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Critical Review on Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe"
Daniel Defoe tells tale of a marooned individual in order to criticize society. By using the Island location, similar to that of Shakespeare's The Tempest, Defoe is able to show his audience exactly what is necessary for the development of a utopian society. In The Tempest, the small society of Prospero's island addresses the aspects of morality, the supernatural and politics in the larger British society. In Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, the island's natural surroundings highlights the subject of man's individual growth, both spiritually and physically. Nature instantly exercises its power and control over man in the tropical storm that leads to the wreckage of Crusoe's ship. "The fury of the sea" (Defoe, 45) thrusts Crusoe to the shores of the uninhabited "Island of Despair" (Defoe, 70). Isolated on the island, Crusoe is challenged to use his creativity in order to survive.
Crusoe accepts the challenge to survive, but not only does he survive, but he also expands and discovers new qualities about himself. In the beginning of his time on the island, Crusoe feels exceedingly secluded. He fears savages and wild beasts on the island, and he stays high up in a tree. Lacking a "weapon to hunt and kill creatures for his sustenance" (Defoe, 47), he is susceptible. Defoe believed that "the nature of man resides in the capacity for improvement in the context of a material world" (Seidel, 59), and this becomes apparent in his novel. The tools that Crusoe possesses from the ship carry out this notion, improving his life on the island dramatically. He progresses quickly, and no longer feels as isolated as he did before on the island. Crusoe uses his tools to build a protective fence and a room inside a cave. He then builds a farm where he raises goats and grows a corn crop. Later, his ambitions take him to the other side of the island where he builds a country home. Also, with the weapons that Crusoe creates, he saves Friday from cannibals, and makes him his servant. Because of his tools, his supply becomes more than sufficient for survival. He comes to learn that if he works with his surroundings instead of wallowing in the fact that he has no longer got what he thinks he needs, he able to find and use everything he needs in order to carry out life. Not only has he expanded both mentally and physically on the island, but in a way, Defoe also depicts Crusoe's island as a microcosm of European society. Crusoe's European values and education are evident: he colonizes the island by building houses. His successful development on the island parallels that of the British Empire around the eighteenth century.
A passage on page 241 shows us Crusoe's amazing skill throughout the novel to claim ownership of things. He sells his fellow slave Xury to the Portuguese captain; he seizes the contents of two shipwrecked vessels and takes Friday as his servant immediately after meeting him. Most extraordinarily, he views the island as "my own mere property" (Crusoe, 241) over which he has "an undoubted right of dominion." (Crusoe, 241) Moreover, his building of properties determines his understanding of politics. He jokes about his "merry reflections" (Crusoe, 241) of looking like a king, but it seems more of a merry thought when he refers to "my people" (Crusoe, 241) being "perfectly subjected." (Crusoe, 241) Crusoe's personal point of view is influential throughout the novel and shows us how much colonisation depended on a self-righteous, propriety way of thinking.
According to Siedel, "[Crusoe] takes a piece of paradise and makes it a sovereign state. He is King of vale, Lord of Country and squire of the manor." (Seidel, 10) Because of the isolation from the rest of the world and civilization, Crusoe is able to create a perfect utopian society, which he not only dependent on in order to survive, but which is dependant on him also. This system can be seen as somewhat Marxist but it has proved that a utopian environment is possible to create. Although, it must be noted that having only one citizen would greatly ease the process. There are no other people to corrupt or destroy the harmony in which Crusoe lives. "It was now that I began sensibly to feel how much more happy this life I now led was than the wicked, cursed, abominable life I led all the past part of my days." (Defoe, 112).
Along with the criticism of society, Defoe is able to give representation to the objects around Crusoe that support the idea of the creation a perfect environment. The new-grown barley and corn on the island, which Crusoe calls a "prodigy of Nature" (Defoe, 78) is really symbolic of the spiritual and emotional growth that is taking place within himself. These grains, however, were also a main source of food for Crusoe. The idea of the island and Crusoe living with each other and giving to one another in harmony fully supports the idea of a utopian society.
From isolation to expansion, Crusoe converts fear into bravery. Similarly, the island helps Crusoe convert from pagan into God-fearing. Before his sea adventures begin, religion had little significance to Crusoe. The lack of neither God's nor his father's blessing do not concern him when he decides to "board a ship bound for London" (Defoe, 8). It is when the ship, however, encounters a tempest where "wind began to blow and the sea to rise in a most frightful manner" (Defoe, 8) that Crusoe turns to God for guidance: "if it would please God to spare my life this one voyage, [
] I would go directly home to my father and never set it into a ship again while I lived" (Defoe, 8). Increasingly, he realizes God's future for him, and he begins to expand spiritually. In Defoe's Serious Reflections, he defines providence as "the operation of the power, wisdom, justice, and goodness of God, by which he influences, governs and directs not only the means, but the events, of all things which concern us in this world" (Works, 3: 187). On the island, Crusoe realizes the work of fate while witnessing his crop miraculously grow: "for it was the work of Providence as to me, that should order or appoint, that the ten or twelve grains of corn should remain unspoiled, as if it had been dropped down from Heaven" ( Defoe, 79). Without the island setting, Crusoe would have not notice such an event, as barley grows abundantly in his home country. If he had not noticed this event, he would not have realized "how wonderfully we are delivered, when we know nothing of it" (Defoe, 175).
Though Crusoe has developed throughout the novel to accept what has become of him, near the end, the reader sees that loneliness has started to take its toll. He is able to keep going on in life by himself, but he also misses the contact that he had in society. It was Aristotle who said the man "who is unable to live in society, or has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god" (Wagner, 31). Although Crusoe has created this immaculate habitat, humans are social beings, and need the contact that does not come with living in solitude. The change that took place on the island, essentially, made Crusoe realize that even the utopian experience while isolated is not comparable to that of sharing human emotion and the removal of loneliness and makes him appreciate it that much more.
It is this writing that has caused its popularity..... "no single book in the history of Western literature has spawned more editions, translations, imitations, continuations, and sequels than Crusoe" (Seidel, 8). The tone and the first person narrative in which Defoe uses enables to reader to experience first hand the changes that take place on the island. This gives validity to every word and quote in the novel because it is actually the narrator's words, however, because it is a first person narrative, the reader has no choice but to believe what is being said as there are no other accounts. In Robinson Crusoe, the narrator develops to form a hopeful outlook towards an unlucky state, and, thus, creates a utopia for himself both mentally and physically.
Defoe, D. (1998) Robinson Crusoe. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Defoe, D. (
) The Works of Daniel Defoe. Ed. G. A. Maynadier. New York: Sproul,
Shakespeare, W. (1998) The Tempest. London: Penguin
Seidel, M. (1991) Robinson Crusoe Island Myths and the Novel. Massachusetts: Twayne Publishers.
Wagner, P. (2006) The Languages Of Civil Society. United States: Berghahn Books
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"Critical Review On Robinson Crusoe." 123HelpMe.com. 22 Oct 2014