Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

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Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe


The theme of "man’s relationship to God and the universe" presented in Epistle 1 of Alexander Pope’s "An Essay on Man" complements Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe is an inconsistent character who turns to God whenever he is in need, yet fails to maintain respect for nature and for his fellow man. In the first year of Robinson Crusoe’s solitary life on the island, he falls ill and has a terrifying dream that alters his awareness of his place in the universe and God’s control of it. This experience leads him to contemplate his past ingratitude and to embark on a life of piety, reading the Bible daily, though without a drastic or permanent change in his character. Throughout his adventures in the novel, Crusoe has moments of awareness and appreciation of God, yet each moment of faith fades as he regains control over his situation. The ideals presented in the last three sections of Epistle 1 — that life exists in a "chain of being" and is interdependent, that the spirit of God exists in all things, and that man should accept existence as good — speak directly to the understanding that Crusoe comes to as a result of his illness and the life he leads throughout the novel.

Crusoe wakes up from the nightmare that he has during his illness and realizes that surviving each of his adventures has been in the hands of God, and that he has been ungrateful and unaware of this power. Section 8 of Epistle 1 in the "Essay on Man" states that all things in the chain of being are interdependent and that man in his pride should not strive to break this order. Robinson Crusoe is a very independent character and has traveled for eight years without "having the least sens...


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...rly in his life, he claims Friday as a servant rather than a companion; and he is as materialistic after he is marooned on the island as he was before this misfortune. Pope and Crusoe both feel that God is in control of what happens in life and of what they understand of their experiences, although Crusoe does not maintain an awareness of God unless he is, or has recently been, in danger or in need. The relationship with God, nature, and fellow man that Pope describes in his essay powerfully articulates the weakness, pride, and independence that Crusoe grapples with throughout his narration.

Works Cited

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Ed. Michael Shinagel. Norton: New York, 1975.

Pope, Alexander. "An Essay on Man." in Eighteenth-Century English Literature. Eds. Geoffrey Tillotson, Paul Fussell, Jr. and Marshall Waingrow. New York: Harcourt, 1969. 635-51.

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