Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe - The First Fiction

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Robinson Crusoe: The First Fiction Daniel Defoe is credited with writing the first long fiction novel in literary history. Drawing from established literary genres such as the guide and providence traditions and the spiritual biography, Defoe endeavored to illustrate the life of a man who "tempted Providence to his ruine (Defoe 13)" and the consequences of such actions. While stranded alone on an island the character of Robinson Crusoe seems to have a religious epiphany about the role of Providence in his life and resolves to live in accordance with God's will. However, Crusoe's internal reflections throughout his narrative and his actions do not correlate, causing the reader to question the validity of this conversion. By examining the plot and the process of psychological change Crusoe undergoes, it becomes apparent that "he experiences and accepts divine control but that control can only be realized in the free context he has himself created (359)." When push comes to shove, Crusoe reverts to human instinct and his own impulses rather than what he perceives to be the will of Providence. Crusoe uses his newfound religion only when convenient and as a means to justify his actions and an acceptable reason for everything unfortunate that happens. When he finally does leave the island and returns to society, Crusoe's faith is tested and fails miserably, with practically no mention of Providence towards the end of the story. At the beginning of the novel, Crusoe introduces himself and establishes that his narrative is a memoir of sorts, and is told while looking through more experienced, wise eyes than when he originally experienced his story. This is important to note, because his discourse is shaded with hindsight and interpreted through a mind that has come to accept Providence's hand in his life. For example, when the Turks capture Crusoe and he is enslaved, he reflects by saying, "now the Hand of Heaven had overtaken me, and I was undone without Redemption. But alas! This was but a Taste of the Misery I was to go thro' (15)." Because Crusoe is recalling the events from memory, as well as the lack of input from any other characters, his reliability can be questioned as a narrator. An unreliable narrator is one who may be in error in his or her understanding or report of things and who thus leaves readers without the guides needed for making judgements.
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