|DANIEL DEFOE (1660-1731)
Born in London, the son a James Foe, a tallow-chandler, he changed his name to the more genteel Defoe. His childhood years saw the Great Plague 1665 and the Great Fire 1666. These traumatizing events may have helped shape his fascination with catastrophes and survival in his later writing. Defoe attended a respected school in Dorking, where he was an excellent student, but as a Presbyterian, he was forbidden to attend Oxford or Cambridge. Instead, he entered a dissenting institution called Morton's Academy for Dissenters and for some time entertained the idea of becoming a Presbyterian minister. Though he abandoned this plan, his Protestant values endured throughout his life despite discrimination and persecution, and these values are powerfully expressed in Robinson Crusoe. In 1683, Defoe became a traveling hosiery salesman. Visiting Holland, France, and Spain on business, Defoe developed a taste for travel that lasted throughout his life. His fiction reflects his interest in travel as well, as his characters Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe both change their lives by voyaging far from their native England.
Defoe quickly became successful as a merchant, establishing his headquarters in a high-class neighborhood of London. A year after starting up his business, he married an heiress named Mary Tuffley, who brought him the sizeable fortune of 3,700 pounds as dowry. A fervent critic of King James II, Defoe became affiliated with the supporters of the duke of Monmouth, who led a rebellion against the king in 1685. When the rebellion failed, Defoe was essentially forced out of England, and he spent three years in Europe writing tracts against James II. When the king was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and replaced by William of Orange, Defoe was able to return to England and to his business.
Unfortunately, Defoe did not have the same financial success as he did earlier in his career, and by 1692 he was bankrupt, having accumulated the huge sum of 17,000 pounds in debts. Though he eventually paid off most of the total, he was never again entirely free from debt, and the theme of financial vicissitudes—the wild ups and downs in one's pocketbook—became a prominent theme in his later novels. Robinson Crusoe in particular, contains many reflections about the value of money.
Around this time, Defoe began to write, partly as a moneymaking venture. One of his first creations was a poem written in 1701, entitled “The True-Born Englishman,” which became very popular and earned Defoe some celebrity. He also wrote political pamphlets such as An Essay Upon Projects (1697). The Shortest Way with Dissenters (1702) was a satire on persecutors of dissenters and an ironical criticism of High Church, which was trying to stop "Occasional Conformity" by which Dissenters of flexible conscience could qualify for public office by occasionally taking sacrament according to the Established Church. It sold very well among the ruling Anglican elite until they realized that it was mocking their own practices. As a result, Defoe was publicly pilloried—his hands and wrists locked in a wooden device—in 1703, and then jailed in Newgate Prison.
During this time his business failed. Released through the intervention of Robert Harley, a Tory minister and Speaker of Parliament, Defoe began working as a publicist, political journalist, and pamphleteer for Harley and other politicians, changing sides politically. He also worked as a secret agent, reveling in aliases and disguises, perhaps reflecting his own variable identity as merchant, poet, journalist, and prisoner. This theme of changeable identity would later be expressed in the life of Robinson Crusoe, who becomes merchant, slave, plantation owner, and even unofficial king. Defoe kept Harvey closely in touch with Scottish public opinion at the time of the Act of Union in 1707.
During Queen Anne's reign we was the successful editor of The Review and his work had considerable influence on the development of Steele and Addison's The Tattler and The Spectator.
With George I's accession in 1714 the Tories fell and Defoe backed the winning Whigs. He always claimed that the end justified the means.
Defoe turned to fiction relatively late in his life; his first novel, Robinson Crusoe was not published until 1719, when he was sixty. It sold four editions in one year and it was expensive, five shillings-; this was followed in 1722 by Moll Flanders the story of a tough, streetwise heroine whose fortunes rise and fall dramatically. Both works straddle the border between journalism and fiction. Robinson Crusoe was based on the true story of a shipwrecked seaman named Alexander Selkirk and was passed off as history, while Moll Flanders included dark prison scenes drawn from Defoe's own experiences in Newgate and his later interviews with prisoners. His other works include A Journal of the Plague Year, Roxana (1724), A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, a guide book in three volumes, The Complete English Tradesman (1726), Augusta Triumphant (1728), A Plan of the English Commerce (1728) and The Complete English Gentleman, not published until 1890.
His focus on the actual conditions of everyday life and avoidance of the courtly and the heroic made Defoe a revolutionary in English literature and helped define the new genre of the novel. Stylistically, too, Defoe was a great innovator. Dispensing with the ornate and showy style associated with the upper classes, Defoe used the simple and direct fact-based style of the middle classes, which became the new standard for the English novel. Finally, with Robinson Crusoe's theme of solitary human existence, Defoe paved the way for the central modern theme of alienation and isolation. Defoe died in London on April 24, 1731, of a fatal “lethargy”—an unclear diagnosis that may refer to a stroke.
Defoe displays his insight into human nature. His male and female characters are men and women placed in unusual circumstances, solitaries -Defoe's Non-conformist background meant he was always something of an "outsider"-, they struggle through life. He always writes in the first person and his novels are given verisimilitude by their matter-of-fact style and their vivid concreteness of detail. He concentrates his description on the primary qualities of objects and he gives them in the simplest language. His sentences, it is true, are often very long and rambling, but he somehow makes this a part of his air of authenticity. Other defects are a little shamelessness, slipshod clumsy-seeming prose, over insistent moralising, and naiveté. The lack of strong pauses within sentences gives his style and urgent, immediate, breathless quality.
Defoe had been exposed to all the influences which were making prose more prosaic in the 17C: to the Lockian conception of language; to the Royal Society’s wish for a language which would help its scientific and technological aims by keeping close to the speech of "artisans, countrymen and merchants"; and to the plain unadorned style of later 17C preaching which obtained its effects by repetition rather than by imagery or structural elaboration. Most important of all, his twenty years of journalism had taught him that it was impossible to be too explicit for the audience of "honest meaning ignorant persons" he kept continually in mind.
As a result, his natural prose style is not only an admirable narrative vehicle in itself; it is also much closer to the vernacular of the ordinary person than any previous writer’s, and thus admirably adapted to the tongues of Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders and his other characters.
Defoe's views on life, tolerant and more or less rational, had an economic basis; his own bankruptcy and fear of creditors is reflected in Moll Flanders and many of his other books.
It is not just a travel story; it is also, in intention at least, a sincere attempt to convert a godless form of literature to the purposes of religion and morality. Crusoe's story is supposed to demonstrate how God’s Providence saves an outcast who has sinned against the divine will by leaving his family and forgetting his religious training, out of a "secret burning lust of ambition for great things". Defoe impersonated in his character is almost the prototype of a kind of Englishman increasingly prominent during the 18C and reaching its apotheosis in the 19th century: the man from the lower classes, whose bias was essentially practical and whose success in life was intimately connected with his Protestant religious beliefs and the notion of personal responsibility they inculcated. Defoe expresses this new type of Englishman: empirical, self-reliant, energetic, and with the sense of a direct relationship with a God made in his own image, in the character of Crusoe.
Defoe's most important innovation in fiction was his unprecendently complete narrative realism. He never admitted that he wrote fiction. Puritanism is partly responsible for this realism. His hatred of fiction made him write as close to the truth as possible.
The same Puritanism makes Crusoe a symbol of economic man, embodiment of "unwearied diligence and application". In his island he recreates all the basic productive processes, builds an empire, establishes a little city in a tropical forest and converts a heathen.
But Robinson Crusoe also prefigures some of the spiritual loneliness and social alienation which this civilisation has brought with it: Puritan individualism.
Full title - The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates
Author - Daniel Defoe
Type of work - Novel
Genre - Adventure story; novel of isolation
Language - English
Time and place written - 1719; London, England
Date of first publication - 1719
Publisher - William Taylor
Narrator - Robinson Crusoe is both the narrator and main character of the tale.
Point of view - Crusoe narrates in both the first and third person, presenting only what he himself observes. Crusoe occasionally describes his feelings, but only when they are overwhelming. Usually he favors a more factual narrative style focused on actions and events.
Tone - Crusoe's tone is mostly detached, meticulous, and objective. He displays little rhetorical grandeur and few poetic or colorful turns of phrase. He generally avoids dramatic storytelling, preferring an inventorylike approach to the facts as they unfold. He very rarely registers his own feelings, or those of other characters, and only does so when those feelings affect a situation directly, such as when he describes the mutineers as tired and confused, indicating that their fatigue allows them to be defeated.
Tense - Past
Setting (time) - From 1659 to 1694
Setting (place) - York, England; then London; then Sallee, North Africa; then Brazil; then a deserted island off Trinidad; then England; then Lisbon; then overland from Spain toward England; then England; and finally the island again
Protagonist - Robinson Crusoe
Major conflict - Shipwrecked alone, Crusoe struggles against hardship, privation, loneliness, and cannibals in his attempt to survive on a deserted island.
Rising action - Crusoe disobeys his father and goes out to sea. Crusoe has a profitable first merchant voyage, has fantasies of success in Brazil, and prepares for a slave-gathering expedition.
Climax - Crusoe becomes shipwrecked on an island near Trinidad, forcing him to fend for himself and his basic needs.
Falling action - Crusoe constructs a shelter, secures a food supply, and accepts his stay on the island as the work of Providence.
Themes - The ambivalence of mastery; the necessity of repentance; the importance of self-awareness
Motifs - Counting and measuring; eating; ordeals at sea
Symbols - The footprint; the cross; Crusoe's bower
Foreshadowing - Crusoe suffers a storm at sea near Yarmouth, foreshadowing his shipwreck years later. Crusoe dreams of cannibals arriving, and later they come to kill Friday. Crusoe invents the idea of a governor of the island to intimidate the mutineers, foreshadowing the actual governor's later arrival.
Robinson Crusoe is an Englishman from the town of York in the seventeenth century, the youngest son of a merchant of German origin. Encouraged by his father to study law, Crusoe expresses his wish to go to sea instead. His family is against Crusoe going out to sea, and his father explains that it is better to seek a modest, secure life for oneself. Initially, Robinson is committed to obeying his father, but he eventually succumbs to temptation and embarks on a ship bound for London with a friend. When a storm causes the near deaths of Crusoe and his friend, the friend is dissuaded from sea travel, but Crusoe still goes on to set himself up as merchant on a ship leaving London. This trip is financially successful, and Crusoe plans another, leaving his early profits in the care of a friendly widow. The second voyage does not prove as fortunate: the ship is seized by Moorish pirates, and Crusoe is enslaved to a potentate in the North African town of Sallee. While on a fishing expedition, he and a slave boy break free and sail down the African coast. A kindly Portuguese captain picks them up, buys the slave boy from Crusoe, and takes Crusoe to Brazil. In Brazil, Crusoe establishes himself as a plantation owner and soon becomes successful. Eager for slave labor and its economic advantages, he embarks on a slave-gathering expedition to West Africa but ends up shipwrecked off of the coast of Trinidad.
Crusoe soon learns he is the sole survivor of the expedition and seeks shelter and food for himself. He returns to the wreck's remains twelve times to salvage guns, powder, food, and other items. Onshore, he finds goats he can graze for meat and builds himself a shelter. He erects a cross that he inscribes with the date of his arrival, September 1, 1659, and makes a notch every day in order never to lose track of time. He also keeps a journal of his household activities, noting his attempts to make candles, his lucky discovery of sprouting grain, and his construction of a cellar, among other events. In June 1660, he falls ill and hallucinates that an angel visits, warning him to repent. Drinking tobacco-steeped rum, Crusoe experiences a religious illumination and realizes that God has delivered him from his earlier sins. After recovering, Crusoe makes a survey of the area and discovers he is on an island. He finds a pleasant valley abounding in grapes, where he builds a shady retreat. Crusoe begins to feel more optimistic about being on the island, describing himself as its “king.” He trains a pet parrot, takes a goat as a pet, and develops skills in basket weaving, bread making, and pottery. He cuts down an enormous cedar tree and builds a huge canoe from its trunk, but he discovers that he cannot move it to the sea. After building a smaller boat, he rows around the island but nearly perishes when swept away by a powerful current. Reaching shore, he hears his parrot calling his name and is thankful for being saved once again. He spends several years in peace.
One day Crusoe is shocked to discover a man's footprint on the beach. He first assumes the footprint is the devil's, then decides it must belong to one of the cannibals said to live in the region. Terrified, he arms himself and remains on the lookout for cannibals. He also builds an underground cellar in which to herd his goats at night and devises a way to cook underground. One evening he hears gunshots, and the next day he is able to see a ship wrecked on his coast. It is empty when he arrives on the scene to investigate. Crusoe once again thanks Providence for having been saved. Soon afterward, Crusoe discovers that the shore has been strewn with human carnage, apparently the remains of a cannibal feast. He is alarmed and continues to be vigilant. Later Crusoe catches sight of thirty cannibals heading for shore with their victims. One of the victims is killed. Another one, waiting to be slaughtered, suddenly breaks free and runs toward Crusoe's dwelling. Crusoe protects him, killing one of the pursuers and injuring the other, whom the victim finally kills. Well-armed, Crusoe defeats most of the cannibals onshore. The victim vows total submission to Crusoe in gratitude for his liberation. Crusoe names him Friday, to commemorate the day on which his life was saved, and takes him as his servant.
Finding Friday cheerful and intelligent, Crusoe teaches him some English words and some elementary Christian concepts. Friday, in turn, explains that the cannibals are divided into distinct nations and that they only eat their enemies. Friday also informs Crusoe that the cannibals saved the men from the shipwreck Crusoe witnessed earlier, and that those men, Spaniards, are living nearby. Friday expresses a longing to return to his people, and Crusoe is upset at the prospect of losing Friday. Crusoe then entertains the idea of making contact with the Spaniards, and Friday admits that he would rather die than lose Crusoe. The two build a boat to visit the cannibals' land together. Before they have a chance to leave, they are surprised by the arrival of twenty-one cannibals in canoes. The cannibals are holding three victims, one of whom is in European dress. Friday and Crusoe kill most of the cannibals and release the European, a Spaniard. Friday is overjoyed to discover that another of the rescued victims is his father. The four men return to Crusoe's dwelling for food and rest. Crusoe prepares to welcome them into his community permanently. He sends Friday's father and the Spaniard out in a canoe to explore the nearby land.
Eight days later, the sight of an approaching English ship alarms Friday. Crusoe is suspicious. Friday and Crusoe watch as eleven men take three captives onshore in a boat. Nine of the men explore the land, leaving two to guard the captives. Friday and Crusoe overpower these men and release the captives, one of whom is the captain of the ship, which has been taken in a mutiny. Shouting to the remaining mutineers from different points, Friday and Crusoe confuse and tire the men by making them run from place to place. 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 an imperial territory and that the governor has spared their lives in order to send them all to England to face justice. Keeping five men as hostages, Crusoe sends the other men out to seize the ship. When the ship is brought in, Crusoe nearly faints.
On December 19, 1686, Crusoe boards the ship to return to England. There, he finds his family is deceased except for two sisters. His widow friend has kept Crusoe's money safe, and after traveling to Lisbon, Crusoe learns from the Portuguese captain that his plantations in Brazil have been highly profitable. He arranges to sell his Brazilian lands. Wary of sea travel, Crusoe attempts to return to England by land but is threatened by bad weather and wild animals in northern Spain. Finally arriving back in England, Crusoe receives word that the sale of his plantations has been completed and that he has made a considerable fortune. After donating a portion to the widow and his sisters, Crusoe is restless and considers returning to Brazil, but he is dissuaded by the thought that he would have to become Catholic. He marries, and his wife dies. Crusoe finally departs for the East Indies as a trader in 1694. He revisits his island, finding that the Spaniards are governing it well and that it has become a prosperous colony.
Robinson Crusoe - The novel's protagonist and narrator. Crusoe begins the novel as a young middle-class man in York in search of a career. He father recommends the law, but Crusoe yearns for a life at sea, and his subsequent rebellion and decision to become a merchant is the starting point for the whole adventure that follows. His vague but recurring feelings of guilt over his disobedience color the first part of the first half of the story and show us how deep Crusoe's religious fear is. Crusoe is steady and plodding in everything he does, and his perseverance ensures his survival through storms, enslavement, and a twenty-eight-year isolation on a desert island.
While he is no flashy hero or grand epic adventurer, Robinson Crusoe displays character traits that have won him the approval of generations of readers. His perseverance in spending months making a canoe, and in practicing pottery making until he gets it right, is praiseworthy. Additionally, his resourcefulness in building a home, dairy, grape arbor, country house, and goat stable from practically nothing is clearly remarkable. The Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau applauded Crusoe's do-it-yourself independence, and in his book on education, Emile, he recommends that children be taught to imitate Crusoe's hands-on approach to life. Crusoe's business instincts are just as considerable as his survival instincts: he manages to make a fortune in Brazil despite a twenty-eight-year absence and even leaves his island with a nice collection of gold. Moreover, Crusoe is never interested in portraying himself as a hero in his own narration. He does not boast of his courage in quelling the mutiny, and he is always ready to admit unheroic feelings of fear or panic, as when he finds the footprint on the beach. Crusoe prefers to depict himself as an ordinary sensible man, never as an exceptional hero.
But Crusoe's admirable qualities must be weighed against the flaws in his character. Crusoe seems incapable of deep feelings, as shown by his cold account of leaving his family—he worries about the religious consequences of disobeying his father, but never displays any emotion about leaving. Though he is generous toward people, as when he gives gifts to his sisters and the captain, Crusoe reveals very little tender or sincere affection in his dealings with them. When Crusoe tells us that he has gotten married and that his wife has died all within the same sentence, his indifference to her seems almost cruel. Moreover, as an individual personality, Crusoe is rather dull. His precise and deadpan style of narration works well for recounting the process of canoe building, but it tends to drain the excitement from events that should be thrilling. Action-packed scenes like the conquest of the cannibals become quite humdrum when Crusoe narrates them, giving us a detailed inventory of the cannibals in list form, for example. His insistence on dating events makes sense to a point, but it ultimately ends up seeming obsessive and irrelevant when he tells us the date on which he grinds his tools but neglects to tell us the date of a very important event like meeting Friday. Perhaps his impulse to record facts carefully is not a survival skill, but an irritating sign of his neurosis.
Finally, while not boasting of heroism, Crusoe is nonetheless very interested in possessions, power, and prestige. When he first calls himself king of the island it seems jocund, but when he describes the Spaniard as his subject we must take his royal delusion seriously, since it seems he really does consider himself king. His teaching Friday to call him “Master,” even before teaching him the words for “yes” or “no,” seems obnoxious even under the racist standards of the day, as if Crusoe needs to hear the ego-boosting word spoken as soon as possible. Overall, Crusoe's virtues tend to be private: his industry, resourcefulness, and solitary courage make him an exemplary individual. But his vices are social, and his urge to subjugate others is highly objectionable. In bringing both sides together into one complex character, Defoe gives us a fascinating glimpse into the successes, failures, and contradictions of modern man.
Friday - A twenty-six-year-old Caribbean native and cannibal who converts to Protestantism under Crusoe's tutelage. Friday becomes Crusoe's servant after Crusoe saves his life when Friday is about to be eaten by other cannibals. Friday never appears to resist or resent his new servitude, and he may sincerely view it as appropriate compensation for having his life saved. But whatever Friday's response may be, his servitude has become a symbol of imperialist oppression throughout the modern world. Friday's overall charisma works against the emotional deadness that many readers find in Crusoe.
Probably the first nonwhite character to be given a realistic, individualized, and humane portrayal in the English novel, Friday has a huge literary and cultural importance. If Crusoe represents the first colonial mind in fiction, then Friday represents not just a Caribbean tribesman, but all the natives of America, Asia, and Africa who would later be oppressed in the age of European imperialism. At the moment when Crusoe teaches Friday to call him “Master” Friday becomes an enduring political symbol of racial injustice in a modern world critical of imperialist expansion. Recent rewritings of the Crusoe story, like J. M. Coetzee's Foe and Michel Tournier's Friday, emphasize the sad consequences of Crusoe's failure to understand Friday and suggest how the tale might be told very differently from the native's perspective.
Aside from his importance to our culture, Friday is a key figure within the context of the novel. In many ways he is the most vibrant character in Robinson Crusoe, much more charismatic and colorful than his master. Indeed, Defoe at times underscores the contrast between Crusoe's and Friday's personalities, as when Friday, in his joyful reunion with his father, exhibits far more emotion toward his family than Crusoe. Whereas Crusoe never mentions missing his family or dreams about the happiness of seeing them again, Friday jumps and sings for joy when he meets his father, and this emotional display makes us see what is missing from Crusoe's stodgy heart. Friday's expression of loyalty in asking Crusoe to kill him rather than leave him is more heartfelt than anything Crusoe ever says or does. Friday's sincere questions to Crusoe about the devil, which Crusoe answers only indirectly and hesitantly, leave us wondering whether Crusoe's knowledge of Christianity is superficial and sketchy in contrast to Friday's full understanding of his own god Benamuckee. In short, Friday's exuberance and emotional directness often point out the wooden conventionality of Crusoe's personality.
Despite Friday's subjugation, however, Crusoe appreciates Friday much more than he would a mere servant. Crusoe does not seem to value intimacy with humans much, but he does say that he loves Friday, which is a remarkable disclosure. It is the only time Crusoe makes such an admission in the novel, since he never expresses love for his parents, brothers, sisters, or even his wife. The mere fact that an Englishman confesses more love for an illiterate Caribbean ex-cannibal than for his own family suggests the appeal of Friday's personality. Crusoe may bring Friday Christianity and clothing, but Friday brings Crusoe emotional warmth and a vitality of spirit that Crusoe's own European heart lacks.
The Portuguese Captain - The sea captain who picks up Crusoe and the slave boy Xury from their boat after they escape from their Moorish captors and float down the African coast. The Portuguese captain takes Crusoe to Brazil and thus inaugurates Crusoe's new life as plantation owner. The Portuguese captain is never named—unlike Xury, for example—and his anonymity suggests a certain uninteresting blandness in his role in the novel. He is polite, personable, and extremely generous to Crusoe, buying the animal skins and the slave boy from Crusoe at well over market value. He is loyal as well, taking care of Crusoe's Brazilian investments even after a twenty-eight-year absence. His role in Crusoe's life is crucial, since he both arranges for Crusoe's new career as a plantation owner and helps Crusoe cash in on the profits later. The Portuguese captain is presented more fully than any other European in the novel besides Crusoe, more vividly portrayed than Crusoe's widow friend or his family members. He appears in the narrative at two very important junctures in Crusoe's life. First, it is the Portuguese captain who picks up Crusoe after the escape from the Moors and takes him to Brazil, where Crusoe establishes himself as a plantation owner. Twenty-eight years later, it is again the Portuguese captain who informs Crusoe that his Brazilian investments are secure, and who arranges the sale of the plantation and the forwarding of the proceeds to Crusoe. In both cases, the Portuguese captain is the agent of Crusoe's extreme good fortune. In this sense, he represents the benefits of social connections. If the captain had not been located in Lisbon, Crusoe never would have cashed in on his Brazilian holdings. This assistance from social contacts contradicts the theme of solitary enterprise that the novel seems to endorse. Despite Crusoe's hard individual labor on the island, it is actually another human being—and not his own resourcefulness—that makes Crusoe wealthy in the end. Yet it is doubtful whether this insight occurs to Crusoe, despite his obvious gratitude toward the captain.
Moreover, the Portuguese captain is associated with a wide array of virtues. He is honest, informing Crusoe of the money he has borrowed against Crusoe's investments, and repaying a part of it immediately even though it is financially difficult for him to do so. He is loyal, honoring his duties toward Crusoe even after twenty-eight years. Finally, he is extremely generous, paying Crusoe more than market value for the animal skins and slave boy after picking Crusoe up at sea, and giving Crusoe handsome gifts when leaving Brazil. All these virtues make the captain a paragon of human excellence, and they make us wonder why Defoe includes such a character in the novel. In some ways, the captain's goodness makes him the moral counterpart of Friday, since the European seaman and the Caribbean cannibal mirror each other in benevolence and devotion to Crusoe. The captain's goodness thus makes it impossible for us to make oversimplified oppositions between a morally bankrupt Europe on the one hand, and innocent noble savages on the other.
The Spaniard - One of the men from the Spanish ship that is wrecked off Crusoe's island, and whose crew is rescued by the cannibals and taken to a neighboring island. The Spaniard is doomed to be eaten as a ritual victim of the cannibals when Crusoe saves him. In exchange, he becomes a new “subject” in Crusoe's “kingdom,” at least according to Crusoe. The Spaniard is never fleshed out much as a character in Crusoe's narrative, an example of the odd impersonal attitude often notable in Crusoe.
Xury - A nonwhite (Arab or black) slave boy only briefly introduced during the period of Crusoe's enslavement in Sallee. When Crusoe escapes with two other slaves in a boat, he forces one to swim to shore but keeps Xury on board, showing a certain trust toward the boy. Xury never betrays that trust. Nevertheless, when the Portuguese captain eventually picks them up, Crusoe sells Xury to the captain without any qualms, as if forgetting their former solidarity and equality in slavery. Xury's sale thus shows us the racist double standards sometimes apparent in Crusoe's behavior.
The Widow - Appearing briefly, but on two separate occasions in the novel, the widow keeps Crusoe's 200 pounds safe in England throughout all his thirty-five years of journeying. She returns it loyally to Crusoe upon his return to England and, like the Portuguese captain and Friday, reminds us of the goodwill and trustworthiness of which humans can be capable, whether European or not.
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Ambivalence of Mastery - Crusoe's success in mastering his situation, overcoming his obstacles, and controlling his environment shows the condition of mastery in a positive light, at least at the beginning of the novel. Crusoe lands in an inhospitable environment and makes it his home. His taming and domestication of wild goats and parrots with Crusoe as their master illustrates his newfound control. Moreover, Crusoe's mastery over nature makes him a master of his fate and of himself. Early in the novel, he frequently blames himself for disobeying his father's advice or blames the destiny that drove him to sea. But in the later part of the novel, Crusoe stops viewing himself as a passive victim and strikes a new note of self-determination. In building a home for himself on the island, he finds that he is master of his life—he suffers a hard fate and still finds prosperity.
But this theme of mastery becomes more complex and less positive after Friday's arrival, when the idea of mastery comes to apply more to unfair relationships between humans. In Chapter XXIII, Crusoe teaches Friday the word “master” even before teaching him “yes” and “no,” and indeed he lets him “know that was to be [Crusoe's] name.” Crusoe never entertains the idea of considering Friday a friend or equal—for some reason, superiority comes instinctively to him. We further question Crusoe's right to be called “[m]aster” when he later refers to himself as “king” over the natives and Europeans, who are his “subjects.” In short, while Crusoe seems praiseworthy in mastering his fate, the praiseworthiness of his mastery over his fellow humans is more doubtful. Defoe explores the link between the two in his depiction of the colonial mind.
The Necessity of Repentance - Crusoe's experiences constitute not simply an adventure story in which thrilling things happen, but also a moral tale illustrating the right and wrong ways to live one's life. This moral and religious dimension of the tale is indicated in the Preface, which states that Crusoe's story is being published to instruct others in God's wisdom, and one vital part of this wisdom is the importance of repenting one's sins. While it is important to be grateful for God's miracles, as Crusoe is when his grain sprouts, it is not enough simply to express gratitude or even to pray to God, as Crusoe does several times with few results. Crusoe needs repentance most, as he learns from the fiery angelic figure that comes to him during a feverish hallucination and says, “Seeing all these things have not brought thee to repentance, now thou shalt die.” Crusoe believes that his major sin is his rebellious behavior toward his father, which he refers to as his “original sin,” akin to Adam and Eve's first disobedience of God. This biblical reference also suggests that Crusoe's exile from civilization represents Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden.
For Crusoe, repentance consists of acknowledging his wretchedness and his absolute dependence on the Lord. This admission marks a turning point in Crusoe's spiritual consciousness, and is almost a born-again experience for him. After repentance, he complains much less about his sad fate and views the island more positively. Later, when Crusoe is rescued and his fortune restored, he compares himself to Job, who also regained divine favor. Ironically, this view of the necessity of repentance ends up justifying sin: Crusoe may never have learned to repent if he had never sinfully disobeyed his father in the first place. Thus, as powerful as the theme of repentance is in the novel, it is nevertheless complex and ambiguous.
The Importance of Self-Awareness - Crusoe's arrival on the island does not make him revert to a brute existence controlled by animal instincts, and, unlike animals, he remains conscious of himself at all times. Indeed, his island existence actually deepens his self-awareness as he withdraws from the external social world and turns inward. The idea that the individual must keep a careful reckoning of the state of his own soul is a key point in the Presbyterian doctrine that Defoe took seriously all his life. We see that in his normal day-to-day activities, Crusoe keeps accounts of himself enthusiastically and in various ways. For example, it is significant that Crusoe's makeshift calendar does not simply mark the passing of days, but instead more egocentrically marks the days he has spent on the island: it is about him, a sort of self-conscious or autobiographical calendar with him at its center. Similarly, Crusoe obsessively keeps a journal to record his daily activities, even when they amount to nothing more than finding a few pieces of wood on the beach or waiting inside while it rains. Crusoe feels the importance of staying aware of his situation at all times. We can also sense Crusoe's impulse toward self-awareness in the fact that he teaches his parrot to say the words, “Poor Robin Crusoe. . . . Where have you been?” This sort of self-examining thought is natural for anyone alone on a desert island, but it is given a strange intensity when we recall that Crusoe has spent months teaching the bird to say it back to him. Crusoe teaches nature itself to voice his own self-awareness.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.
Counting and Measuring - Crusoe is a careful and exact note-taker whenever numbers and quantities are involved. He does not simply tell us that his hedge encloses a large space, but informs us with a surveyor's precision that the space is “150 yards in length, and 100 yards in breadth.” He tells us not simply that he spends a long time making his canoe in Chapter XVI, but that it takes precisely twenty days to fell the tree and fourteen to remove the branches. It is not just an immense tree, but is “five foot ten inches in diameter at the lower part . . . and four foot eleven inches diameter at the end of twenty-two foot.” Furthermore, time is measured with similar exactitude, as Crusoe's journal shows. We may often wonder why Crusoe feels it useful to record that it did not rain on December 26, but for him the necessity of counting out each day is never questioned. All these examples of counting and measuring underscore Crusoe's practical, businesslike character and his hands-on approach to life. But Defoe sometimes hints at the futility of Crusoe's measuring—as when the carefully measured canoe cannot reach water or when his obsessively kept calendar is thrown off by a day of oversleeping. Defoe may be subtly poking fun at the urge to quantify, showing us that, in the end, everything Crusoe counts never really adds up to much and does not save him from isolation.
Eating - One of Crusoe's first concerns after his shipwreck is his food supply. Even while he is still wet from the sea in Chapter V, he frets about not having “anything to eat or drink to comfort me.” He soon provides himself with food, and indeed each new edible item marks a new stage in his mastery of the island, so that his food supply becomes a symbol of his survival. His securing of goat meat staves off immediate starvation, and his discovery of grain is viewed as a miracle, like manna from heaven. His cultivation of raisins, almost a luxury food for Crusoe, marks a new comfortable period in his island existence. In a way, these images of eating convey Crusoe's ability to integrate the island into his life, just as food is integrated into the body to let the organism grow and prosper. But no sooner does Crusoe master the art of eating than he begins to fear being eaten himself. The cannibals transform Crusoe from the consumer into a potential object to be consumed. Life for Crusoe always illustrates this eat or be eaten philosophy, since even back in Europe he is threatened by man-eating wolves. Eating is an image of existence itself, just as being eaten signifies death for Crusoe.
Ordeals at Sea - Crusoe's encounters with water in the novel are often associated not simply with hardship, but with a kind of symbolic ordeal, or test of character. First, the storm off the coast of Yarmouth frightens Crusoe's friend away from a life at sea, but does not deter Crusoe. Then, in his first trading voyage, he proves himself a capable merchant, and in his second one, he shows he is able to survive enslavement. His escape from his Moorish master and his successful encounter with the Africans both occur at sea. Most significantly, Crusoe survives his shipwreck after a lengthy immersion in water. But the sea remains a source of danger and fear even later, when the cannibals arrive in canoes. The Spanish shipwreck reminds Crusoe of the destructive power of water and of his own good fortune in surviving it. All the life-testing water imagery in the novel has subtle associations with the rite of baptism, by which Christians prove their faith and enter a new life saved by Christ.
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The Footprint - Crusoe's shocking discovery of a single footprint on the sand in Chapter XVIII is one of the most famous moments in the novel, and it symbolizes our hero's conflicted feelings about human companionship. Crusoe has earlier confessed how much he misses companionship, yet the evidence of a man on his island sends him into a panic. Immediately he interprets the footprint negatively, as the print of the devil or of an aggressor. He never for a moment entertains hope that it could belong to an angel or another European who could rescue or befriend him. This instinctively negative and fearful attitude toward others makes us consider the possibility that Crusoe may not want to return to human society after all, and that the isolation he is experiencing may actually be his ideal state.
The Cross - Concerned that he will “lose [his] reckoning of time” in Chapter VII, Crusoe marks the passing of days “with [his] knife upon a large post, in capital letters, and making it into a great cross . . . set[s] it up on the shore where [he] first landed. . . .” The large size and capital letters show us how important this cross is to Crusoe as a timekeeping device and thus also as a way of relating himself to the larger social world where dates and calendars still matter. But the cross is also a symbol of his own new existence on the island, just as the Christian cross is a symbol of the Christian's new life in Christ after baptism, an immersion in water like Crusoe's shipwreck experience. Yet Crusoe's large cross seems somewhat blasphemous in making no reference to Christ. Instead, it is a memorial to Crusoe himself, underscoring how completely he has become the center of his own life.
Crusoe's Bower - On a scouting tour around the island, Crusoe discovers a delightful valley in which he decides to build a country retreat or “bower” in Chapter XII. This bower contrasts sharply with Crusoe's first residence, since it is built not for the practical purpose of shelter or storage, but simply for pleasure: “because I was so enamoured of the place.” Crusoe is no longer focused solely on survival, which by this point in the novel is more or less secure. Now, for the first time since his arrival, he thinks in terms of “pleasantness.” Thus, the bower symbolizes a radical improvement in Crusoe's attitude toward his time on the island. Island life is no longer necessarily a disaster to suffer through, but may be an opportunity for enjoyment—just as, for the Presbyterian, life may be enjoyed only after hard work has been finished and repentance achieved.
Preface and Chapters I–III
An unnamed editor explains his reasons for offering us the narrative we are about to read. He does not mention the name or story of Robinson Crusoe explicitly but, rather, describes the narrative as a “private man's adventures in the world” and focuses on its realism when he calls it a “just history of fact.” He claims it is modest and serious, and that it has an instructive value, teaching us to honor “the wisdom of Providence.” Thus, the editor asserts he is doing a great service to the world in publishing Crusoe's tale.
Chapter I - I Go to Sea
A man named Robinson Crusoe records his own life story, beginning with his birth in 1632 in the English city of York. Crusoe's father was a German, originally named Kreutznaer. Crusoe is the youngest of three brothers, the eldest being a soldier and the second one having vanished mysteriously. As the youngest son in the family, Crusoe is expected to inherit little, and, as a result, his father encourages him to take up the law. But Crusoe's inclination is to go to sea. His family strongly opposes this idea, and his father gives him a stern lecture on the value of accepting a middle station in life. Crusoe resolves to follow his father's advice. But when one of his friends embarks for London, Crusoe succumbs to temptation and boards the ship on September 1, 1651. A storm develops. Near Yarmouth the weather is so bad that Crusoe fears for his life and prays to God for deliverance. The ship nearly founders, but all are saved. Crusoe sees this ordeal as a sign of fate that he should give up sea travel, and his friend's father warns him against setting foot on a ship again, echoing his own father's warning.
Chapter II - I Am Captured by Pirates
Crusoe parts with his friend and proceeds to London by land, where he meets a sea captain who proposes that Crusoe accompany him on an upcoming merchant voyage. Writing to his family for investment money, Crusoe sets off with forty pounds worth of trinkets and toys to sell abroad. Crusoe makes a net income of 300 pounds from this trip, and considers it a great success. Taking one hundred pounds with him, and leaving the remaining 200 pounds with a widow whom he trusts, Crusoe sets off on another merchant expedition. This time he is pursued by Moorish pirates off the coast of Sallee in North Africa. His ship is overtaken, and Crusoe is enslaved, the only Briton among his Moorish master's slaves. Crusoe is assigned the task of fishing because of his natural skill. One day the slaves' fishing vessel gets lost in fog, and the master installs a compass on board. The master also stores some gunpowder on board in preparation for a shooting party, but the guests do not come. Crusoe waits.
Chapter III - I Escape from the Sallee Rover
Robinson sets off on a fishing expedition with two other slaves, a man named Ismael and a boy named Xury. Sneaking up behind Ismael, Robinson pushes him into the water. Ismael swims alongside the boat and begs to be taken in. Crusoe pulls a gun on him and tells him to return to shore or else be killed. Crusoe then asks Xury whether he will accompany him and serve him faithfully, and Xury agrees. By evening, Crusoe calculates they have sailed 150 miles south of Sallee. They see wild creatures onshore that Crusoe recognizes as lions. Crusoe shoots one dead, and he and Xury skin it. They proceed southward toward what Crusoe believes are the Cape Verde or Canary Islands. They see naked black people onshore, and they fear them until the natives offer them food. When the Africans witness Crusoe shooting a leopard, they are impressed, and they offer the skin to Crusoe. Unsure where to head, Crusoe is surprised by a European ship in the distance. The ship picks up Xury and Crusoe, and its kind Portuguese captain offers to take them to Brazil. The captain buys Crusoe's boat as well as Xury.
These chapters introduce us to Defoe's particular style of narration, which revolutionized the English novel: he speaks openly and intimately, with none of the grandiose rhetorical effects notable in earlier ages of English literary history. In telling us frankly how much profit he makes from his first merchant venture, and in acknowledging his inner struggle about obeying his father or following his desire to go to sea, Crusoe addresses us as if we are his close and trusted friends. He is also an exceedingly practical and fact-oriented narrator, as the editor emphasizes in calling the narration a “just history of fact.” Crusoe is fixated on precise details, telling us the exact day he set off on his voyage and the number of miles south of Sallee he is. His feelings are less fully narrated, though he does relate his anguish at disobeying his father. Crusoe also shows his basic kindness and humanity in sparing the life of Ismael, though it is clear that this act is a minor detail for him. His focus on facts, actions, and details helps mark the beginning of the novelistic form in English literature.
Defoe's narrative is not just an adventure story about storms and pirates, but also what in religious literature is called an exemplary tale: a tale told for purposes of moral and religious instruction. In the Preface, the editor explicitly tells us that this novel will teach us to honor “the wisdom of Providence.” We are meant to learn something spiritually useful when reading this story. Crusoe underscores this spiritual aspect by focusing on his wickedness in disobeying his father's orders, and the punishments that come upon him for doing so. In Chapter II he refers to the “evil influence which carried me first away from my father's house,” and the word “evil” is important: this choice is not just a foolish decision, but one made with a morally wicked influence. Moreover, the evil curiously makes Crusoe its passive victim, introducing another central aspect of Robinson's story—his own passivity. Crusoe's place as the rebellious younger son in the family, resembling the Prodigal Son in the Bible, enhances the religious side of Crusoe's story.
The idea of foreignness is introduced as an important foreshadowing of Crusoe's later long existence as a castaway in an alien land. Interestingly, despite the story's beginning in Hull and London, Crusoe does not focus much attention on any Englishmen in his narrative. The friend who tempts him on board the ship is not named, and Crusoe shows no real affection for him. Not even Crusoe's family members are named. The English simply do not appear to excite his interest. By contrast, Crusoe is quick to tell us the names of the other slaves, Ismael and Xury, on the Moorish fishing boat. The Portuguese captain is not named, but he is described with much more vividness than the first English captain. Crusoe reveals a basic predisposition toward foreigners that underscores his early inclination to go to sea and leave England. As the son of a foreigner—his father's name was Kreutznaer—this roaming may be his fate. Perhaps like Odysseus in The Odyssey, he is simply destined by nature to leave home.
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