Essays and Criticism
Robinson Crusoe: A Guidebook for English Colonialism
Today, the typical reading of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe assumes that the novel is central to the bourgeois myth. However, as Diana Spearman and others have pointed out, the story of a man in isolation for twenty-four years is a strange myth for a class of people dependent on an economic system that requires people to interact with one another through an economic medium.
Instead, Defoe's novel meditates on the redeeming qualities offered by the labor of colonialism for the Englishman. Work was the way to civilize the wilderness of the New World and achieve peace with God. The project of colonialism, as the Puritans were proving at the start of the eighteenth century, provided a profitable way of realizing God's directive in Genesis: "be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it."
Although too old to follow God's directive, Defoe hoped to persuade the English people to engage in the good work. He even shows them how—the Englishman must be ruthless yet reasonable in order to conquer nature and receive God's reward. Defoe's novel encourages England to emulate the Puritans in their success.
He believed that Englishmen were destined to succeed at colonialism if they overcame their fear through the use of their psychological tools: their reason, their work ethic, and their Protestant faith. In Robinson Crusoe, Defoe imagines a true-born Englishman fulfilling his fantasy. Throughout the novel, Defoe makes clear...
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The Creation of an Ordered World in Robinson Crusoe
A favourite scene of the illustrators of Robinson Crusoe is Crusoe's discovery of the footprint on the sand. Crusoe can be seen peering downwards in surprise and shock at an oversize and remarkably distinct single footprint, which, when we check the story, oddly enough is still visible several days later. The image remains in the mind, a crystallization of what the book has come to mean to us, the hero in his shaggy goatskins, his isolation, his ever-present danger from unknown cannibals. The footprint scene comes well on in the novel, and its effect belongs as much to what popularity, posterity and Disneyland have done to Crusoe, as to the text itself. For the reader, an image as strong appears earlier: that of Crusoe driven by the earthquake from his refuge in the rock, sitting alone in the storm, outside his palisade. He is, he tells us, "greatly cast down and disconsolate," "very much terrify'd and dejected," and remains in his solitary, defenceless position for upwards of two hours. His wits quite leave him at first, he has no notion of what to do, and it is not until he all of a sudden decides that the wind and the rain which follow the earthquake are the consequence of the earthquake, and it would be safe for him to retreat once more into his cave, that he can make any motion at all. Defoe does not tell us so, but we imagine Crusoe as sitting and shivering, clasping his knees, his head bowed in despair.
Between them the two scenes might...
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Symbolic Elements in Robinson Crusoe
Although Defoe claimed in the Serious Reflections that Robinson Crusoe was in part an allegory of his own life, attempts to connect details in the book with specific experiences in the life of Defoe have not been found convincing. Complicated as the connection is between Defoe's life and his works, I believe that the claim may yet be found valid if we look at the book as a symbolic account of a spiritual experience rather than a kind of cipher of its author's life. It is quite possible that the symbolism is by no means a part of Defoe's intention; as his imagination warmed to its task, the story began to take on its symbolic overtones, and his later comment is merely an attempt to defend himself against the charges of trying to pass off fiction as fact.
Allegory seems to have been always congenial to the Puritan mind as a legitimate province in which the imagination might exercise itself; and although at times in the eighteenth century it came to be looked down upon as a rather crude vehicle of literary expression, it continued longer as a vital tradition in the dissenting milieu in which Defoe's mind was molded than in more advanced intellectual and literary circles. Defoe can hardly have been unaffected by the forces that shaped Bunyan and that accounted for the continued popularity of his allegories. It is perhaps surprising that in view of his background we do not find more evidences of allegory in the work of Defoe.
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