Divine Providence from Robinson Crusoe’s Perspective
In Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, appropriately titled after its main character, young Robinson is a middle-class man in search of a career. Though pressed by his family to study Law, Robinson yearns for oceanic adventure, longing to escape to a life at sea. Against the will of his father, his subsequent rebellion and decision to board a merchant vessel further damages his already fragile and undeveloped view of God, which withers completely as he joins company with godless sailors. Crusoe’s assessment of Providence’s sunshine is foggy at best, and he seems to label God’s justice as merciless, rather than merciful and forgiving. This fledgling faith is nurtured as life experience unfolds, especially during his island experience. Robinson Crusoe journeys in his attitude toward Divine Providence from a rebellion against what he perceives as a disinterested authority early on, to an initial repentance and conversion through the vision-dream, and finally, to an active and mature faith in a loving God, Who protects and guides all things, by the end of his stay on the island.
As Crusoe’s adventures began to unfurl, his outlook on God remained sheepish, and he retained a certain reluctance to accept the all-wise plan which God held for each and every one of his flock. Crusoe’s infant devotion is revealed as, on his maiden voyage, the ship nearly founders, and he prays to God for the first time from a place of distress. As his first passage involves a near-death experience, he concludes that it must be his heavenly Father’s will that he obey his earthly father’s will. Nevertheless, the ocean beckons, and his view of God as a chastising power fails to develop for several years. Crusoe’s hazardous life is filled with risk, and reward and retribution travel hand-in-hand. Just as things seem to be going perfectly, Robinson finds himself the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and, beaten by the waves, he is washed ashore an exotic island. Despite his initial thankfulness for his salvation, loneliness overwhelms him and he is filled with ingratitude at his misfortune. During this time Crusoe views himself as the author of his own miseries, believing his misadventures to be the merchandise of his past misbehaviors, and would oftentimes sit and weep as he pondered “why Providence should thus completely ruin its creatures and render them so absolutely miserable.” Just as Crusoe was shipwrecked physically, it seems he was also shipwrecked spiritually, searching for a trustworthy island whilst struggling for survival in waves of doubt.
Various events lead the shipwrecked swashbuckler to take on a new attitude towards Providence, and he begins to appreciate his deliverance onto the island. In a dream he realizes his need for repentance, and he wakes in tears as he realizes his ingratitude. Robinson recognizes the “stupidity of soul” (p.81) with which he has been living, and his prayers turn from ungracious to thankful. His thoughts of self-pity are now followed by thoughts of self-rebuke, and the Bible begins to affect him profoundly. Shameful of his past ways, Crusoe launches into vigorous reading of the New Testament. Joined by a new companion, Friday, Crusoe is finally again in the company of his own kind, and he redevelops his understanding of humans as he observes Friday’s humble servitude.
The arrival of mutineers and their ousted captain to the island further challenge Crusoe and, as he works with the captain to reclaim the ship, his eyes are fully opened to the completeness of God’s plan for him. Believing himself to be playing a significant part in work of Providence, Robinson takes on a poise and governance which reflect the maturity of the faith he has come to understand. His willingness to come to the aid of others is quick and gracious as he comprehends the willingness of God to come to his own aid and for the first time he truly places the Will of Providence at the center of his life.
Crusoe’s approach to God matures throughout his life as he mutinies against the desires of his loved ones, is brought to repentance by what he views as a Divine intervention, and mellows into a lively and developed faith in a loving God who defends and attends to all things. The marooned mariner who arrived to the island is now a jubilant instrument in the work of Providence, and appreciatively indebted to the Savior he has come to know. The faith which began with fear now rests in exultation, and continues to remain as the centerpiece in the thoughts and decisions of the liberated castaway. Robinson Crusoe follows a seemingly perpetual design of sinning, disregarding God’s forewarnings, hardening his heart to God, repenting as a result of God’s favor and forgiveness, and undergoing a soul-wrenching conversion.
The Aspect Of Reality In Robinson Crusoe By Daniel Defoe
Fiction is defined as being ‘invented or untrue’, however fictional texts can represent reality; authors have created the illusion of real life through fiction by obscuring unreality using realistic occurrences. Robinson Crusoe is an example of this, with Daniel Defoe claiming the text to be a work of non-fiction for a year after publication – citing himself as an editor. Works of fiction are often built from life, hence why they reflect a sense of realism. Being realistic is representing ‘things in a way that is true to life’; authors can create texts with elements true to life, just simply not true of life.
The aspect of reality is especially displayed through how Crusoe establishes himself whilst marooned. He collects useful possessions from the ship, then tries to create items that he could not acquire – like pots to store corn. This process is described in great detail, making readers feel as though Crusoe really experienced it. Defoe also writes how Crusoe initially failed at this venture. ‘It would make the reader pity me what ugly things I made; how many fell in pieces I could not make above two large earthen ugly things in about two months’ labour. ’ Crusoe’s misfortunes show him to be human; whether that is a human that existed in reality or solely in text. If all of his attempts had been successful the first time, readers would have been able to tell immediately that the tale was falsified, so Defoe builds him as a protagonist with flaws, partly to make him more endearing but mostly, to showcase how easily Crusoe could be a ‘’real man’’. Defoe has Crusoe live a solitary life, surviving using basic human instinct; this creates a survival story rather than an adventure story which is more relatable – and therefore more realistic.
Fiction being obscured to appear as reality is shown in Robinson Crusoe. Eighteenth century authors ‘concealed fictionality by locking it inside the confines of the credible’ – done by Defoe. Although inhabiting a desert island seems improbable, Crusoe’s isolation is understated so that it appeared plausible, particularly shown at the beginning of Crusoe’s habitation on the island. Crusoe recounts his first night was spent in an ‘apartment in the tree’. Sleeping in a tree builds an image of being truly stranded, a tree being his only source of shelter. This commits credibility to Crusoe’s account by exhibiting his aloneness and how he is forced to turn to his own ingenuity to live.
Defoe obscures the implausibility by focusing the reader on Crusoe’s humanly characteristics, like his desire to survive. Yet, this practice reveals the fiction, establishing the idea of ‘revealing and concealing fiction being one and the same process’. The journal section displays this, as it was intended to add authenticity, but retracted from it. Crusoe begins his journal to keep track of life on the island, however it becomes an aid to his recounting, rather than a part of it. The journal is initially a day by day account, but extremely detailed as though Crusoe is just experiencing it not recounting it. It also then begins to straddle tenses as it reverts from past to present, with ‘’current day’’ Crusoe interjecting with additional details. Crusoe writes ‘I worked’, rather than I work. The past tense ‘worked’ shows that Crusoe is not writing the journal in the moment, but after the fact. Crusoe is also often thought of as an unsavoury character for how unfeeling he is and his manner of ‘acknowledging his absolute power’ over those he finds on his travels.
All of these things add up to Crusoe remaining just a character in a novel. Though eighteenth century authors of fiction were ‘accused of fraud’, Robinson Crusoe is thought of, not as fraud in the sense it was accused, but as truthful lying, because, although the events did not happen to a man named Robinson Crusoe, they could have happened to a man that lived in the eighteenth century.
Robinson Crusoe History
Robinson Crusoe was born in 1632 in York as third son. Robinson Crusoe is an English man from thane town of York who is the youngest son of a merchant of German origin. His parents wish him to study law and would like to see him as a great lawyer but Crusoe has some other plan. He shows his wish to go to sea, but his family, especially his father is against his wish. His father tries to convince him to give up his dream to go to sea but Crusoe is determined.
His childhood went by, and he was always looking at ships. He always wanted to go far away, so he accepted to be a salesman and a sailor. He went on his first sail. It was so terrifying that he changed his mind and decided to ask his father for forgiveness. When the storm settled, and the journey became pleasant, he forgot about that decision.
He was thirsty for money and fine, so he went to Guinea to make a sale. It went successfully so he moved towards Africa, but the Moorish pirates attacked the ship and he is made a slave in the North African town of Sallee. One day while fishing, he and another slave named Xury. Xury escape and sail down to the African coast. One Portuguese captain helps them; he buys Xury from Crusoe and takes him to Brazil. He visits Brazil. And he suggested Robinson visit his friend who had a sugar plantation. Robinson bought some land and started a sugar cane plantation. After four years he went back to the sea. After 12 days of peaceful sailing, the ship encountered a storm. From all of the sailors, only Robinson saved himself.
He ended up on deserted island and didn’t know where he was, but for him the only important thing was that he is still alive. He started looking for a shelter and found a cave where he made a calendar so that he would know what year and day it is.
He began making his own clothes and everything else that went to waste with time. He tried to make a boat several times and save himself, but he never succeeded. After a few attempts to run away, he got caught in a storm and barely made it out alive. Unfortunately the ship the nearby didn’t have that luck, and every one died. The only survivor was a dog who Crusoe named Jack. Crusoe learned a lot of new things for example how to hunt. He made some chairs and a table started a diary learned how to make different how to make different tools. It all kept him from going insane.
In the next four years he managed to plant some rice and wheat. After he had taken care of food and shelter he went on exploring the island. His peaceful stay in the island. He found out that there are turtles on the island. He never gave up his wish to escape the island. So he built another boat. It was too heavy, so he built a canoe to help him sail around the island. When the wind almost carried him to the open sea, he gave up on his escape from the island.
After spending about fifteen years on the island, Crusoe found a man’s naked footprint. He was taking a walk when he heard some noise and saw a man who was defending himself from the cannibals. Crusoe saved him and because it was Friday he named him Friday. Crusoe and Friday made plans to leave the island and, accordingly, they built another boat. Crusoe also undertook Friday’s religious education, converting the savage into a Protestant. Crusoe has a friend to talk and share. After some time the cannibals again come with some captives whom again Crusoe reuses. One is a Spaniard and the other turns out to be Friday’s father. With the information given by the Spaniard they all set out to save other sixteen Spaniard who have been marooned. After eight days, they see the sight of the English ship approaching the island. Crusoe is suspicious. Friday and Crusoe watch that eleven men held three captives onshore in a boat. Nine of them start to explore the island and two of them stay there to guard the captives. Friday and Crusoe overpower the guards and release the captives, one of them is a captain of a ship which has been taken in a mutiny. Crusoe and Friday shout from different places so as to confuse them and make them tire running from here to there. Eventually they confront the mutineers’ telling them that all may escape with their lives except the ringleader. The men surrender. Crusoe and the captain pretend that the island is imperial territory and the governor has saved their lives in order to send them all to England to face justice. Keeping five men as hostage, Crusoe sends the other men out to seize the ship.
On December 19, 1686 Crusoe boards the ship to return to his homeland England. There he finds his all family members have died except two sisters. The widow has kept his money safe. Knowing that his plantation in Brazil has been in great profit he sells them and earns a very good fortune. He donates some portion to good widow and his two sisters. Being so restless he considers returning to Brazil, but the thought of being a Catholic prevents him to go. He marries and his wife dies. Crusoe finally goes to East Indies as trader and revisits the island the island where he finds the Spaniards are governing the island properly and it has become prosperous colony.
Christianity’s Role as a Colonizing Force in Robinson Crusoe
Christianity played a tremendous role in the 18th century European colonization of the New World, as exemplified by Robinson Crusoe. The story of Crusoe’s isolation on the island, especially concerning his “missionary” attempts with a savage named Friday, shows the importance of Crusoe’s religion in his life. Christianity allows Crusoe to see many things about Friday and his fellow savages, such as the similarities between Friday’s people and the Europeans. But it also keeps him blind to other aspects of Friday’s life, for instance, his not wanting to change to another way of life. The following will show the two sides of Christianity’s affects on Crusoe’s way of life and thought process during the time that he spends on the island. Christianity is a strong force in Crusoe’s life, particularly during the years that he spent in isolation on the island. The thirty-five years spent away from European society gives him a chance to reflect on what God means in his life. He goes from a distant relationship with God when he is first shipwrecked on the island, to complete devotion and a want to spread this to others who do not “know” God. He receives this chance to spread the Word of God to a savage he names Friday. Through his “missionary” attempt, Crusoe discovers many characteristics in Friday that are similar to his own. For example, he finds that God “has bestowed upon [Friday’s people] the same powers, the same reason, the same affections, the same sentiments of kindness and obligation,…and all the capacities of doing good and receiving good, that He has given to us” (212), and this thought comforts Crusoe. He has no reason to fear Friday because of these similarities, they broke the barrier between Crusoe and Friday as well. Crusoe puts aside his apprehensions and attempts to learn from Friday. By gathering information, he can better understand Friday and further their relationship. Among the similarities that Crusoe discovers is that Friday has similar religious beliefs to his own. One similar characteristic is the belief in one Almighty being; the European version is God while Friday’s is Benamuckee. There are also similar types of religious hierarchy, and Crusoe once observes during a conversation with Friday “that there is priestcraft even amongst the most blinded ignorant pagans in the world” (219). This hierarchical structure helps Crusoe’s attempts to rule Friday because of Friday’s faith in his “savage” religion. Through his talks with Friday, Crusoe expands his mind and begins to see that Christianity, or elements of that religion, can be found all over the world, and this helps the various peoples understand one another. These characteristics also help his mission to convert Friday. With a foundation already laid, Crusoe merely needs to “Christianize” what Friday already regards as truth. Friday believes that Crusoe’s teachings are fact and therefore wants to model his life on Crusoe’s. With these new discoveries, Crusoe sees that Friday wants to learn, for “he was the aptest schollar that ever was” (213). With great care, Crusoe shows Friday that the European way of thinking is the best and he must therefore follow Crusoe’s lead. Friday takes a submissive role, allowing Crusoe to become his master. The determining of the savage’s name symbolizes Crusoe’s extreme power over Friday, for Crusoe “made him know his name should be Friday…[and Crusoe] likewise taught him to say Master” (209). The name “Friday,” given to him because that was the day he was saved by Crusoe, is generic and shows what little worth he is to Crusoe; that is, he is only a reminder of the calendar that Crusoe keeps. Crusoe also teaches Friday to live properly, or according to European ways. This means that Friday is expected to give up his savage ways, especially his cannibalism, for Crusoe “found Friday had still a hankering stomach after some flesh, and was still a cannibal in his nature…[and] by some means let him know that [he] would kill him if he offered [the flesh to him]” (210). All in all, Crusoe displays a great amount of patience with Friday, aside from the cannibalism that Friday has a tendency toward, but his other characteristics and habits. This is mainly because Friday is changing his life to suit Crusoe’s and does not inconvenience Crusoe in the least. Along with this patience that Crusoe exhibits, there is also intolerance for Friday’s way of thinking. Crusoe does not allow Friday to have a say in what he is being taught. Crusoe takes his position of Master to Friday seriously and “[makes] it [his] business to teach him everything that was proper to make him useful, handy, and helpful” (213)–proper, that is, according to European rules. With Friday being servant to Crusoe, there is a great loss of freedom, freedom that he had known throughout his whole existence. Although he is not a slave by formal definition, Friday feels obligated to serve Crusoe because he saved Friday’s life. This debt to his master makes Friday’s conversion something that he has to do to please his master. This submission suits Crusoe’s life perfectly. Being European, he naturally feels superior to Friday and welcomes this opportunity to be master of someone. Because this story is written through Crusoe’s eyes, there is no way of knowing exactly how Friday actually feels, but Crusoe never wants to know in the first place. If he knew how Friday felt, his Christian conscience would stop him from his missionary attempts, and he would once again be alone on the island, with no one to control. Although Crusoe sees that there are similarities between his own religion and that of Friday’s, Crusoe wants to re-teach Friday about religion. He wants Friday to learn Christianity and delete all knowledge of his own beliefs, but he finds that “it was not so easie to imprint right notions in his mind about the devil, as it was about the being of a God” (219). Without an already present image of European notions, Crusoe has a difficult time showing Friday the European way of thinking–one being that there is a being with almost the same powers as God, a foreign thought to Friday. Friday’s religious beliefs are “wrong,” and Crusoe wants him to realize this and change his ways to those of a true Christian. Along these same lines Crusoe finds Friday ignorant, not just because of his savage ways, but also because Friday knows nothing about Christianity or how important it is to live a Christian life. Crusoe has found God in everything on the island, and he wants to see Him in Friday as well. This religious faith is a strong force that pushes Crusoe, and he does not want it to leave him either. Through this strong faith in God, Crusoe belittles Friday and shows once again how he is master of this savage. Even though Friday learns quickly what Crusoe is teaching him, he will never be as smart as Crusoe wishes him to be. Crusoe will always be looking for perfection in Friday, and he will never be satisfied with the results. Crusoe also compares himself with God, He being the ultimate Master. As a master, Crusoe wants his follower to be the best example of his authority. Through the eyes of Robinson Crusoe, readers are invited into the world of the colonizing European. This colonization was overshadowed by the strong faith of Crusoe in Christianity. With this faith, Crusoe was able to successfully convert the savage Friday. Through his “missionary” attempts, Crusoe was able to see the similarities between himself and Friday, but also turned a blind eye to other aspects of Friday’s life. Through this novel, Daniel Defoe comments on eighteenth century Europe, a supreme power that showed its mastery over other countries much in the same way that Crusoe did with Friday. Literature gives its audience a view that could not otherwise be seen.
Religious Conviction in Robinson Crusoe
Critics disagree about Robinson Crusoe’s religious convictions, but they generally concur that Crusoe’s faith begins when he acknowledges that his sins are a major cause of his island captivity. Beyond that, opinions diverge. Karl Marx writes that Crusoe’s beliefs are a source of “pleasure” and “recreation” and reflect no genuine piety. This essay argues that Crusoe’s religious conviction is sincere, as evidenced by his Biblical references, change in attitude, and mission to convert Friday. Before his acceptance of Christianity, Crusoe feels wretched and ashamed: “I left them to mourn over my Folly, and now I am left to mourn under the consequences of it; I refus’d their help and Assistance who would have lifted me into the World, and wou’d have made every Thing easy for me” (p.67). His most fervent hope is for deliverance from the island; not coincidentally, one of the first Bible passages he reads is Psalms 50:15: “‘Call on me in the Day of Trouble, and I will deliver, and thou shalt glorify me’” (p.69). Crusoe then becomes very sick and believes his failure to glorify God is the cause of the sickness: “Now I look’d back upon my past life with such horrour, and my sins appear’d so dreadful, that my Soul sought nothing of God, but Deliverance from the Load of Guilt that bore down all my comfort” (p.71). The illness catalyzes Crusoe’s religious conversion. He realizes that through faith in God his solitude will become more tolerable. Indeed, he comes to see the island not as a prison but as a kingdom God wishes him to rule: “There was my Majesty the Prince and Lord of the whole island; I had the lives of all my subjects at my absolute command” (p.108). Crusoe willingly accepts the role and commits himself to serving God: “[God] was able to deliver me; that if he did not think fit to do it, ‘twas my unquestion’d duty to resign myself absolutely and entirely to his Will: and on the other hand, it was my Duty also to hope in him, pray to him, and quietly to attend the Dictates and Directions of his daily Providence” (p. 114).Crusoe comes to rely on God for comfort. For example, he becomes afraid when he sees the footprint and realizes he is not alone. He opens his Bible to Psalms 27:14: “Wait on the Lord, and be of good Cheer, and he shall strengthen thy Heart; wait, I say, on the Lord” (Defoe 114). As a result of his trust in his religion, Crusoe is able to find a brighter outlook on his situation and to retain his sanity. We see how significant Crusoe’s conversion has been when we observe his determination to convert Friday, portrayed as a savage, to Christianity as well. Crusoe “…seriously prayed to God that he would enable me to instruct savingly this poor Savage, assisting by his Spirit the Heart of the poor ignorant Creature, to receive the Light of the Knowledge of God in Christ, reconciling him to himself, and would guide me to speak so to him from the Word of God, as his Conscience might be convinc’d, his Eyes open’d, and his Soul sav’d” (p.158-159). His desire to convert Friday shows that Crusoe has become a faithful Christian who believes it noble to help others find God as well.Crusoe’s faith does not dissolve as soon as he is rescued. As he leaves the island, Crusoe states: “I forgot not to lift up my heart in Thankfulness to Heaven; and what Heart could forbear to bless him, who had not only in a miraculous manner provided for one in such a Wilderness, and in such a desolate condition, but from whom ever Deliverance must always be acknowledged to proceed” (p.197). Someone with only superficial religious conviction, or one developed only to cope with a challenging situation (i.e. island captivity), would not have bothered with grateful prayers afterward. At the novel’s conclusion, Crusoe uses a Biblical allusion to suggest that he believes the hardships he endured would allow him to lead a better life than before (p.205). He has become a more humble person who recognizes the value of helping others (i.e. Friday and the sea captain) and placing one’s faith in a higher power. His experience of religion is sincere, not a “mockery” nor for “pleasure” as Marx would have it. Defoe’s novel is a testament to the redeeming power of religious conviction.Works Cited:Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Ed. Michael Shinagel. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994.
Master of Your Domain
Daniel Defoe shipwrecks Robinson Crusoe on a deserted island, leaving him stranded for twenty-eight years. Rather than succumb to his primal urges and animal tendencies while alone, Crusoe maintains his humanity by establishing dominance over his island surroundings. Crusoe’s ability to adapt juxtaposes the unvarying nature of the island’s animals and cannibals. However, Crusoe’s isolation on the desert island is not Defoe’s first example of human mastery. Early in the story, after being captured by the “Turkish Rover of Sallee,” Crusoe plans and executes a daring escape from slavery (17). His flight represents Defoe’s introduction of adaptability, and Crusoe’s dominance over Xury illustrates mastery. When Crusoe analyzes his survival of the shipwreck, he is distraught by his isolation, but also thankful for his survival. Similarly, Crusoe has the good fortune of being chosen as a prize by the Captain of Sallee. While he does not feel lucky as he enters servitude, the alternative of being “carried up the Country to the Emperor’s Court” to probable death is most definitely less desirable (17). Admittedly, Crusoe feels “perfectly overwhelmed,” and as if “the Hand of Heaven had overtaken me, and I was undone without redemption”(17). Crusoe’s pessimism is understandable and fundamentally human. After all, no one can consistently maintain Odysseus-like optimism.Crusoe’s attitude soon shifts away from negativity, after being enslaved, as he surveys his situation and begins to adapt; “I meditated nothing but my Escape” (18). First, he “hopes that he [Captain] would take me with him when he went to Sea again, believing that it would some time or other be his Fate to be taken by a Spanish or Portugal Man of War; and that then I should be set at Liberty” (17). When Crusoe is left on “Shoar to look after his little Garden,” he begins to contrive different escape schemes (18). For two years, no method seemed to have any probability of success until the Captain entrusts Crusoe with the responsibility of fishing offshore in a Longboat equipped with a “Compass and provision” (19). When Crusoe is deployed in the fully stocked Longboat, with only a Moor and the slave Xury, Crusoe’s “Notions of Deliverance darted into my Thoughts” (20). He sneaks provisions and tools onto the boat, and then pushes the Moor overboard once far from shore. Crusoe, who had been passive and dependant until this point, immediately transforms into a risk-taking and assertive man, willing to “shoot you [Moor] thro’ the Head” if the Moor does not swim back and allow Crusoe to escape (21).With the Moor overboard, Xury is the only remaining obstacle. Crusoe’s options include pushing Xury into the water, embracing him as a companion, or confining him to servitude. He chooses the latter, threatening to “throw you into the Sea,” if Xury does not “stroak your face to be true to me” (21). In response, Xury “swore to be faithful to me, and go all over the World with me,” thus clearly defining their master-slave relationship (21). Defoe uses Crusoe’s formation of racial dominance to reiterate human adaptability. Furthermore, the ease with which Crusoe imposes servitude on Xury sets a precedent for the virtual enslavement of Friday later in the story. However, Crusoe’s relationship with Xury, and later Friday, does not easily fit a black or white color binary because Crusoe regresses from his racist mindset and embraces companionship. Here, companionship is an adaptation. When conversing about the dangers of lions with Xury, Crusoe remarks, “I was glad to see the Boy so cheerful, and I gave him a Dram” (22). Later, when Xury offers to risk his life gathering much-needed water, Crusoe notes that “The Boy answer’d me with so much Affection that made me love him ever after” (23). Crusoe’s embrace of Xury seems commonplace to the modern reader desensitized to racial equality, but the affection Crusoe feels for Xury, and later Friday, serves to criticize and transcend the racial barriers of Defoe’s time. Crusoe’s affectionate but semi-dominant interaction with Xury is also unchanging, even when adaptation to nature is necessary. When a “dreadful Monster on the side of that Hillock fast asleep” is spotted, Crusoe orders that Xury “go on shore and kill him” (25). Xury timidly responds, “Me Kill! He eat me at one Mouth” (25). Crusoe acquiesces and shoots the monstrous lion himself, again asserting his primacy. Choosing to kill the lion also demonstrates adaptation, and the kindness to Xury shows compassion. Later in the story, when Crusoe first takes Friday as a companion, he knowingly sacrifices a permanent portion of his food supply. This sacrifice of food is a parallel to Crusoe’s aforementioned kindness to Xury. Even though he is not necessarily dependent on Xury, Crusoe’s compassion outweighs his survival instinct.Finally, after weeks of sailing on their makeshift boat, Xury catches sight of a ship and yells, “Master, Master, a Ship with a Sail” (29). When Crusoe identifies the ship as Portuguese, he resolves “to speak with them if possible” (30). However, the two boats are too far apart. Crusoe adapts by using his Patroon’s Antient as a “Signal of distress, and fir’d a Gun, both which they saw” (30). Thinking that Crusoe’s boat is “some European Boat, which as they supposed must belong to some Ship that was lost,” the Portuguese ship waits (30). After telling their story, Crusoe and Xury are saved. Because Crusoe is master over all that is on his ship, including Xury, he offers everything as a “Return for my Deliverance,” but the captain refuses the gift (30). Piece by piece, the captain generously purchases Crusoe’s belongings. When he offers “60 Pieces of Eight more for my Boy Xury,” Crusoe is “very loath to sell the poor Boy’s Liberty” (31). For Crusoe, Xury’s sale is a dilemma because he has compassion for his slave. Taking the money would improve his situation, but would also mean losing a friend. In the end, Crusoe’s dominant nature overtakes his compassion for Xury, and he sells Xury.Crusoe’s escape from the Sallee Rover, his survival in foreign waters, and his eventual deliverance by the Portuguese ship all demonstrate his mastery over his environment. His adaptation in the face of adversity foreshadows his eventual mastery of the deserted island. While Robinson Crusoe will always be remembered for the “footprint in the sand” and Crusoe’s mastery of the island, it is clear that Defoe established these themes of adaptation and dominance early in the story and carried them throughout.
The Role of Race
‘[Robinson Crusoe is] the true prototype of the British colonist, as Friday (the trusty savage who arrives on an unlucky day) is the symbol of the subject races.’ Explore.Unquestionably Robinson Crusoe is a novel of unbridled popularity; it has generated over seven hundred editions, and been abridged, translated, adapted, and imitated variously. To many critics it is the embodiment of the origins of the British Empire; the white man explores, assumes control, and exploits the new world he has discovered. To James Joyce it seemed obvious that Friday’s enslavement was symptomatic of early eighteenth century attitudes towards other races and cultures, and it is this which is to be explored here.Race is foremost in Crusoe and Friday’s understanding of each other. For Crusoe the black man and the white man cannot meet on equal ground. The mere physical differences between them are emphasised when Crusoe first describes his new ‘companion’:He was a comely handsome fellow … but seemed to have something very manly in his face, and yet he had all the Sweetness and Softness of an European in his Countenance too, especially when he smil’d. … The Colour of his Skin was not quite black, … but of a bright kind of a dun olive Colour … and his fine Teeth well set, and white as Ivory. (page 205-6 )Compared to Crusoe’s description of himself – the goat-skinned, shaggy, wild-man, Friday is sympathetically and attractively described, but most emphatically and definably different. Crusoe remarks on the colour of his skin and the setting of his teeth as though observing a new horse or dog he has purchased; Friday is now a slave, and catalogued in the way that Crusoe notes down everything else he wins for his little island kingdom, be it gunpowder or cats. The importance placed on race can perhaps be better seen when the Spaniard is asked by Crusoe to ‘oversee and direct’ Friday and his Father in the felling of trees (page 247). Despite Crusoe’s repeated hatred of the Spanish and their almost unmentionably terrifying Inquisition, which he is at such pains to ensure the other Spanish sailors will not deliver him to, he places this almost unknown man in a position of authority over the black man who has served him so well for many years. Friday’s well-earned merit, skill, understanding of the island, and obvious loyalty are all less important to Crusoe than the consideration of Race. To Crusoe, the Spaniard is a white man and thus, no matter how cruel and abhorrent his countrymen, he is still more inherently trusted and perhaps perceived as more competent than his loyal, intelligent, and native servant. It is based upon his race also that Crusoe’s initial fear of Friday is founded: he initially makes him sleep between the inner and outer ‘castle’ walls and later he admits that he ‘wrong’d the poor honest Creature very much’ in suspecting that he would gladly return and revert to his native land and customs. It is important to note the usage of the word ‘Creature’, subverting Friday’s essential humanity to something less important, and less unique. It is also because the Spaniard is white that Crusoe abandons his policy of non-interference with the savages – it is acceptable for them to butcher their own race, but not his, and it is unacceptable for them to endanger the symbol of western civilisation.Civilisation seems to create the greatest gulf between Friday and Crusoe: as characters they come from different worlds. Friday is a very able character: Defoe often remarks on the swiftness of his running and his ability to skipper Crusoe’s canoes. In fact, where anything requiring physical dexterity is involved, Friday is the more skilled of the two men. However, it is Crusoe’s education – his understanding of tools and techniques – that allows him to assume control over situations and, ultimately, over Friday. Many times Crusoe reflects on how different his life might have been had he not been so fortunate as to be able to take supplies from two shipwrecks. Alexander Selkirk, the original marooned Scotsman on whom it has been suggested that Defoe based his tale, enjoyed a rather different life to that of Crusoe. “Being left with only a pound of gunpowder, Selkirk quickly had to revert to hunting wild goats by speed of feet; for his way of living and continual exercise of walking and running cleared him of all gross humours; so that he ran with wonderful swiftness.”This real marooned man reverted back to primitive methods of living and catching his food: his method of keeping the rat population in check was to encourage more cats to breed, and his method of catching goats is to chase them. This is a state of enforced re-naturalisation which Crusoe does not endure; instead he battles against nature, endeavouring to bake bread, make clay pots, and build furniture despite the difficulties. He endeavours to maintain his identity.Crusoe’s identity is explored with an interest and a concern on the part of Defoe which balances up the vague carelessness with which Friday is depicted. The importance of Crusoe’s identity is seen not only in his attempts to create for himself a more luxurious standard of living, but in his attention to symbols of his ‘Englishness’. He creates for himself an umbrella, a pipe, and trims his beard, worrying about how polite society would now view his appearance. Perhaps the intensity of his religious devotion in parts of the book is an example of his maintaining the Christianity so important to his cultural identity. His anti-Spanish sentiments seem designed to mark England out as the peak of civilisation – the Glorious Revolution having seen an end to the blood shed of earlier centuries and other countries. Only England is civilisation’s castle – even the Pyrenees are teeming with man-eating wolves. Crusoe, as the exponent of this Englishness abroad, endeavours to maintain his standards of morality, religion, and decency.Capitalism, as David Cody has explained, ‘can be defined as the condition of possessing capital’, and also ‘an ideology which favours the existence of capitalists’. He goes on to explain that Crusoe’s preoccupations on the island arelabour, raw materials, the processes of production, colonialism (and implicit Imperialism), shrewdness, self-discipline, and profitwhich are those of the ‘proto-capitalist’. It is not true to say that Crusoe is driven by money; when he finds some onboard his ship he begins an almost theatrical diatribe on the uselessness of money:O Drug! Said I aloud, what art thou good for, Thou art not worth to me… I have no Manner of use for thee, e’en remain where thou art, and go to the Bottom as a Creature whose Life is not worth saving. However, upon Second Thoughts, I took it away (Page 57)It is interesting that he refers to the money as a ‘Creature’, in the same way as he later refers to Friday: is it possible he values them equally? Perhaps he endows the money with the same sub-human animation that he offers to his Servant. At the very least, it is true to say that the word ‘Creature’ crops up often in his language, symptomatic of the deeply held belief of his own, and of English superiority. Richetti makes mention of the spirit of ‘realistic inconsistency’ which this quotation exposes. Although Crusoe learns thatall the good things of the world are no farther good to us than they are for our use; and that whatever we may heap up indeed to give others, we enjoy just as much as we can use and no more. (page 129)still his ‘Second Thoughts’ lead him to carry away the money. He has clearly not learned this lesson properly. Nor has he when the later shipwreck occurs and he exhibits exactly the same hypocritical behaviour:as to the Money, I had no manner of occasion for it: ‘Twas to me as the Dirt under my Feet; and I would have given it all for three or four pair of English Shoes and Stockings… However, I lugg’d this Money home (page 193)Here again we see a repetition of the value of English wares; a patriotic pride in ‘English Shoes’ and produce permeates the text. More importantly, however, Crusoe is at pains to carry his money home whilst at the same time denouncing it as useless. Perhaps this is the sign of a capitalist; someone who is drawn to wealth in spite of it’s apparent and admitted uselessness. However, seeming to refute this, Crusoe does grow only what he needs to live: he sees no virtue in growing excess which must remain unutilised and useless. Yet even this is countermanded when he later ‘resolv’d for the future to have two or three Years corn beforehand, so that, whatever might come, I might not perish for want of Bread’ (page 156). The capitalist begins to resurface, stockpiling crops and money for no reason other than their inherent value. Crusoe shows himself to be the true exponent of the English culture in the Southern hemisphere.The ‘Second Thoughts’ of these two quotations were remarked upon by David Trotter, when he saidCrusoe’s second thoughts supplement his first. They show him again in a different light, but not conclusively. They are followed … by third thoughts, and fourth thoughts. Crusoe’s character … is endlessly deferredIt seems emblematic of the English mind that it is constantly re-evaluating and re-assessing itself; and it is certainly seen to be a trait of the isolated mind. Robinson Crusoe is a story of Crusoe’s development ‘in the wild’ as it were, and the natural evolution of the solitary man. Critics have remarked on Defoe’s use of punctuation; Crusoe regularly uses a large number of semi-colons and colons, to act as ‘qualifiers’ for his decisions. Nothing is done which has not been subjected to thought and argument, and yet this serves only to undermine initial decisions, like the one not to bother retrieving the money. The realistic inconsistency of Richetti is present not in the plot, in the fact that Crusoe returns home to sudden mysterious wealth, nor in his reappearing ink, or the sex-change of his goat, or his stuffing of biscuit into the pockets of the coat he has already lost in the sea, but in the mind of Crusoe himself. A man who is constantly rethinking and lives in a state of perpetual paranoia which leads him to build vast strongholds and hide himself away at the sight of a footprint is scarcely to be trusted.The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘colonize’ as ‘to establish a colony in’, or ‘to establish control over (the indigenous people)’. Crusoe’s subordination of Friday and his adaptation of the island to his own needs is a prime example of this. He also appropriates the island for his own, reminding it’s new inhabitants that he has ‘reserv’d to my self the Property of the whole’ (305) and taking up the role of ‘Governour’. Ian Watt remarks that Crusoe’s desire to improve his surroundings is ‘really the dynamic tendency of capitalism itself’, and perhaps part of the ambition and desire for more material wealth. It is thus true to say that Crusoe is the ‘true prototype of the British colonist’ and of the emerging capitalist of the 18th Century.More interesting though are the fantasies and roles he creates for himself. He is a trader, a monarch, a religious fanatic, and a Governor:My island was now peopled, and I thought my self very rich in Subjects; and it was a merry Reflection which I frequently made, How like a King I look’d. (page 241)Crusoe creates for himself a pleasant fantasy as King, just as he has earlier created his ‘castle’ and his ‘seat in the country’. It is strange perhaps that the symbol of British development and progression in the world takes upon himself such archaic fantasies, showing him to be rooted in the past rather than reaching to the future: he is a prototype capitalist, and one who secretly longs for the past. As Adam Smith put forward the view that it is individual selfishness that is responsible for the improvement in Britain and her trade, by appealing to a man’s ‘self-love’ , so it is true that Crusoe dreams of bettering himself in the most drastic way that he can; to assume total authority and become an autocratic dictator. It is sinister, though, that by the end of the book he has assumed this authority; he is at the least self-proclaimed and ratified Governor of the Island with the power over his prisoners’ lives, apparently uncontested and accepted by the Ship’s Captain:he told them, they were none of his Prisoners, but the Commander of the Island … the Governour was an English Man; that he might hang them all there, if he pleased; but as he had given them all Quarter … except Atkins, who he was commanded … to advise to prepare for death; for that he would be hang’d in the Morning. (page 268)Here we see Crusoe’s fantasies taking lethal form. The choice of hanging as punishment corresponds with this assumption of authority. On a smaller scale, Crusoe also immediately assumes control over Friday.I made him know his Name should be Friday, … I likewise taught him to say Master, and then let him know, that was to be my Name (page 206)It is interesting here that Crusoe assumes the role of one who assumes names; Friday, the Savage, and the Spaniard are all titles set by him. Yet they are names which show his lack of understanding; the savage and Friday treat each other better than Crusoe and his own father. These are the crude labels of a falsely-superior creature.The names Crusoe creates for himself are some of the few signs of imagination, or inner workings that we see in the character. We are told that he is plagued by nightmares, including the peculiarly instructive dream that prepared him for the coming of Friday. And he sets aside barely time for leisure; we never see Crusoe dosing in the sunshine, or playing with his dog. Everything is directed to a purpose. Yet perhaps the seemingly incomplete picture of Friday, as a man about whose internal thoughts, desires, and dreams we know very little, is because as the narrator, Crusoe has little of these himself and thus does not seek for them in others.Instead of the ‘Companion’ (page 188) Crusoe claims he desires, he uses his greater education to make a slave of Friday. This is all the more surprising when it is considered that Crusoe himself has even been a slave, and yet he does not seem to deplore the subjugation of people thus. His escape is perhaps symbolic of the class mobility prevalent in the new age. Slavery is not an issue in the novel as it would be to a modern reader, simply because it is taken for granted and skimmed over. Crusoe is even on his way to illegally obtain more Negroes for the plantations when he is stranded on this Island, yet he never associates cause and effect with the wrath of providence as he does with earlier shipwrecks. Based on a dream, a desire for a subservient worker, and relatively unimportant desire for company, and sheer luck that he was in the right place at the right time, Crusoe saves Friday’s life. Friday is clearly intelligent as he learns and quickly adapts to Crusoe’s methods of carpentry, gunmanship, and life, and he obeys with an undying obedience which Crusoe does not always respect. He is initially suspicious of his new slave, and doesn’t seem to understand the culture he has come from, initially presenting him with a slice of goat meat with all ceremony and anticipation suggesting he naively expects Friday to have never eaten goat before. He assumes that Friday is a cannibal through and through – in some places Crusoe almost seems under the impression that the ‘Savages’ eat little but each other. Friday is at pains to explain they eat only prisoners captured in battle, and yet Crusoe has no desire to understand the natives. He does not even realise before it is explained to him that there is more than one tribe in the area; he sees only black men, homogenised and indistinct.Nor does Crusoe respect Friday’s cultural identity in the way he is at pains to preserve his own sense of ‘Englishness’. He begins to Anglicise his new slave; not content with sublimating the physical man into slave, he now teaches him to act as though he was English, yet paradoxically awards him none of the associated status. Friday learns to eat bread, wear clothes, pray to Jesus, and shoot his own kind in a horrific perversion of his loyalty to Crusoe.It is clear that Crusoe wants a companion on his own terms; not a friend but a follower. Perhaps though it is untrue to say that Friday arrived on an unlucky day when one considers that had he arrived at virtually any other time he would have been eaten. Instead he suffers a loss of his identity and freedom to the extent that he becomes little more than a silhouette of his Master, and an echo of his former self. Crusoe’s imposition and assumption of authority is an unsettling result of his prototypic colonialism. The narrator and the character, who begin so separately with the one deploring the mistakes of the other, align throughout the novel leaving only one speaker, blithely unaware of his own inadequacies. Upon his return to England, Crusoe’s relationships with his family consist of sending them packets of money; he has become emotionally deficient and socially inept through his long subjugation of those around him. It is laughable that when Friday questions his teachings, asking ‘if God much strong, much might as the Devil, why God no kill the Devil, so make him no more do wicked?’ (page 218), Crusoe cannot even think of an answer, but nor can he admit that he is confounded. The question strikes at the heart of his religious doctrine, and yet he sees no flaws in what he propounds and even forces upon others. His years alone have blinded him to the needs and individualisms of those around him, and left him devoid of self-analysis – a true immoral imperialist.
God Would Not Bless Me: Fatalism and the Father in Robinson Crusoe
Though Robinson Crusoe may be popularly envisioned as a harrowing “adventure tale” of shipwreck and survival, the “adventures” of emotional and spiritual discourse act perhaps equally strongly to frame and direct the text. Crusoe’s early travels, in which he says he “I never once had the Word Thank God, so much as on my Mind, or in my mouth” (131), are constantly being narrated through the emotional discourse of parental prohibition; his later foreign adventures are often viewed through the lens of the earlier, less turbulent domestic sphere. Though Crusoe’s adventures seem at first self-consciously antithetical to life with his parents at home, it is also possible to read them as embedded within that early life, testing out the conditions and prohibitions which his father first set out. Having left the comfortable world of his father, blessed neither by his father or God (7), Crusoe is haunted throughout his travels by feelings of carelessness and impetuousness with which his departure was informed. The narrative itself is framed by prohibition and violation: from the very beginning, Crusoe is commanded by his father not to go to sea. Such a commandment acts with a prophetic fatalism, subsumed only by the driving “Propension” (3) of nature, throughout the rest of the tale.From the narrative’s first sentence, Crusoe is unable to keep the discourse of his father out of the discourse of his own adventure and eventual despair. Even as Crusoe narrates his family history, including the history of the alteration of his name, Crusoe’s father plays the central, defining role. Crusoe says his father, “a foreigner of Bremen” rather than a British native, “got a good Estate by Merchandise”, allowing him to leave “off his trade” (3) and move elsewhere. Crusoe speaks of him as, at least initially, culturally other, a self-made man who has “become British” through the growth of his business as well as the alteration of his name. Through such a narrative opening, Crusoe delineates not only the evolution of his name from German to English, but his family’s economic history as well. Because the “Station” into which Crusoe was born is directly reflective of this history, the reader must be careful not to discount its prominence within the adventure as a whole, especially when one considers it in the context of Crusoe’s father’s concerns.In advice given early on, Crusoe’s father argues that his own path of stable self-sufficiency has set an ideal example for the life and career objectives of his son. He suggests that son Crusoe’s desired deviation from this path is due to a “meer wandring Inclination” (4), and notes that, by remaining, Crusoe might be “well introduced” and have “a Prospect of raising [his] Fortunes by Application and Industry” (4). Rather than simply harboring sentimentality towards his son, Crusoe’s father suggests that remaining would allow Crusoe to maximize his potential for economic growth. Not of either “desperate” or “aspiring, superior” fortunes, Crusoe has been set into the “middle State” (4) through the effort and modest successes of his father. Crusoe’s father does not lament his failure to rise higher, or to gain more than he already has; instead, he argues for the value of maintaining, even for future generations, the station he is in. Such a station, he argues, is “not exposed to the Miseries and Hardships, the Labour and Sufferings of the mechanick Part of Mankind, and not embarrass’d with the Pride, Luxury, Ambition and Envy of the upper Part of Mankind” (4) — rather, it exists stably within society, free of the worst extremes. The apparent glamour of the upper classes reveals itself to be full of suffering and vice, and it is rather the middle state “which all other People envied” (4). This explication of an economic Middle Way, the “upper Station of Low Life,” (4) allows Crusoe’s father to express and give approval to the path of his own life. The avoidance of the worst disasters and the enjoyment of the most commonly available pleasures allows one, in the mind of Crusoe’s father, to gain the most from life while being afflicted by the least suffering. Rather than simply avoiding adventure, such a life strategy allows one to go “silently and smoothly thro’ the World, and comfortably out of it” (5).Crusoe’s father argues that acceptance of such a station does not only make oneself comfortable, but in fact allows one to move gracefully through life, achieving goals and garnering pleasures without too much unnecessary travail. Rather than simply admonishing his son, the father is attempting to reveal the wisdom at which he, through the course of his life, has arrived. He suggests that Crusoe’s current station is not only the one most suitable for him, but in fact the one in which he could reap the most happiness and rewards. By noting that Crusoe was “born in” this particular “Station of Life” and that “Nature..seem’d to have provided against” his misery, Crusoe’s father gives at first the impression of desiring stasis and general immobility for his son. If Crusoe has, like a tool of fate, already been “provided” for, it seems the father would have him accept this providence blindly and not act to alter it in any way. However, in the broader narrative, “Nature and the Station of Life” have been only partial contributors to Crusoe’s fate; the father’s merchandizing and subsequent marriage have done much to set Crusoe where he is. Indeed, his father implies it is unnecessary for Crusoe to handle “Miseries which Nature and the Station of Life [he] was born in, seem’d to have provided against” (5), arguing for a fatalism of birth which is auspicious rather than limiting. Rather than simply being directed by fate, Crusoe seems at least in part provided for by the previous hard work of his father. Through the work of this “wise and grave Man” (4), Crusoe has been given enough means to enjoy the life his father sees fit. He may live without too many hardships, “sensibly tasting the Sweets of living, without the bitter, feeling that they are happy, and learning by every Day’s Experience to know it more sensibly” (5). Through the approval and recommendation of his current station, Crusoe’s father reveals his respect for moderation even in enjoyment, and for a “sensibly” won knowledge not admitting of rash desires. The realization of and contentment with the positive aspects of life — “feeling that they are happy” — is seasoned through with a progressive knowledge, the process of understanding one’s experience more finely each day. Though such a respect remains necessarily modest, not claiming to gain much new emotional territory, it seems also well-tested through long experience of losses and gains. Crusoe’s father has, it seems, lived his life in just such a fashion and has ended up generally satisfied with the results.Yet, at the same time as he recommends this living within one’s emotional means, Crusoe’s father offers up a dire alternative to Crusoe if he does not follow his advice. As Crusoe narrates, the father says, “if I did take this foolish Step [of going abroad], God would not bless me, and I would have Leisure hereafter to reflect upon having neglected his Counsel when there might be none to assist in my Recovery” (6). Though such a condemnation seems out of proportion to a travel request, Crusoe calls it “Prophetick” (6), revealing an implicit acceptance of his father as prophesier of the actions of God. His rebellion from his father – though he was “sincerely affected with this Discourse,” (6), he does not heed it – seems parallel to the spiritual rebellion which he will experience throughout the remainder of the tale. Crusoe’s father, who already offers God-like commandments and prophecies regarding the best-lived life, seems also able to dictate whether God will bless his son, and indeed to dictate the regret which Crusoe, unblessed and unhappy, would subsequently feel. While Crusoe does not heed the commands of his father, he never suggests that such commands are unwarranted, or that his father does not have the foresight he might claim. He allows for his father the role of prophet as well as authority figure; because the narrative is told in the past tense, Crusoe may infuse the sense of “destiny” upon what otherwise may have been well-meant, if overbearing, advice. In such an understanding of destiny, it seems that Crusoe idealizes his comfortable, middle-station home as the fount of these commands and prophecies. His thoughts of how he might have stayed in with his father, enjoying a life “calculated for all kinds of Virtues and all kinds of Enjoyments” (5), allows him to frame his tale in terms of his rebellious departure and the consequences he has come to know. Rather than describing the constellation of events and circumstances which seem to have been related to his departure and adventures – for instance, the “one Day at Hull” (7) which caused him to decide to travel – he instead frames his story strongly as a narrative arc structured by this “fatal…Propension” and the rebellion against his father’s desires.Though Crusoe’s father’s comment is structured not as a blind command, but as a (finally prophetic) statement of concern, Crusoe is unable to take that concern to heart. Rather, he seems to have left with no “Consideration of Circumstances or Consequences” and that he left “in an ill Hour, God knows” (7). While clearly possessing a strong belief in the “fatal” quality of nature, Crusoe narrates his own motives as though they were unstructured and haphazard. Without “asking God’s blessing, or my Father’s” (7) blessings one and the same Crusoe leaves the circumstances in which he has been advised to stay. Through long experience or wisdom, Crusoe’s father knows the outcome of this departure, and suggests that the “upper Station of Low Life” is where Crusoe would best have found a home. Crusoe’s father seems content with his own station and, with a mixture of wisdom and authority, commands Crusoe to remain where he is. He proceeds to prohibit his son from departing, saying that such departure would prevent him from being blessed. Crusoe will not remain and, because of this clear breaking of prohibition, will feel afterward the weight of grief and rebellion at having left his father and his God.BibliographyDefoe, Daniel. The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. London: Oxford University Press, 1972.
Spiritual Sovereignty: Crusoe’s Religious and Colonialist Journey
While Robinson Crusoe is undoubtedly a story of survival, it is first and foremost a story of religious and spiritual growth. Crusoe’s spiritual journey affects every single aspect of his life and draws him to reconsider many of his close-held beliefs, like his right to sovereignty over the island on which he is stranded. Interestingly enough, his core belief about sovereignty does not change at the surface level. At the beginning of his journey, when he first arrives at the island, he believes it belongs to him, and takes pleasure in that. Toward the end of his time at the island, he still feels the same way, but his justifications for that belief have changed due to his changed beliefs in religion. Throughout the entire novel, Crusoe believes he has sovereignty over the island and its inhabitants, but his new-found religious beliefs allow him to justify that sovereignty through an idea of divine obligation.
Upon arriving at the island, Crusoe quickly develops an idea of his sovereignty over the land. This concept is immediately met with comparisons to the way in which English lords preside over their own land, as seen in the quote: “I might have it in inheritance, as completely as any lord of a manor in England” (80). It is also important to note that Crusoe does not consider the fact that he could rule over other people on this island; his sole concern is with possession of the land itself and the resources it provides.
The tone of the passage is also important in analyzing Crusoe’s feelings towards sovereignty at the beginning of his time on the island. While he has certainly decided that the island is in his possession (“…to think that this was all my own, that I was king and lord of all this country indefeasibly, and had a right of possession” (80)), he is apprehensive about truly embracing these thoughts. This is conveyed through careful choice of words— for example, he surveys the island “with a secret kind of pleasure” (80). The word secret implies that he is not fully comfortable with claiming the entire island as his own, and feels that he must keep this idea to himself (even though he does not have anyone else on the island with which to share this idea at the time). Crusoe also states that this pleasure is “mixt with my other afflicting thoughts” (80), conveying that he has other thoughts which conflict with the concept of full sovereignty over the island, therefore creating an internal debate around the subject.
While not directly stated, Crusoe does eventually come to a conclusion in this internal conflict, a direct result of his religious journey throughout his time on the island. First of all, Crusoe becomes obviously much more comfortable with his self-imposed sovereignty. For example, thinking about his sovereignty is now labelled as a “merry reflection” (190) instead of a “secret pleasure” (80). This directly implies that Crusoe no longer feels conflicted about this idea—he no longer believes this is an idea he can only enjoy in secret. Now, he has an “undoubted right of dominion” (190), while before, his right of dominion was met with “afflicting thoughts” (80).
There are obvious changes to Crusoe’s situation at this point in the novel. First and foremost, he is no longer alone. Friday is present as his subject and friend, along with his father and the Spaniard. Crusoe has no qualms about exerting full rule over them, and does not doubt their dedication to him: “they all ow’d their lives to me, and were ready to lay down their lives, if there had been occasion of it, for me” (190).
He is so confident in his rule over these people largely because of his newfound religious beliefs. For example, Crusoe is very proud of the fact that he converted Friday to Christianity, and it is established earlier that he believes that it was his divine obligation to do so: “I had not only been mov’d myself to look up to Heaven, and to seek the hand that had brought me there; but was now to be made an instrument under Providence to save the life, and for ought I knew, the soul of a poor savage, and bring him to the true knowledge of religion, and of the Christian doctrine, that he might know Christ Jesus, to know whom is life eternal” (174). Therefore, Crusoe has finally found a justification for his absolute sovereignty over the island and its people, and that is his religion.
Crusoe is very obviously fixated on the religious beliefs of his so-called subjects, though he does not attempt to convert anyone besides Friday: “My man Friday was a Protestant, his father was a pagan and a cannibal, and the Spaniard was a Papist: However, I allow’d liberty of conscience throughout my dominions” (190). He obviously does not hold the same standards to anyone besides Friday or hold them in the same regard, but still allows them their respective religious freedom. In all of his new justifications for his sovereignty over the island, religion is the most important element.Crusoe’s journey is one of adventure and survival, but also one of religious and spiritual discovery. He has been raised his entire life with the English notion of colonialism and sovereignty over other lands, so it is obvious that he would immediately believe in his own rule over this island, but he lacked the true justification for this belief. So, at the surface level, Crusoe’s beliefs about sovereignty do not change—it is his justification for the belief that changes. Crusoe finds religion through Christianity and through his language, expresses that it is his divine obligation to rule over Friday, and by that measure, the island. Crusoe’s ideas about rule and sovereignty do not change, but his spiritual journey and finding of faith allow his ideas to transform.
Daniel Defoe: The Father of the Novel
The rise of the novel is one of the most frequently debated literary themes in the history of literature. Scholars have always been divided in two factions that argue whether Beware the Cat by William Baldwin or Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is the first English novel (Mackay, 32). While, on the one hand, scholars as Arthur F. Kinney and William A. Ringler claim that the ground-breaking satire Beware the Cat should be considered as the first English novel (Kinney, 398), on the other hand, intellectuals of the caliber of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf argue that The Life and Strange Surprising Adventure of Robinson Crusoe, Ec. is the text that started this new genre. Robinson Crusoe, in fact, is usually recognized as the first English novel since this book breaks with the writing standards fixed by past literary tradition. The theme of religion, which was the core theme of 17th century writing, has a major role in the book, but it does not represent the only theme that Defoe touched upon in the novel. According to Quentin G. Kraft, in Robinson Crusoe there are two main themes: the spiritual autobiography and the economic matters. These two themes, however, are not the only innovation that Defoe presents in Robinson Crusoe; in fact, the use of the first-person narration together with the values embodied by Crusoe make Robinson Crusoe the first novel of the English literature.
The English writer James Joyce describes Daniel Defoe as “the first English author to write without imitating or adapting to foreign work, to create without literary models and to infuse into the creatures of his pen a truly national spirit, to devise for himself an artistic form which is perhaps without precedent” (321). Even if Joyce is right in describing Defoe as an innovator, the description he provides of Defoe is exaggerated. It is unquestionable that Defoe has succeeded in doing something new; however, it is not true that he wrote the whole book without emulating other works. A great portion of Robinson Crusoe is based on the imitation of the spiritual autobiography, a form of writing that had reached its maximum success in the 17th century. As Kraft argues in his article “Robinson Crusoe and the Story of the Novel,” the whole section of Robinson Crusoe in which Crusoe is on the island follows the typical pattern of the spiritual autobiography. In fact, Crusoe is shipwrecked on the island after having committed a sin, having disobeyed his father, and it is while he is on the island that Crusoe gradually turns to the bible and finally converts. Joyce also claims that Defoe’s innovation lies in the way he describes Crusoe, who personifies all the values of the perfect English man of the time who had to be able to adapt when in need (323). If necessary, indeed, Crusoe becomes an inventor, a farmer, a teacher, a governor, a slave trader, and a slave himself by breaking all the social schemes and creating a figure of man who is extremely modern. He is a person of superior intelligence, with a great ability to adapt and a strong natural survival instinct. When in Brazil, for instance, Crusoe has transformed himself into a plantation owner, and when captured by the pirates he has adapted himself to the condition of slave.
On the island, Crusoe was able to build himself a shelter, to produce milk and cheese from the goats, to create different tools and a canoe. Similarly, after being rescued he transformed himself into a governor and a trader. Joyce is so amazed by Defoe’s description of Crusoe, that he defines it as a prophetic description of the English men of his century (323). Crusoe’s vivid and realistic description has been achieved through the first-person narration technique. According to Malinda Snow, this narration technique represents a further turning point in the history of fictional works, and it is another element that contributes to make Robinson Crusoe the first novel of the history. In her article “The Origins of Defoe’s First-Person Narrative Technique: An Overlooked Aspect of the Rise of the Novel,” Snow explains that Robinson Crusoe first-person narration differs from the first-person narration of the spiritual autobiography. While Robinson Crusoe narrative style takes the cue from the scientific literature style, in which the narrator uses to report visible details realistically, the spiritual autobiography narration empathizes the abstract description of the soul by focusing the attention on the characterization of the emotion proved by the main character, creating a narrative that is, for the reader, a spiritual sensitive experience (181). The fact that in Robinson Crusoe the descriptions are vivid and realistic is remarkable from the first pages of the book. For instance, when Defoe describes the moment in which the sea comes calm again after the first storm, he writes, “but towards Night the Weather clear’d up, the Wind was quite over, and a charming fine Evening follow’d; the Sun went down perfectly clear and rose so the next Morning” (8). The first-person narrator, as well as the accurate use of the adjectives, make the reader visualize the scene while reading. For the reader is easy to identify with the first-person narrator that describes the scene with meticulous detail. Yet when Defoe describes objects, animals or people that the reader is not familiar with, he tries to recall the unknown images to the reader by comparing the unfamiliar subject with things the reader already knows. A concrete example of this innovative technique can be found in the description that Defoe made of Friday. Defoe describes Friday nose as “small, not flat like the Negroes” (149) and his skin as “not quite black, but very tawny, as the Brasilians, and Virginians, and other Natives of America are” (149). When thinking about the savages the English could easily think of the African slaves that were traded during the 17th century, so Defoe tries to make the readers understand that Friday was different from the image that the English had of savages.
Even the description of Crusoe’s daily routine is detailed and descriptive. The reader could easily transport himself on the island with Crusoe and imagine himself adapting to this new undiscovered world. When Defoe writes. “yet I built me a little kind of a Bower, and surrounded it at a Distance with a strong Fence, being a double Hedge, as high as I could reach, well stak’d, and filled between with Brushwood” (75), the reader, who still do not now the island, can imagine and visualize the shelter that Crusoe is building. It is in these descriptions that Snow’s point is more visible: Defoe describes everything Crusoe sees and does as a scientist would have reported on a text everything he had studied.
However, Robinson Crusoe is not just a book full of detailed description, but it is also a book that explore the spiritual growth of its main character. The novelty of the story is given by the combination of these two elements. On one hand, there are all the characteristics typical of the spiritual autobiography: the pattern sin, repentance, forgiveness, the description of the emotion of the protagonist, and the devotional growth; on the other hand, there are all the elements of modernity: the economic issue, the first-person outward-looking narration, and the fictional elements of the story.
Both Kraft and Snow agree on this: the originality of the narrative is conferred by the synthesis of the various elements. In particular, Kraft sustains that the loss of Crusoe’s religion at the end of the book is what make this story a novel (548). Crusoe sudden disconnection from God gave to Defoe the opportunity to keep writing the story. If Crusoe had not forgotten all his religious believes, he would not have been to sea again and the last twenty pages of the book would have not been written. As a matter of fact, without the last twenty pages Robinson Crusoe should be consider a simple spiritual autobiography. All the element of novelty such as the versatile ability of Crusoe that so fascinated Joyce, his interest for the economics and his colonial spirit would be mere elements of description, that would make Crusoe a man with who the English could easily identify, but his loss of religion makes the story completely new. It gives the prompt to further develop the story and to write more books about this same topic, as the two sequels The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Serious Reflection During the Life & Surprising Adventure of Robinson Crusoe.
On the whole, Crusoe had the ability to combine different styles, different themes and different settings generating a completely new genre. The vastness of the topic that Defoe explored has allowed him to reach a broader and more varied audience. The timeless fame he has reached is a further proof of the fact that Defoe was, undoubtedly, the first to create a text as innovative as Robinson Crusoe. Many writers have considered this book as an inspiration for their works, so that his book should be considered the first novel in the history of English literature.
Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe a Norton Critical Edition, edited by Shinagel, Michael, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994, pp. 3-220.
Joyce, James. “Daniel Defoe.” Robinson Crusoe a Norton Critical Edition, edited by Shinagel, Michael, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994, pp. 320-323.
Snow, Melinda. “The Origins of Defoe’s First-Person Narrative Technique: An Overlooked Aspect of the Rise of the Novel.” The Journal of Narrative Technique, Vol. 6 No. 3, 1976, pp.175-187. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30225591.
Kinney, Arthur F. “Review of Beware the Cat by: The First English Novel, William A. Ringler, Jr.” The University of Chicago Press, Vol. 87, No. 4, 1990, pp. 396-399. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/438562
Kraft, Quentin G. “Robinson Crusoe and the Story of the Novel.” College English, Vol. 41, No. 5, National Council of Teachers of English, 1980, pp. 535-548. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/375722.
Mackay, Marina. The Cambridge Introduction to the Novel. The Cambridge Introduction to the Novel, 2011, pp. 32. Wool, Virginia. “Robinson Crusoe.” Robinson Crusoe a Norton Critical Edition, edited by Shinagel, Michael, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994, pp. 283-288.