Betty Joseph’s article “Re(playing) Crusoe/Pocahontas: circum-Atlantic stagings in The Female American” calls attention to the comparisons made between The American Female and Robinson Crusoe. Joseph presents The American Female as a novel of its own, saying that it “rewrites Robinson Crusoe but... more complex because it transfers Defoe’s piece into one of female self-fashioning and into a critique of colonialism”(1). Joseph’s main argument in her section on “The Island as the other’s space” is that not only does Unca display truer signs of Christianity and leadership, but that the female protagonist uses many of Crusoe’s actions as a stepping off point for her own success. Joseph points out that the use of the survival manual in The American Female critiques, and even belittles, Crusoe’s writing of his “novel” as the creation of a survival guide; a guide that is written by the hermit in Unca’s story. In addition to having a similar guide for survival as Crusoe, Unca writes the greatest chapter into the manual herself; one that outdoes Crusoe’s own writing abilities because it offers much more than “instruction” on survival. One of the most important points that Joseph brings up is that The American Female creates a “third space” or an “imagined community, where the founding father has been displaced by the not-quite-white mother, and where Christianity becomes a female fantasy of total being the rescues the native population from the history of Anglo (male) missionary projects” (1). According to Joseph’s evaluation of The American Female, the female protagonist offers much more depth to the castaway narrative through her creation of a “third space”; “on an unnamed island, without a founding father, Unca secedes from the possibility of citizenship and consolidates herself as the delegated lawgiver of the Christian God in a third space, unlocatable in the national histories of either England or the United States" (1). The creation of this space, according to Joseph, sets Unca above and beyond the expected missionary, who strictly identifies with the the idea of the white Englishman who “takes over” an already inhabited space. Joseph paints Unca as a hero, who, rather than treating the natives as the “other”, actually saves their souls through Christianity.
Joseph’s article argues the status of The American Female as a work that is highly ignored in eighteenth century literature studies. Joseph presents many of the similarities between Unca’s tale and Crusoe’s through her own arguments for Unca as a stronger protagonist. Joseph emphasizes the “third space” as an important distinguisher of Unca’s story from that of Crusoe’s. This space that she creates becomes a place separate from the identity of an “American” or “Englishman”, and is rather a place where Christianity becomes a fantasy-like state that is free of colonization.
Through my understanding of The American Female, I see Unca as a much different figure than Crusoe. Like Joseph argues, she takes on a Pocahontas-like role; which distinguishes her as a savior to many people, not just to herself. Unlike Robinson Crusoe, where the main goal throughout is his own survival, Unca’s goal becomes her missionary work on the island; she seeks to be a tool to God, unlike Crusoe who looks to God to fulfill his own needs. I am actually a little surprised at the close comparison between the two novels, because I believe we are working with two completely different protagonists, with two completely different journeys. Unca's tale is one that emphasizes her given role as a missionary to the people of the island. Her story is about spreading her faith to others, while throughout the entirety of Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe is looking to solidify a faith for himself.
Why do you think that Robinson Crusoe and The American Female are so closely related according to critics? Do you think that The American Female goes above and beyond what Defoe does in his own novel?
In terms of gender, do you feel that because Joseph is a woman, her article maintains a biased view on the comparison between the protagonists? Or do you think her argument is founded in fair and supported evidence?
Lastly, what do you think of how Joseph argues for Christianity in each work? Is Christianity treated completely differently in the two novels? What is she saying about how Crusoe deals with religion? Through Unca's spreading of religion, what does Joseph seem to think about the author's portrayal of the female soul? How does this article, along with your reading of The American Female portray the soul of a female character with that of a male (what attributes do women seem to have emotionally that males do not?).
Joseph, B. Re(playing) Crusoe/Pocahontas: circum-Atlantic stagings in The female American. Criticism v. 42 no. 3 (Summer 2000) p. 317-35