Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe is one of the most innovative novels of its time. It tells the story of a shipwrecked adventurer who is forced to overcome an overwhelming series of challenges instigated by the dangers on the island he becomes stranded on. Although his plight may seem foreign, Crusoe’s story is strangely alluring. As an audience, we cheer when Crusoe succeeds, feel sorry when he fails, and empathize when he is internally conflicted despite us having no connection to him or the story.
This incredible propensity to enthrall and captivate is created by Defoe’s authentic perspective (Woolf 283). By examining the subtleties of human inclination, implementing his analysis with timeless ideas that are both religious and practical in nature, and uniting them into a single enthralling, multifaceted novel, Daniel Defoe crafts a masterpiece that is as universal and enduring as the engaging truths it reveals.
Robinson Crusoe’s ingenuity comes from it’s extraordinary insight on the intricacies of human nature.
Daniel Defoe’s realistic representation of humans and their true form is what ultimately drives this insight. One of the most pervasive examinations of human tendency is how humans tend to cope with stress and conflict. When Crusoe is shipwrecked and stranded on the island, the first thing he does is take inventory, not of what resources he has, but instead, of what events have happened. He makes two lists. One is of the evils or bad things that have happened to him which includes things such as, “I am cast upon a horrible desolate Island, void of all hope of recovery.
” and “I am divided from mankind a solitude and banish’d from humane society.”(Defoe 49).
The other is of good events like, “But I am alice and not drown’d as all my ship’d company was.” and “But I am not starv’d and perishing on a barren place, affording no sustenance.”(Defoe 49). This list is Crusoe’s way of coping with and rationalizing the conditions that have thrust upon him. Another way Crusoe copes with his conditions is through God. In his travels, his ship is hit by a terrible storm where he thinks he will die. He is also eventually stranded on an island with no rescue in sight. Throughout his adventures, Crusoe always turns to God during these frightening situations. Through Crusoe’s actions, Defoe exemplifies that humans will more than likely find reason to continue even when outcomes look bleak through one method or another.
Another well represented human proclivity is to identify with other humans. When Crusoe is stranded, he laments his loneliness. He states, “I cannot explain by any possible energy of words, what a strange longing or hankering of desires I felt in my soul upon this sight.” (Defoe 158). A longing for human interaction can be seen through his words. When Crusoe witnesses Friday care for a family member, he says, “I observed the poor affectionate creature, every two minutes or perhaps less, all the while he was here, turn his head about to see if his father was in the same place and posture as he left him sitting;” (Defoe 173). Crusoe can be seen sympathizing with Friday in this scene. He can also be seen sympathizing with Xury when he is in the process of selling Xury for profit. He says, “He offer’d me also 60 pieces of 8 more for my boy Xury, which I was reath to take, not that I was not willing to let the captain have him, but I was very loath to sell the poor boy’s liberty.” (Defoe 30). These three separate scenarios demonstrate the social, sympathetic, and compassionate sides that almost all humans display. Through these interactions, Defoe is able to beautifully depict human nature.
Even though Defoe’s accurate representation of humans is what elevates the novel’s insight, his personal views and opinions on humanity are what make the novel uniquely his. “[Robinson Crusoe] is a masterpiece largely because Defoe has throughout kept consistly to his own sense of perspective.” (Woolf 284). Human greed and its place in nature is a common theme throughout the novel. From larger things such as building an armory to smaller things such as killing cats when he believed there to be too many, Crusoe, as well as many others in the novel, is represented by a passion for conquest and control. When Crusoe first steps on the island, he claims the island as his. Throughout his time on the island, he actively seeks to gain control over it by building fences on the properties he has claimed. When he gains a following, Crusoe shows awareness of his power by saying, “I had the lives of all my subjects at my absolute command.” (Defoe 125). In fact, “Crusoe plays at power and never has to take it quite seriously, simply because he has achieved so much of it.” (Richetti 373). Defoe expresses his belief that human beings are naturally greedy, seek power and crave control. Moreover, he portrays humans as a final product of God and thus, higher than nature to the extent that they can rule it. Defoe’s raw representation of humans is both original and precise. These qualities contribute to the narrative’s genius.
If Robinson Crusoe’s ingenuity is what secures its appeal, its relatability and incorporation of modern ideas is what makes it last. As John Ballantyne says, “Upon the whole, the work is as unlikely to lose its celebrity as it is to be equalled in its peculiar character by any other of similar excellence.” (Ballantyne 266). One of the most relatable aspects of Crusoe’s character is his rebellious nature towards the start of the novel and his transition out of that phase. Towards the beginning, Crusoe disregards the advice of his parents and the teachings of God as a young adolescent, but as he grows older, he starts to heed the word of God. By the end of the book, he attempts to convert others to Christianity. In many ways, Crusoe’s character development can be seen as a maturation or a gradual transition into late adulthood, something the entire adult population is familiar with. Crusoe’s reluctance to listen to his parents and insistence on living up to his own expectations and not anyone else’s can be compared to that of a teenager while his transition into a religious man who adopts the word of God, or rather the advice of his parents, is the transformation from a young adult into a matured man. Many can empathize with Crusoe since many have experienced a desire to live differently compared to their parents during youth. This timeline is an enduring theme that has been present throughout literature and life for generations.
Crusoe’s struggle with faith is another relatable subject. During Crusoe’s travels, he often makes a distinction between the work of God and that of his own. For example, when the barley on the island sprouts, Crusoe attributes it as the work of God at first but then decides that it is because he had spread chicken feed over the area. This constant doubt of the existence of God within daily life is an internal conflict faced by many. With the advent of science and the availability of knowledge, many people find it much more difficult to maintain faith in a higher power due to inconsistencies between science and religion. Even canonized saints such as Mother Teresa have faced this struggle (Rodriguez). Crusoe’s doubt in God adds to the book’s enduring content and context.
Another lasting facet of Robinson Crusoe is its incorporation of modern economic models. During Crusoe’s time, England was just beginning to expand its control over the world. It was starting to trade with India and the middle east (HISTORY OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE). “One of the reasons for the canonization of Robinson Crusoe is certainly its consonance with the modern view that labor is both the most valuable form of human activity in itself, and at the time the only reliable way of developing one’s spiritual beliefs.” (Watt 296). Moreover, it is the mics and labor that allow it to be as lasting as it is. Scarcity is a key idea in economics. It describes the property that resources and labor are limited and thus, extremely valuable. Only an efficient allocation of these finite assets allow for the best possible production. In the novel, Crusoe demonstrates knowledge of this concept by effectively allocating the labor between his crew and taking inventory of the supplies he has. He also demonstrates the importance of hard work through the relentless projects he undertakes during his time on the island. These actions are conducive to the modern ideas of capitalism held sacred today. In many ways, Crusoe, a merchant, does business in much the same way business has been done for centuries. Economics and globalization propels the world into the future. Robinson Crusoe’s inclusion of its modern models substantially adds to its vitality by maintaining the relevance of its material.
Robinson Crusoe’s excellence comes from a combination of revealing truths and ageless concepts. Its portrayal of human proclivities and unique commentary on human behavior reveals the complexity of Defoe’s world. Its inclusion of relatable scenarios in a foreign setting and fundamental concepts that power the world carves its message in stone. All the while, it manages to touch others and cause change, inspiring everyone from the common man to the enlightenment thinker (Watt 288). Robinson Crusoe is more than just another book. It is a window into another perspective, a tool for inspiration, and a revealing lesson that accentuates the human condition. A novel gains excellence when its words transcend what is written on the page. Daniel Defoe manages to do all this and more through Robinson Crusoe.