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The Book Club

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

Taken from http://www.talesfromtheotherside.com/postcolonial/.1. A continued inspiration for survival fiction and mystery-island texts. Centuries after its publication, Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” remains an important inspiration – in literature, film, television programmes et cetera (think Survivor, Tom Hanks’s Castaway) – for the survival and mystery island genre. The reader is easily drawn into the day-to-day experiences of Robinson Crusoe, as he seeks to make sense of his surroundings and survive with minimal tools and equipment. Throughout the twenty-eight years upon the island, Crusoe rediscovers himself spiritually and religiously – though there are moments when he laments his plight and isolation – he essentially is the ruler of his own kingdom, thereby reaffirming his independence and self-sustaining abilities. As expounded in the introduction of the Collins Classics version, “[the novel] seems to resonate with a primal desire in people that had lain dormant since time immemorial – the reawakening of the hunter gatherer instinct”.

2. Crusoe’s lament on solitude the island, which contrasts greatly with his live in civilisation. “In all the time of my solitary life I never felt so earnest, so strong a desire after the society of my fellow-creatures, or so deep a regret at the want of it”.

3. Special aspects of the narrative voice. Throughout the novel, the story is narrated by Crusoe himself (albeit a much older version); naturally, it means that the events are described and reflected upon in retrospect. Instead of going through the perspectives sequentially and chronologically, the narrative voice of Crusoe subtly includes moments of monologues and reflections, as the significance of various people or activities are highlighted. The novel can be crudely classified as a bildungsroman, as Crusoe is quite unforgiving in his personal moral judgements and “growing-up” process. The route to maturity is autobiographically emotional. This style of retrospection can be contrasted with the brief moments where Crusoe pens his daily activities in a journal: while the details are more substantial, and the survival methodologies are greatly expounded upon, it does lack the human touch, and fails to capture Crusoe’s psychological transformation.

4. Religious illumination and repentance. One of the key turning points of the novel comes when Crusoe is reduced to a feverish state, and through a hallucination sees a fiery angelic image. Prior to this event, Crusoe expresses deep gratitude to God when his grain miraculously sprouts. For the atheistic reader (like myself), it may be difficult to comprehend the assortment of biblical or religious references (on the Original Sin, Adam and Eve); nonetheless, Defoe just highlight the fact that religious illumination empowers Crusoe to seek solace in his surroundings, and to be content with his environment and possessions. The religious realisation does make Crusoe more optimistic and physically confident, and empowers him to spread his faith to his servant Friday (though the latter’s intellectual queries on God and the Bible make Crusoe feel slightly inadequate).

5. Crusoe’s salvation in God and religion. “In a word, as my Life was a Life of Sorrow, one way, so it was a Life of Mercy, another; and I wanted nothing to make it a Life of Comfort, but to be able to make my Sence of God’s Goodness to me, and Care over me in this Condition, be my daily Consolation; and after I did make a just Improvement of these things, I went away and was no more sad”.

6. Contemplating morality. One of the most poignant moments of introspection exercised by Crusoe in the novel was when he was contemplating the justifications for killing the savages who were practising cannibalism on the island. Quite straightforwardly, Defoe was trying to establish the point that principles that determine what is morally right or wrong are not universal; different civilisations have varying premises for what should be accepted, and what should not be. Crusoe makes the right conclusion that he is in no position to judge the cannibals for their actions – though his initial inaction might be motivated by fear and uncertainty – since these two groups of people are employing yardsticks that are poles apart. Ethics are the products of social contexts; there is simply no way of fairly evaluating which is superior to the other.

7. The footprint on the beach. For twenty-four years Crusoe has lived considerably comfortably alone in his island dwelling; when one day, while he was going towards his boat, he “was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man’s naked foot on the shore”. The idea of an intruder – given that Crusoe had surmised that his island was surrounded by islands inhabited by savages, possibly cannibals – is unsettling, especially since its intent is unclear. However, having been deprived of any form of human contact, social interactions or vis-à-vis communication with another individual, the footprint ignites Crusoe’s curiosity, and spurs him to look for its source. Though the danger of a hostile enemy lingers, and he is well-and-settled with the status quo, his desire for company never ceases (as reflected most clearly in his initial exchanges with Friday).

8. Crusoe’s gradual adaptation to his inhabitation on the island. “Even, when I was afterwards, on due consideration, made sensible of my condition, how I was cast on this dreadful place, out of the reach of human kind, out of all hope of relief, or prospect of redemption, as soon as I saw but a prospect of living, and that I should not starve and perish for hunger, all the sense of my affliction wore off, and I begun to be very easy”.

9. Does Crusoe change for the better? There are several propositions that advance the claim that Crusoe is ultimately unchanged, and that the novel has not been a moral pilgrimage for Defoe’s character. First, as an allusion to British imperialism and colonialism, Crusoe is quick to dominate and claim possession of the people and elements upon the island, especially after his years of inhabitancy. Second, that his sincerity towards his religious beliefs has always been in doubt, and that he does not fully comprehend the religion’s teachings. Third, instead of treating Friday as a counterpart, as a friend, Crusoe chooses to objectify him as a servant, and “uses” him for the advancement of his own ideals. For instance, his decision to bring Friday back to his civilisation is motivated by his personal motives; whereas Friday had wanted to bring Crusoe to his island to spread the teachings of God, for the betterment of his people.

10. Crusoe’s possessions. “My island was now peopled, and I thought myself very rich in subjects; and it was a merry reflection, which I frequently made, how like a king I looked. First of all, the whole country was my own mere property, Baso that I had an undoubted right of dominion. Secondly, my people were perfectly subjected. I was absolute lord and lawgiver, they all owed their lives to me, and were ready to lay down their lives, if there had been occasion of it, for me”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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