolonial Parabola: Literature, Tactility, and the Ethics of Representing Trauma (Bloomsbury 2017), interrogates the representation of trauma in literature of the late apartheid in South Africa and the partition in South Asia.
Jay Rajiva; Secrecy, Sacrifice, and God on the Island: Christianity and Colonialism in Coetzee’s Foe and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 March 2017; 63 (1): 1–20. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-3833447
Download citation file: