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Book Review: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe illustration

Robinson Crusoe illustration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just finished reading Daniel Defoe‘s, Robinson Crusoe, 2010, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (Aust.) This was a very enjoyable adventure book with many themes running through it such as man’s ability to adapt, irony, anti –feminism, slavery, religion, white superiority, and colonialism.

Crusoe starts out as an ordinary man not trained for anything in particular. He is unsure of himself and what his role in life could be. Throughout the story he becomes an extraordinary man because of his ability to adapt to many situations, though luck had a lot to do with his ability to survive life’s dramas.

He continually says that he has done dreadful things in his past which makes me wonder what he did that was so dreadful unless it was the fact that he was ashamed of his homosexuality in a time when it was forbidden. Until his marriage, his relationships all appear to be with men. Women throughout the novel are of no consequence, Crusoe uses the captain’s widow to manage his finances however he has no close relationship with her. Crusoe sends women to his island as if they were commodities not people . His marriage is hardly mentioned. In fact, I find him slightly annoying because he uses people all the time rather than having any true friendships. He treats people as if they are there to serve him, another example of his imperialistic attitude.

I found the ending of the book disappointing and confusing as it felt rushed, as if once Crusoe was off the island, there was no more to be said except in passing. For instance there is no more mention of Friday after he shoots the wolves. Once his wife dies what happens to his three children?  He goes off to his Island again but there is no more mention of his children or Friday.

The theme of white superiority running throughout the book was prevalent at the time of writing. He considers that Friday wants to be his slave, rather than a free man who would be his friend. When Crusoe mentions Friday he calls him a creature, and a slave, not a man nor a friend and when Friday is of no more use to him there is no more mention of him. Slavery was the reason he left Brazil and ended up shipwrecked on the island. Crusoe also had Xury as a slave when he escaped the pirate captain and sold him to the captain of the ship who rescued him  Crusoe is also content to let the cannibals carry on with their rituals and leave them to God’s justice  until they try to eat a white man .

At the end of the book when Crusoe goes back to his island he sets up his own little colony/kingdom. He allocates parcels of land to the others. Similar to what was done in the British Colonies by the government.

Religion is a major theme running throughout the book. Crusoe tries to accept religion on various occasions e.g. after the earthquake and sickness . He questions God and his conscience awakens, from then on he talks to God on a regular basis  and he goes from being someone who is somewhat indifferent to religion to a true believer after his ‘conversion’. It is on this basis that he instructs Friday in the ways of a Christian. However, while Crusoe blindly accepts the written word, Friday is intelligent and questions, ‘why God no kill the devil?’ His reasoning is sound and Crusoe is stumped. Whereas he feels Friday is beneath him, here Friday shows he is more than a match for Crusoe in intelligence . As Hudson,[1] remarks, ‘Defoe may have been genuinely baffled by the kind of questions raised by Friday.’ Crusoe’s religion is a problem, in that it is ironic that in the bible it says all men are equal, yet Crusoe feels superior to Friday and expects him to be subservient.

The novel has spawned many offshoots such as opera, cartoons, books, songs, and games commonly called ‘Robinsonnades’,[2] and has even entered the vocabulary e.g. when people say, ‘You’re not Robinson Crusoe’, which means you are not alone. Therefore, this is an important adventure/ bourgeois/epic/ picaresque novel, which appears never to have lost its popularity.

The restoration period (1660 – 1780) in England, and the collapse of the South Sea Company, is the backdrop for Robinson Crusoe. Daniel Defoe was a dissenter. They were Christians who separated from the church in 16th – 18th centuries. They opposed state interference in religious matters; many of the religious themes running through the book can be seen to relate to the dissenter ideology.[3]

[1] Hudson Nicholas, The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol 39, No.156 (Nov 1988), pp. 494- 501, Oxford Journals. ‘WHY GOD NO KILL THE DEVIL?’ THE DIABOLICAL DISRUPTION OF ORDER IN ROBINSON CRUSOE.

[2] Dinah Birch Ed., The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 7th Edition, 2009, p. 851,Oxford University Press, UK

[3] Paul Poplawski Ed., English Literature in Context, 2008, p.223, Cambridge University Press, UK.


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