Defoe’s Critiques Of 18th Century English Society In Robinson Crusoe

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer


Crusoe finds happiness and fulfilment through self actualisation as a result of isolation, nature and his spiritual transformation. Defoe critiques the culture, politics and society of 18th Century English society through his narrative voice, reflected through Robinson Crusoe, an individual who struggles to find happiness and self-identity in English society. In Crusoe being cast away on an island in complete isolation, Defoe sheds light on the tension between an individual and his society. He questions civilisation and the desire for human connection. Defoe examines how individuals may find harmony and contentment within themselves as well as their world through nature as well as religion. Contemporary audiences are provoked to consider the role of God’s providence in their lives and whether humans truly have the capacity to shape their own destinies or whether this has already been predetermined.

Society vs. Nature

Crusoe is forced to re-examine his relationship with society when isolated in nature. Experiencing the economic boom in England, Defoe felt conflicted and burdened due to his inability to meet his family’s expectations- ensuring that their family business flourished. His experiences influenced him to challenge the importance society places on success and materialism in attaining contentment, articulating his point of view through the first person account of Crusoe. Defoe poses the question of what it means to be a part of a civilisation- to have one’s freedom of independent thought restricted as society dictates how to live in order to be civil. He stresses that happiness can be found through the simplicity of life rather than through wealth and material possessions, reflecting his context through his artistic style of the apostrophe in the line, “now I not only had goat’s flesh to feed on when I pleas’d, but milk too” which emphasises his feelings of contentment due to the simplicity of life. The capitalisation of the “Nature,” further indicates the significance of the natural world as a governing source and coexisting with it. Yet, whilst Crusoe criticises society and its control and influence over his ideologies, his first hand account shows subjectiveness and inconsistencies as he too desires to flourish, not just survive which is highlighted as he boasts about his “flock of about twelve goats” as well as how he had set up his dairy. His hypocrisy in his desire to exercise power and control is evident through the utopian world he creates on the island, echoing the imperialist dream at the time of Crusoe. Defoe’s deliberate choice of language in the line, “To take them as I wanted” in conjunction with “dictates” contains connotations of dominance over the animals, exploring the irony. Crusoe rejects his society and yet recognises a desire for human connection. He seeks companionship through learning to live in harmony with Friday and the wild animals. Crusoe’s ability to live harmoniously with nature in isolation is juxtaposed with his violent return to society. Defoe comments on society, criticising how an absence of society allows individuals to live harmoniously with nature, without violence. This shows the irony of how humans are able to act more civilised in the wild than society.


Crusoe’s learning experiences provide him the opportunity for self-improvement and spiritual growth. The audience is able to see Crusoe’s gradual change as he develops mentally, physically and spiritually. His time on the island allows him to be spiritually enlightened as he begins to form an appreciation for life and God. Despite originally viewing solitary confinement as a punishment for sins, Crusoe becomes enlightened as he begins to learn how to adapt to his new environment. His ability to adapt is described using vivid imagery and superfluous details which adds to the depth of realism, “I set up my dairy, and had sometimes a gallon or two of milk in a day.” The island is representative of Crusoe’s growth- as the island develops, Crusoe mentally and spiritually develops as well. Defoe uses juxtaposition, contrasting “sweeten” and “bitterest” to portray the transformation from viewing the island as a punishment to rewarding experience of enlightenment. Crusoe overcomes adversity as he is forced to face all fears and complications. He comes to the realisation that he is much more content with his life in the wilderness than in England and begins to view his experience as a gift from God. Defoe questions whether human capacity allows people to determine their own fate or whether their fate has been pre-determined as he considers the providence of God. God’s providence is implied through the use of long sentences in the stream of consciousness, “How mercifully can our great Creator treat his creatures, even in those conditions in which they seem’d to be overwhelm’d in destruction,” depicting the omnipotent power of God and how humans are powerless- unable to control their own fates.


Defoe uses Crusoe to voice his concerns about his contemporary society and its culture and politics. The enduring messages of the novel speak to modern day audiences as it questions whether humans may coexist better in society or in nature. Audiences are made to reflect on their attainment of happiness through turning to the natural world as well as religious dimensions.


  • http://mural.uv.es/yororo/Criticalanalisy.htm             


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