Character Development in Robinson Crusoe

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Robinson Crusoe’s Character Development

Throughout this novel, we witness Robinson Crusoe’s character going through a series of changes. These changes do not occur over a short period of time, but rather over the course of more than thirty years. Crusoe gets shipwrecked on an island off the coast of Trinidad and is only left with the items he has found on the ship. He experiences religious clarification and realizes that God has put him on this island to deliver him from his earlier sins. Crusoe begins to feel more optimistic about being on the island, declaring himself as king. He spends the first few years on this island in peace until coming across a footprint one day, a turning point in his emotions.

Crusoe talks about the element of evil during the times he was captured by the pirates. “That evil influence which carried me first away from my father’s house – which hurried me into the wild and indigested notion of raising my fortune” (Defoe 23). The choice of being evil is not some foolish decision that one person decides to make. To be evil is a choice that one makes with a morally iniquitous influence over him or her, according to Crusoe. Also, since Crusoe is such a curious individual especially in the beginning of the novel, evil makes Crusoe its passive victim. This involves Crusoe’s apathy, one of his biggest internal enemies. The idea that he acted out against his father in an evil way enhances his religious side. He goes into great detail about the Portuguese captain of the ship that took him to Africa, where he was enslaved. “…under whom also I got a competent knowledge […] as he took delight to instruct me, I took delight to learn; and, in a word, this voyage made me both a sailor and a merchant” (25). The captain’s name is never told to us, yet Crusoe spends a great deal of time going over what the captain has done for him. The gifts and rewards that the Portuguese captain gives to Crusoe suggests that this was the start of Crusoe seeing himself as becoming a potential king or leader of some nation. This is because those same gifts provided him with enough resources to be able to escape his slavery and establish an independent name for him, so that he could avoid going back to that situation again. Crusoe’s character changes from one who needs help to being able to help himself pretty sufficiently; that is, until his ship gets caught up in a sea storm.

He still appears as the caring individual, even while on the island. He recalls the storm that sent his ship wrecked and how he lost his two friends. “The last time of these two had well-nigh been fatal to me, for the sea having hurried me along as before, landed me, or rather dashed me, against a piece of rock, and that with such force, that it left me senseless, and indeed helpless, as to my own deliverance” (70-71). Just when he thought he had his plan figured out, he gets stranded on an island as the sole survivor. This is where Crusoe has his religious awakening, another character change. He thanks God multiple times for saving his life. While thanking God, he starts to wonder why he was the one who ended up living and being stranded on this island. Crusoe’s relation to material possessions is a prominent topic to further explain this.

Crusoe repetitively suggests that his shipwreck is a punishment for his greed for earning profits and that his desire for having more possessions is what led him to feel this misery. Crusoe experiences several other religious experiences throughout his stay on the island. One example of this forgetting occurs during his illness; his turn to religion seems profound and lasting. He has a hallucination of a wrathful angel figure that threatens him for not repenting his sins is a major event in his emotional life. When he falls on his knees to thank God for delivering him from his illness, his faithfulness towards religion appears to be sincere. He tells himself that this island may not be a place of captivity, but a place of deliverance from his earlier sins. He thus redefines his whole landscape and eventually his whole life optimistically. This is a great character change compared to how earlier in the novel he says, “I made many vows and resolutions that if it would please God to spare my life in this one voyage, if ever I got once my foot upon dry land again, I would go directly home to my father, and never set it into a ship again while I lived; that I would take his advice, and never run myself into such miseries as these any more” (10). He held such a negative connotation of life and blamed it on his distaste towards his father. Crusoe decides to make the most of his time while on this island. He declares himself as the king of this island and makes all the necessary changes to fulfill this. “I had a dismal prospect of my condition; for as I was not cast away upon that island without being driven […] I had great reason to consider it as a determination of Heaven” (98). The reason that he decides to amend up the island as he wants is because he sees this as his pass to get into Heaven. At this point, Crusoe feels so satisfied with himself and has forgotten about his previous yearning to go back home, though he does wish he could meet someone else.

With his survival no longer in question, Crusoe begins to redefine himself not as a poor castaway, but as a successful landowner. He begins to refer to his island dwelling as his “home” and his “castle,” and when he constructs a shady retreat inland, he calls it his “bower” or “country seat.” Both of these terms have upper-class undertones. He refers to the entire land as his “plantations” and calls his goats “cattle.” This suggests that his relationship to the island is becoming more proprietary, involving a much greater sense of proud ownership than before. Naturally, he still has low-spirited moods in which he complains and views the island as a prison. His complaining becomes a less frequent occurrence, the more he works with the island.

Crusoe also has to deal with a lack of human contact on this island. He catches a parrot on the island, after seeing an abundance of them, and takes the time to make it learn how to speak. “I brought it home; but it was some years before I could make him speak; however, at last I taught him to call me by name very familiarly” (173). Clearly, much effort was put in to make this parrot speak, which proved unsatisfactory for Crusoe. One would think that when Crusoe saw the footprint on the island, he would get excited and find out who else is here. Crusoe’s initial reaction is fear. This has to deal with his developing into an independent leader and the idea that he has potential competition. He terminates all his activities on the island until an individual begins to approach him. Following him are cannibals, whom Crusoe attacks and rescues the individual who he names Friday. “I likewise taught him to say Master; and then let him know that was to be my name” (328). Even though Friday goes beyond to obey Crusoe, this does not satisfy Crusoe. Every time in the novel that it appears Crusoe is going in a positive direction, he once again slumps; there are some moments where he slumps harder than others, however. As the bond between Crusoe and Friday becomes stronger, the similarities between the two men’s cultures gain more importance than their differences. When the ship is recovered and ready to take him home, Crusoe learns that most of his family passed away. “I found nothing to relieve or assist me; and that the little money I had would not do much for me as to settling in the world” (445). He takes it as a negative sign initially, but then realizes that this might be God’s way of thanking him for his patience, as Crusoe is gifted with possessions to help him adjust.

Crusoe comes off as a greatly negative person in the beginning of the novel. We witness him go through his ups and downs of adjusting with life as a slave, escaping slavery, living on his own for more than thirty years, and dealing with foreign presences on a land he once thought was his own. Coming off the island, he is a much more positive person with a closer relationship with God. He does have his flaws that must be accounted for, like being materialistic and enslaving Friday for example. This character change is due to a religious clarification and a mental discovery of himself, while spending so long in solitude.

Personal Reflection:

It was mentally a nice and pleasant experience reading this novel. I was able to relate myself in different scenes and I found it easy to understand for the most part; some scenes required deeper reading and more looking over than others. This novel is one of few novels that made me want to get to know the character in person, though for Crusoe, I may stop at a certain extent to avoid becoming his ‘slave’. I will definitely reread this novel many times after this course is over.

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