Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe

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Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe

The balance between agency and the challenges to it proposed by unexplained or supernatural occurrences is of central importance in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Additionally, the question of human control over various surroundings seemingly develops commensurate to the title character’s increased reliance on and understanding of his faith. That particular conflict is a replication of the overall theme of the narrative — Crusoe’s finding increasing discomfort the more familiar he becomes with his environment. For Defoe, then, familiarity is nothing if not problematic. Crusoe’s at times prosperous (and later at least tolerable and regimented) routine is interrupted at almost regular intervals throughout the text, raising issues of the importance of temporality and ultimately the role of individual hegemony in the surrounding world, whether that world is England, Brazil, the lonely island or the ship that leaves Crusoe there.

The underlying reason for Crusoe’s suffering, and one to which he continually refers and bemoans, is his filial disobedience. This defiance is treated by Defoe as a representation of Adam’s fall, especially since he opens the narrative in the fashion of Genesis, focusing on Crusoe’s beginnings as a way to contextualize his later dire straits. By defying his father, Crusoe initiates the chaos that will come to define most of his adult life — undergoing a physical and spiritual disembarkation from England and the relative safety it represents. During his time in Brazil as a plantation owner, Crusoe foreshadows a later paradox; that futile are attempts to reinvent civilization after rejecting a preexisting model such as the father, whether that of religion or family...

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Perhaps, then, Crusoe is not an exception to the supernatural; like Poll and the vision of a black figure, much of Crusoe’s success on the island goes unexplained in terms of so-called normality. Poll, who is transplanted mysteriously across the island, is a smaller version of Crusoe, and the language he is able to speak mirrors that of Crusoe early during his captivity. By the same account, the black figure who comes to kill Crusoe but refrains from doing so is representative of a later Crusoe, who hedges between killing and sparing new human inhabitants on the island. As important as is Crusoe’s transformation from a figure around whom the supernatural operates to the embodiment of its prophecies, however, equally vital to the narrative is merely the fact that Crusoe has the agency to undergo that change despite constant challenges to temporal structure.
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