illustration of a man standing on an island and looking out at the ocean with the title Robison Crusoe written in the sky

Robinson Crusoe

by Daniel Defoe

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Comment on the expression ''dreadful deliverance'' in Robinson Crusoe.

The expression "dreadful deliverance" is an oxymoron that concisely sums up Crusoe's predicament. A storm has left him the lone survivor of a shipwreck. This is a deliverance, because he is still alive. On the other hand, he is in dreadful circumstances, because he has no means of survival. He wonders if he has lived through the shipwreck only to die on the island.

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The expression “dreadful deliverance” is both an oxymoron and a candid statement of both the good and the bad that Robinson Crusoe can see in his situation. On the positive side, he isn’t dead like the rest of his shipmates. This is where “deliverance,” which is defined as being rescued or set free, comes into the equation. On the “dreadful” side of the coin, he has washed up on a seemingly uninhabited island where, unbeknownst to him, he is going to spend the next twenty-eight years of his life.

This act of surviving the wreck—this “dreadful deliverance”—is the beginning of a process which Crusoe ends up following in order to create a new life as best he can in his new circumstances. By rescuing a prisoner from a group of island cannibals, he gets himself a servant, whom he names Friday. In the long run, things do not turn out to be as “dreadful” as they had initially seemed. He clearly doesn’t miss England much in the long run, because he returns there only briefly after his rescue before setting out on another adventure.

He utters this phrase at a moment when he is still in the early stages of attempting to process what has happened to him. It is unlikely that he would have used the word “dreadful” once he had begun to adapt to his new surroundings.

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The term "dreadful deliverance" is an oxymoron, a figure of speech in which two opposite ideas are juxtaposed.

Robinson Crusoe has just survived the shipwreck that killed the rest of his shipmates. He has been washed up onto a seemingly deserted island. This salvation from death is what he refers to when he says he has had a "deliverance." Deliverance is a positive word, as it means that he has been rescued from disaster. The implication is that this was an act of God (even though at this point, Crusoe has very little religious faith).

"Dreadful," however, is a highly negative term that Crusoe uses to refer to the fact that he is now all alone on a deserted island without any supplies, weapons, food, or means of survival. It occurs to him that he might have been delivered from a quick death only to face a slow—or horrible—death in a hostile environment. The phrase he uses is a concise way of summing up his predicament.

The phrase shows Crusoe at a moment of disorientation and despair as he starts to face the traumatic events that have occurred. It will not take him long, however, to pull himself together and to start making practical plans to survive.

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This suitably ambiguous expression adequately sums up how Crusoe feels right after his shipwreck. On the one hand, he has been delivered from what at one point seemed like near-certain death. But on the other, it's a dreadful deliverance in that he finds himself marooned on a desert island, far from the civilization whose benefits he'd always taken...

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for granted.

Note also how Crusoe, in using this expression, shifts responsibility for his predicament onto Providence. Yet he's only in this mess because of his own recklessness and greed. Had he not embarked upon such a risky slave-trading expedition then he wouldn't have ended up being stranded on a desert island in the first place.

At this stage, Crusoe is quite happy to blame his misfortunes on Providence, but not as yet willing to acknowledge that that very same Providence has given him everything he needs for survival. Only later, when Crusoe undergoes a profound religious conversion in the wake of a deadly fever, will he acknowledge the crucial role of God in this regard.

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Crusoe is commenting on his initial reaction after surviving the wreck of his ship off the deserted island. On the beach, he looks far out to the ocean and cannot believe how far the wreck of his ship is away from shore, and how rough the sea is. He is thus very grateful and amazed to have survived, and indeed wonders how he was able to get to shore. But when he looks at the situation he has found himself in, he realizes that his escape from death was a "dreadful deliverance":

I was wet, had no clothes...nor anything either to eat or drink to comfort me; neither did I see any prospect before me but that of perishing with hunger or being devoured by wild beasts; and...I had no weapon, either to hunt and kill any creature for my sustenance, or to defend myself...In a word, I had nothing about me but a knife, a tobacco-pipe, and a little tobacco in a box.

Overwhelmed with panic and self-pity, he runs around on the beach "like a madman." But he quickly regains his wits and begins gathering wood, searching for water, and figuring out possibilities for self-defense. Having done so, he lays down to rest, and sleeps "as comfortably as, I believe, any could have done in my condition." Faced with panic, he returns to industriousness and organization to survive, a trend which will repeat itself throughout his experience on the island. His deliverance may be dreadful, but he immediately sets to making the best of it.

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