“It’s never too late to be wise.” Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719. Written by Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe is the tale of a man who dreams of becoming a sailor and has adventure far beyond those dreams.
The first few pages open with an explanation from Crusoe about his desire to have a life at sea and his father’s wish for him to find a different desire. Crusoe’s father has a serious conversation with him about the casualties and discomforts of such a life. He explains all the benefits living a middle class lifestyle provides, telling Crusoe that many people would be elated to have the opportunity to live a life in “the middle station.” His effort (and tearful plea) to persuade Crusoe against going to sea moves Crusoe – but only for a year’s time. Desire ultimately gets the better of him, so he leaves on a whim without a word to his parents.
Crusoe’s first voyage includes two storms, the first of which scares Crusoe terribly. He prays to God to save him, promising he will return home once upon land. Yet he forgets that promise once the storm passes, but when the next one approaches, he immediately regrets abandoning his prior conviction. But again, this storm passes, Crusoe reaches dry land, and, even after being warned by the master of the ship that misfortune at sea seems to follow him (Crusoe), he presses on to another voyage.
From there, Crusoe sets sail, is captured, becomes enslaved, strategically escapes, and surprisingly enough, lands himself in “the Brazils.” He becomes a plantation owner and lives there for about four years before volunteering to sail to Guinea. Yet it is on this voyage, great calamity strikes: Crusoe is shipwrecked on a deserted island as the lone survivor.
Amazingly, Crusoe doesn’t only focus on the fact that he is all alone on an island. Instead, he makes a home for himself there, establishing first his very basic needs, such as finding food, building shelter, and, later, constructing amenities such as a table and chair. A year into Crusoe’s journey, he becomes very ill with fever, which he later discovers is due in large part to not having calculated and planned for the rainy season on the island. As he’s recovering, Crusoe has a dream of warning. Though this dream is similar to that of John’s on the island of Patmos, Crusoe’s dream is one that prompts the true beginning of his spiritual journey. When he wakes, he begins reading the Bible, praying to God, and ultimately growing spiritually. Dangerous currents, terrifying storms, feasting cannibals, and the fear of the unknown make for a serious adventure story.
Several genres influenced the creation of Robinson Crusoe, such as travel books and conversion narratives. Crusoe describes in great detail his labor, his daily comings and goings, and his life on the island. Since travel books were popular during this time, Crusoe’s story of life abroad would certainly have been one of great interest to the general public. It’s clear from the beginning of the novel that Crusoe is telling his story from a future perspective, as he is able to look back on certain situations as he retells them and mention times when he didn’t listen to reason – or to God. (There are echoes of Biblical stories in his tale, such as the Prodigal Son and Job.)
The text reads as though it were written in the early 1700s, so before you pick a copy, do be aware of that. However, even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of eighteenth-century prose, my guess is that you’ll appreciate the adventure part of the story regardless. There are times you’ll want to knock some sense into Crusoe, as the saying goes, and others where you’ll be relieved of his decisions, but I’d say the fact that you’re bound to feel this way only goes to show Defoe’s craftiness in creating the character of Robinson Crusoe.
Feel free to message me with questions or let me know your thoughts as well! Happy reading!