Robinson Crusoe Questions and Answers
by Daniel Defoe

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Discuss realism in Robinson Crusoe and explain why Defoe is considered the father of realism.

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Although Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is a novel, it purports to be a travel narrative, a genre which has always been replete with bizarre fantasies, even when the author claimed not to be writing fiction. Even Christopher Columbus, in a comparatively restrained and sober account, claimed to have seen Sirens. It is rather striking, therefore, that Defoe, who was avowedly writing fiction and could easily have filled his book with dwarves and giants, like Gulliver's Travels, or forty-foot crocodiles and trips to the moon, like Baron Munchausen, stayed strictly within the realms of the plausible.

Defoe gives a lot of detail in his writing, with specific dates and real places. This tribute to reality can be seen from the first sentence of Robinson Crusoe:

I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull.

Three places are mentioned, two of them unnecessary, and Crusoe goes on to provide us with...

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Defoe's most important innovation in fiction was his unprecedented and complete narrative realism. Robinson Crusoe itself was widely regarded as authentic at the time of publication, Defoe makes the claim that he, writing merely as "Editor," "believes the thing to be a just history of fact; neither is there any appearance of fiction in it."

This is not literally true. Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for Crusoe would have been familiar to Defoe but the character is largely of Defoe's invention. He describes his characters with so much circumstantial detail that the reader can only conclude that things actually happened in just that way. This means that the reader begins to think the  book not as fiction but sees it more as a historical statement.

The main aim of the writing is clearly to keep as close as possible to the consciousness of the narrator as he struggles to make the situation clear to himself and to us.

Defoe concentrates his description on the qualities of objects such as Crusoe’s first clay pot, his crudely fashioned fur garments, his umbrella, the boat, the grindstone. This use of highly descriptive language highlights the “realism” in the work and places Defoe among the great realist writers.