Robinson Crusoe

Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe

1.   Biography

2.   Summary

3.   Interpretation

1.   Biography

·      ¬ 1660, Cripplegate  U  1731, London - Age of Enlightenment

·      1695 he changed his name from Foe to Defoe

·      1682 he abandoned his father's plan to become a Presbyterian priest and became a merchant in Cornhill

·      1697-1701 he served as a secret agent for William III

·       1701 appeared his satirical poem "The True-Born Englishman", a bestseller

·      1703 he was arrested for "The Shortest-Way with the Dissenters", an ironical satire on High Church extremism, committed to Newgate and pilloried. (angeprangert)

·      1703-1714 he served as a secret agent for Harley and other ministers and produced the "Review", a pro-government newspaper

·      1719 "The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe"

·      1722 "Moll Flanders", "A Journal of the Plague Year"

·      1724 "Roxana"

"A prolific and versatile writer he produced some 500 books on a wide variety of topics, including politics, geography, crime, religion, economics, marriage, psychology and superstition. He delighted in

role-playing and disguise, a skill he used to great effect as a secret agent, and in his writing he often adopted a pseudonym or another personality for rhetorical impact."[i]

"Defoe had a great influence on the development of the English novel and many consider him to be the first true novelist."1

2.   Summary

Robinson Crusoe is the son of a merchant from Bremen, that settled in York. Love of adventure turns him into a sailor. He makes a couple of trips to Africa and becomes a wealthy man, and a greedy one, too. On a trip to Guinea, where he intended to buy cheap slaves, his ship runs aground in a hurricane. Robinson, the only one who survived the storm, managed to reach the shore of an island. The next morning he spots his shipwreck. He ships everything that's not firmly fixed by raft to the island, among that guns, ammunition and clothes. He lives a tent, surrounded by a palisade, and stores his supplies in an adjoining cave. There he starts writing a diary. After a while he believes that God wants to punish him for his adventurous life and that Gods wants to show him the perfection of his Creation. The more he adopts the commitments of the Bible, the more friendly his life on the island gets: He discovers an orchard, tames goats and grows wheat. One day he discovers an abandoned cannibal camp. When the cannibals, who live on the mainland, return to the island to cook one of their victims, Robinson frees the poor guy and names him Friday (the day of his rescue). He trains him to be a good servant and Christian. Later, both of them free a Spaniard and Friday's father. Robinson and Friday sail to the mainland to warn the Spaniard's companions. When they return, they prevent English mutineers to abandon their captain on the island. The Captain gives Robinson and Friday a ride to England, to show his thankfulness. The mutineers stay on the island voluntarily and together with the Spaniards they establish an island state. Robinson Crusoe returned to England after 28 years, two months and 19 days.

3.   Interpretation

I personally don't like Robinson. He looks at everything that surrounds him with the eyes of profit:

'In a word, the nature and experience of things dictated to me, upon just reflection, that all good things of this world are no farther good to us than they are for our use; and that whatever we may heap up indeed to give others, we enjoy just as much as we can use and no more' (p. 140)iv "He found a capitalist's paradise, full of things to be owned, controlled, cultivated, possessed. God's presence in the novel only serves to further what Max Weber called 'the peculiar ethic' (p. 51) of Robinson's capitalism, for it is God who, for better or for worse, instills within Robinson a sense of economic duty."[ii] His 'natural' inclinations toward hunting and gathering, gathering and ordering, ordering and

accumulating are for Robinson God's preferred way of dealing with his situation.

"As economics and religion intertwine in Robinson Crusoe, so does ritual. Robinson's rituals of survival, maintenance and worship are described in such meticulous detail in his island-journals that they read like bank statements. His daily rituals of hunting, tailoring, collecting and building are Robinson's business affairs, done in order to maintain and expand onto his nest." ii

Like everything else on the island, Friday is an object to be used, a collectible. His value to Robinson is determined by his obedience and his potential to be a successful 'product' of his master. The ultimate exercise of Robinson's power as king is his ability to 'tame' Friday and keep him under his reign. "He accomplishes this, but Friday's cultural and economic transfiguration is different from religious conversion. () Robinson is no missionary traveling from country to country spreading the word about Christianity. He is a capitalist with no competition and Friday is his trophy, representing Robinson's triumph over his situation, over nature, over the cannibals, over himself."ii Robinson becomes his own god, and Friday, 'would have worshipped [him] and [his] gun' (p. 214).iv

"Several modern writers, like James Joyce, Toni Morrison, Derek Walcott and Edward Said, have criticized Defoe's Robinson Crusoe for being a allegory of Western (British) colonialism or imperialism, and thus for advocating to its reading public the suppression of other cultures."[iii]







iv gopher:// Crusoe

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