The Religious Dimension of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe

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The Religious Dimension of Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe’s discovery of the work ethic on the small island goes hand in hand with a spiritual awakening. Robinson Crusoe is not a very profound religious thinker, although religion is part of his education and transformation. He claims he reads the Bible, and he is prepared to quote it from time to time. But he doesn’t puzzle over it or even get involved in the narrative or character attractions of the stories. The Bible for him appears to be something like a Dale Carnegie handbook of maxims to keep the work on schedule and to stifle any possible complaints or longings for a different situation. Still, the religious dimension is central to Robinson Crusoe.

Robinson Crusoe’s interpretation of his life links the financial success directly and repeatedly with his growth in religious awareness. This is not an intellectual conversion but, simply put, an awareness that he has, in some ways, received God’s grace and is under His care. The growing profitability of his efforts is proof of such a spiritual reward. This awareness fills him with a sense of guilt for his former life and a great desire to be relieved of that guilt. The desire to be relieved from that feeling of guilt, in fact, is much stronger than Robinson Crusoe’s desire to be delivered from the island.

Now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the load of guilt that bore down all my comfort. As for my solitary life; it was nothing; I did not so much as pray to be delivered from it or think of it; it was all of no considerations in comparison to this; and I added this part here to ...

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... The inhabitants of the New World were there to be ignored, like Friday’s father, used as servants, like Friday, or killed, like the cannibals. The important part of the Puritan encounter with the New World was what Robinson Crusoe shows us, the spiritual testing of the solitary Protestant spirit, a life-long ordeal in which he achieved success (or the closest thing to a manifestation of success) by stamping his will on the new land, staking out territory as his property through backbreaking toil, without any concessions to anyone or anything, least of all to the land or to its original inhabitants. That was the Puritan’s calling; that was the reason God has placed us on this earth: to put to our personal uses the material and people available, to ignore what does not fit in with such projects, and to remove quickly and ruthlessly anything that stands in our way.