Regarding Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe, explain how the Biblical stories of Original Sin and the Prodigal Son relate to Robinson Crusoe's behavior before his ship is wrecked on the deserted...

Regarding Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe, explain how the Biblical stories of Original Sin and the Prodigal Son relate to Robinson Crusoe's behavior before his ship is wrecked on the deserted island.

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Daniel Defoe’s novel The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is a deeply religious text and suggestions of both “Original Sin” and the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son are both to be found in the pre-shipwreck chapters.  While the notion of a “Prodigal Son” theme is subject to interpretation, however, the suggestion of “Original Sin” is quite explicit.  The opening chapter – Chapter I: Start in Life – is the narrator, Robinson Crusoe’s, memoir of growing up in the city of York anxious to leave the comforts of home for adventure.  Robinson is struggling with his decision to leave home and is encountering considerable opposition on the part of his parents.  The youngest of three sons, one deceased, the other disappeared, Robinson’s parents are protective of him and hope to dissuade him from his dreams of exploration.  His father, “a wise and grave man, gave me serious and excellent counsel against what he foresaw was my design.”  Appealing to his mother as a potential, if unlikely ally, Robinson hopes his father will change his mind.  In the following passage, Robinson relates his failed attempt at convincing his parents to acquiesce in his desire to leave home and become a sailor:

“Though my mother refused to move it to my father, yet I heard afterwards that she reported all the is course to him, and that my father, after showing a great concern at it, said to her, with a sigh, ‘That boy might be happy if he would stay at home; but if he goes abroad, he will be the most miserable wretch that ever was born: I can give no consent to it.’”

The notions of both “Original Sin” and of the Prodigal Son, then, are reinforced when Robinson chooses to ignore his father’s advice and leave anyway:

“I consulted neither father nor mother any more, nor so much as sent them word of it; but leaving them to hear of it as they might, without asking God’s blessing or my father’s, without any consideration of circumstances or consequences, and in an ill hour, God knows, on the 1st of September 1651, I went on board a ship bound for London.”

As the Biblical Prodigal Son departs in search of a life more to his liking, only to discover the realities of the world in which he lived, so Robinson discovers the hardships associated with a life at sea and, subsequently, as a cast-away stranded on a remote island.  Acknowledging the dubious nature of his endeavors, Robinson, at the beginning of Chapter Two cements the notion that Defoe’s novel is a Biblical allegory:

“THAT EVIL INFLUENCE which carried me first away from my father’s house – which hurried me into the wild and indigested notion of raising my fortune, and that impressed those conceits so forcibly upon me as to make me deaf to all good advice, and to the entreaties and even the commands of my father – I say, the same influence, whatever it was, presented the most unfortunate of all enterprises to my view; and I went on board a vessel bound to the coast of Africa; or, as our sailors vulgarly called it, a voyage to Guinea.”

These quotes support the suggestion that both the Biblical concept of “Original Sin” and the story of the Prodigal Son were deliberately woven into Defoe’s tale.  As noted, however, the notion of “Original Sin” as a theme of the novel was made quite explicit, but not before the shipwreck and years spent stranded on the island.  It is in Chapter XIV that Defoe’s protagonist definitively concludes that his actions early in life constituted such a dire and potentially catastrophic error in judgment:

“I mean that of not being satisfied with the station wherein God and Nature hath placed them – for, not to look back upon my primitive condition, and the excellent advice of my father, the opposition to which was, as I may call it, my original sin, my subsequent mistakes of the same kind had been the means of my coming into this miserable condition;” [Emphasis added]

Robinson is acknowledging that, in rejecting the advice of his father, he has committed a grave sin commensurate with that described in the Bible.  As noted earlier, this is a deeply religious text in which God and prayer are frequently invoked.  Panicky seamen during a storm are overheard praying to God for their safety.  The ship’s captain likens Robinson’s determination to go to sea despite the dangers they have already faced to the effects of Jonah on his voyage to Tarshish.  The Biblical allegories are there, and were very obviously no accident.

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Robinson Crusoe

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