Robinson Crusoe

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Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe - Hardcover - UK - 1890.jpg

Hardcover - UK - 1890 printing.

Author Daniel Defoe
Published 1719-04-25
Type Fiction
Genre Adventure
Themes Adventure, Religious Fiction, Survival
Age Group Adult

Robinson Crusoe is an adventure survival novel written by Daniel Defoe and published on 1719-04-25. When it was first released, it was credited to "Robinson Crusoe" and written in an epistolary and confessional style which initially led some readers to assume it was a genuine account of Crusoe's life. The book is one of the first novels written in English and sold very well allowing Defoe to write two follow-up books. It also helped give rise to the style of writing fiction using realistic themes and settings. As it is a product of its time, the story is extremely racist presenting the white Christian man as the savior or executioner of ignorant colored savages and it uses many bigoted and ahistorical stereotypes throughout the book. It has long since entered the public domain.

The story follows a young Englishman named Robinson Crusoe who, after refusing to heed his father's advice to take up a respectable trade, follows his boyhood dream of becoming an adventuring sailor. Shortly after he runs away, several unfortunate events lead to him becoming shipwrecked on an Caribbean island bereft of human life, or so he initially thinks.

The book full original title is, "the Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates. Written by Himself." I'm not sure why anyone would want to shorten it!

Personal

Own?No.
Read?Audiobook read by Tom Baker.
Finished2023-02-07.

I first heard about Robinson Crusoe in the early-1990s because it's mentioned in a book I was read to in elementary school, The Sign of the Beaver. In that book, the main character uses the novel to teach his Indian friend how to read English. In the Sign of the Beaver, the main character skips the beginning of Robinson Crusoe, after admitting it has a very dull introduction, and jumps to when Crusoe firsts enslaves Friday. When his Indian friend finds the encounter repulsive, the white boy doesn't initially understand why.

Once I found an audiobook of it, I decided to read it to better learn about such an important novel, but I also found it to be repulsive.

Review

Overall:

Rating-2.svg

— This section contains spoilers! —

Good

  • The popularity of the book made it important to the propagation of English literature.
  • Overall the adventure is at least interesting.

Bad

  • In most survival stories, authors take great pains to limit the character's access to luxuries. In this book, Crusoe has at his disposal most of the contents of a ship meant to provide for dozens of men for months. This includes plenty of food and fresh water, wood, rope, and sailcloth for building, a vast array of tools, a couple dozen firearms with plenty of ammunition, and so forth. This makes his survival seem a bit underwhelming. Also, even expert survivalists still have a difficult time surviving for prolonged periods because problems like accidental poisoning, missing a vitamin or mineral from your diet, injury, or infection which are relatively minor issues in a community, can be life-threatening when you're alone. Crusoe, despite having no survival skills of his own at the onset, somehow avoids all these dangers.
  • Defoe was clearly ignorant to just how difficult it is to survive in isolation, even when food and shelter are available. Crusoe occasionally describes his loneliness, but that's about it. However, studies on isolation show how even loners quickly fall prey to mental health problems when they have nobody to talk to.
  • Crusoe muses at how useless the money on the ship is to him only to take it anyway and keep it for years.
  • The natives somehow remain unknown to Crusoe on a small island for several years. I get that they only use the island for their rituals, but these involve making a lot of noise which would surely be heard if not seen from the far side of the island.
  • Crusoe blindly believes the story of the marooned men who could have just as easily been prisoners. He's even willing to kill for them after they tell him they're Christian!
  • The ending sort of peters out and isn't very interesting.

Ugly

  • Much of the book takes a disgustingly racist view of divine providence where the white Christians, through the powers of their god, tame the wild lands and brown savages. Almost all of the white people in the book are kindhearted toward their white brethren while being monstrous colonial slavers to everyone else, and all the people of color are ignorant brutes who are extremely eager to please their white owners. Crusoe, for example, sells Xury, the young man who risked his life for Crusoe multiple times, to a Captain who assures Crusoe he will enslave the young man and force him to convert to Christianity.
  • The book preaches Christian piety to a sickening level. Though not very religious in his youth, Crusoe becomes much more religious when, after becoming violently ill, a prayer to Jehovah and a little bible reading magically cures him overnight. Later, he states that his primary objective every day is to read the bible, even above securing food or shelter. Instead of this quickly leading to his starvation, it causes him to a successfully conquer of the island. Also, when Crusoe first sees the man he would later call Friday, his first thought isn't to rescue him from his pursuers, but to enslave Friday! He even views the impending enslavement as the will of his god! Friday, upon being rescued, immediately worships Crusoe and begs to become the white man's slave, giving up every aspect of his former life in unwavering fidelity with no desires of his own. Crusoe teaches Friday to worship Jesus (apparently, Friday's culture never came up with any beliefs of their own, because he instantly and blindly worships Crusoe's god), and, because of this, Friday loves Crusoe more than anything he ever loved before in his life (it seriously says this in the book). Then, when Crusoe asks Friday if he would resort to his savage ways if he were to return home, Friday says he would tell everyone in his village to become like the white man, stop eating humans, and convert to Christianity.
  • Like so many racists before and after him, Dafoe believed the colonialist lies about Caribbean cannibals who keep and eat humans as livestock. He and refers to them as savage, barbaric, and inhuman; adjectives that would more appropriately be applied to all the white men in this novel.
  • Being a native of the islands, Friday would certainly be far more capable of surviving than Crusoe, but Defoe writes him as being helplessly dependent on the white man to provide him with food and shelter.
  • The book has been printed over the years and many editions contain extremely racist illustrations which show what the target audience for this book thought of native people.

Media

Covers

Documentation

Representation

Strong female character?FailThe women are only ever briefly mentioned.
Bechdel test?FailThere are no named women.
Strong person of color character?FailDafoe describes all non-white people as subhuman.
Queer character?FailThere are no queer characters.

Quotes

  • "It is never too late to be wise."
  • "Fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself."

Adaptions

Several books and films are inspired by or mention Robinson Crusoe. Ones I'm familiar with include the book The Sign of the Beaver and the films, Shipwrecked and Cast Away.

I prefer the Hark! A Vagrant comics.

Links

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