How is Robinson Crusoe an Enlightened character?

Expert Answers
jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Robinson Crusoe's exploits are in part inspired by Locke, an Enlightenment philosopher whose Essay Concerning Human Understanding advocated learning through experience and perception. Crusoe deliberately does not heed his father's advice to stay in England and become a lawyer, and is eventually shipwrecked on an island where he must fend for himself. In so doing, he embodies Locke's ideas about how to improve one's knowledge. For example, in Chapter IV, when Crusoe arrives on the island, he goes about trying to saw off parts of the shipwrecked boat for his own use. He says, "But the hope of furnishing myself with necessaries encouraged me to go beyond what I should have been able to have done upon another occasion." His need to survive helps him learn more about his environment.

Locke advocates using one's perception of one's surroundings to develop more advanced abstract thoughts. Crusoe's efforts to rescue practical items he needs on the ship lead him to more abstract thoughts, such as the uselessness of money. Upon coming across money on the ship, he thinks:

I smiled to myself at the sight of this money: ‘O drug!’ said I, aloud, ‘what art thou good for? Thou art not worth to me—no, not the taking off the ground; one of those knives is worth all this heap.

In the past, Crusoe has been driven by money to go on a slave ship, but his practical experiences as a shipwrecked sailor lead him to the abstract conclusion that money is useless to him. In the manner Locke prescribes, he understands the world better. 

The book also includes the ideas of Hobbes, another Enlightenment figure who believed in absolute monarchy. Crusoe finds an escaped prisoner and names the man Friday. The man immediately becomes submissive to him. Crusoe describes Friday in the following:

At last he lays his head flat upon the ground, close to my foot, and sets my other foot upon his head, as he had done before; and after this made all the signs to me of subjection, servitude, and submission imaginable, to let me know how he would serve me so long as he lived.

Crusoe is a type of Enlightened despot who still believes in subjugating local people. In this sense, he embodies the Hobbesian idea of the absolute monarch and is an Enlightenment figure in this regard.

Read the study guide:
Robinson Crusoe

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question