Thursday, May 8, 2008
Daniel Dafoe (1661-1731)
There is an awful lot going on in Robinson Crusoe but I'm just going to cover a few things. First, this really is an outstanding book. It's not stuffy or terribly dated as one would expect the first English novel to be. Robinson disobeys his father and goes off to sea. After a couple of rough voyages he gets rich in the West Indies on an island. Not satisfied with his good luck he decides to go on a slaving mission. Well, the ship ends up in a big storm and he is the only survivor on an island. He makes a life for himself, finds religion, saves his man, Friday, adds a few more to his kingdom, takes over a mutineering ship and heads back to England.
Race is a major factor in the novel. Was Crusoe being punished by God when his slaving ship was wrecked upon the rocks? How about the constant dichotomy of savages/civilized, Crusoe thinks in these terms, but does Defoe? Friday is the key to all this. He starts as a "savage," a Carib cannibal who is saved by Crusoe. But he is loyal, smart, and better at everything than Defoe. This could either be a sign of the power of Crusoe's civilizing influence, or that Friday and Crusoe are not as different as he thinks.
Religion carries most of the novel when Crusoe is by himself. He has led a rotten life, leaving his family to sail with drunken louts and blasphemers. After he lands upon the island he unloads the teetering ship. He happens to take a Bible or three out before it sinks. For years he doesn't look at the Good Book. Finally, when he's deathly ill and at his lowest point he reads a few inspiring lines. In this moment he transforms, repents and becomes a devotee of Protestant Christianity. He starts giving thanks that God put him on the island to change his ways and his outlook is much improved. He believes in fate, the men on the ship died but he didn't, that can't be coincidence. There are other times when God presents and opportunity that he seizes to his advantage. Defoe also presents the comparison of Friday's religion with Crusoe's. They really are not that different, Crusoe's just has different names and roles for the deity.
Rating 10/10: Yeah, awesome quick read. Defoe's ingenuity on the island is astounding. It keeps you interested in his development as a land developer and as a human being.