In the novels and epics of Robinson Crusoe, The Odyssey, The Tempest and Gulliver’s Travels the reader encounters an adventurer who ends up on an island for many years and then returns back home. These four stories have another point in common: they are all unusually popular. There is something very appealing to the popular imagination about such narratives. In this essay I will explore the vision of life (or at least some aspects of it) which this novel holds out to us and which is significantly different from the others, no matter how apparently similar the narrative form might be.
Very simply put, these four stories have a similar general narrative structure which goes something like this: (a) a member of a sophisticated European society is accidentally cast adrift into the wilderness, where everything is unfamiliar and there are no apparent aids of normal society; (b) the hero must adjust to this strange environment, find some means of coping with the physical and the psychological dislocation; (c) the hero must find a way off the island, and (d) the hero must reintegrate himself into the society from which he unwillingly was alienated.
The casting adrift can happen in any number of ways. Typically it is the result of a shipwreck, a mutiny, or a misadventure of some kind. Adapting to the new environment may or may not involve adjusting to the people who live there. It almost always will require the hero to cope with a very different vision of nature, and he will be forced to confront the fact that in this place things run very differently from what he is used to. This, in turn, may produce al...
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...t what really matters and what does not.
Thus, adventures with isolatos are, or can easily become, an exploration of moral values forced into the awareness of the hero by an unusual circumstance. And this development brings with it inevitably a criticism or a confirmation of the social values (or some of them) of the society of which he is a representative, whose values he brings with him to the island, and to which he returns. Prospero’s rejection of the island and of the magic he so loves, like Odysseus’ rejection of Calypso for his own Penelope, is not just a manifestation of the hero’s moral nature; it is also a confirmation of certain values in the society to which they are returning. Gulliver’s rejection of European society upon his return at the end of the fourth voyage is, in large part, a very severe criticism of the moral laxity of Europe.
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