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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In Robinson Crusoe, how does Daniel Defoe explore the idea of individualism?

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In the early eighteenth century, writers such as Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe, spurrred on largely by the Cook's exploration in the South Pacific, set their stories in the exotic locales about which they had read.  In Defoe's Robinson Crusoe specifically, the author integrates the novel's setting into the themes he examines in the text.  Foremost among them is the idea of individualism and the individual's ability to survive in the world.

Defoe's protagonist, Robinson Crusoe, though certainly not a brave or courageous character, finds himself on a remote, deserted island, a setting that should demand both.  At the very least, Crusoe's situation requires him to find a way to survive on his own.  Crusoe's relative lack of bravery or courage make him a good candidate for this "experiment."  He is not particularly suited for the task at hand.  Throughout the early stages of the novel, Crusoe, assuming the role of an adventurer, embarks on adventures around the island to search for food, shelter, and hopefully, a means of escape.  When his hopes of rescue begin to fade (and by this time he has encountered Friday), Crusoe is presented with a greater challenge. Having no cues for how to define his relationship with Friday, Crusoe adapts the social system with which he is familiar, relegating Friday to the level of servant. 

As the novel progresses, Defoe presents Crusoe with continued challenges to test his ability to overcome them.  Ultimately, Defoe implicitly argues for an individual's ability to survive, even when presented with such daunting circumstances. 


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