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Repentance and Religion in Robinson Crusoe

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Analyse the theme of repentance and religion in chapters VII-XII of
Robinson Crusoe.

At the beginning of chapter VII, Crusoe introduces himself as “poor,
miserable Robinson Crusoe,” which strikes a startling note of
self-pity that contradicts the sturdy, resourceful self-image of his
narrative. There may be some grandiose posturing in this journal.
Moreover, as many have noticed, Crusoe’s journal is false in its
dating, despite its author’s loudly trumpeted concern for absolute
accuracy. By Crusoe’s own admission, he states that he arrived on the
island on the thirtieth of September. His idea of a journal comes only
later: “After I had been there about ten or twelve days, it came into
my thoughts, that I should lose my reckoning of time for want of
books, and pen and ink. . . .” Thus he keeps no journal for the first
ten or twelve days. Yet his first journal entry is dated “September 30,
1659,” the day of his arrival. Clearly Crusoe likes the idea of using
the journal to account for all his time on the island, giving himself
an aura of completeness, even if it requires some sneaky bookkeeping
to do so. This deception suggests to us that his interest in the hard
facts may be less than objective, and may actually be more subjective
and self-serving.

The most important psychological development in these chapters is
Crusoe’s born-again conversion. Crusoe has had many religious moments,
sometimes quickly forgotten. One example of this forgetting occurs
when he first calls the sprouting corn a miracle, then later
attributes it to mere good luck. But during his illness, his turn to
religion seems profound and lasting. His hallucination of a wrathful
angel figure that threatens him for not repenting his sins is a major
event in his emotional life, which up to this point has seemed free
from such wild imaginings. When he later takes tobacco-steeped rum and
reads a verse of the Bible that tells him to call upon God in times of
trouble, he seems deeply affected. Indeed, his loss of a day from his
calendar may represent his relinquishment of total control of his life
and his acknowledgment of a higher power in charge. When he falls on
his knees to thank God for delivering him from his illness, his faith
seems sincere. This faith forces him to reevaluate the island itself,
which, he tells himself, may not be a place of captivity, but a place
of deliverance from his earlier sins. He thus redefines his whole
landscape—and his whole life—much more optimistically.

Partly as a result of Crusoe’s born-again experience, his attitude
toward the island improves dramatically. No longer viewing it as a
place of punishment and misery, he starts to see it as his home.
Indeed, he now uses the word “home” explicitly in reference to his
camp. Significantly, he now notices how beautiful parts of the island
are when he explores the terrain after his recovery. He describes the
“delicious vale” that he discovers, in which he decides to build a
bower. He surveys the area “with a secret kind of pleasure . . . to
think that this was all my own, that I was king and lord of all this
country indefeasibly and had a right of possession.” This attitude
shift is extraordinary. He no longer views himself, as he does in his
first journal entry, as “poor, miserable Robinson,” but is now feeling
the pleasure of calling himself king and lord of a delicious vale. Yet
his happiness in his island life is short-lived, since only a few
pages later he refers to the “unhappy anniversary of my landing,” as
if forgetting that his landing, in a different perspective, seems
cause for rejoicing. Defoe is underscoring the extent to which
Crusoe’s sense of fate and suffering is not objective, but rather
created by his own mind.

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.

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