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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Is Robinson Crusoe more than an adventure story?

Robinson Crusoe is more than an adventure story in that is one of the first novels in English and therefore deeply influenced the novel form. The novel is also a striking reflection of European imperialism in the early 18th century.

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Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel, Robinson Crusoe , is more—much more—than an adventure story. Historically, it is of great importance as one of the first (some might argue the first) English novels. This alone would guarantee its place in the literary canon. It is also interesting as an example of...

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Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel, Robinson Crusoe, is more—much more—than an adventure story. Historically, it is of great importance as one of the first (some might argue the first) English novels. This alone would guarantee its place in the literary canon. It is also interesting as an example of a travelogue narrative, and in fact many readers thought it was a real story when it was first published. This blend of fact and fiction remained an influential mode in the early stages of the novel.

Robinson Crusoe can also be richly analyzed as a reflection of European imperialism. Robinson, trapped alone on the island, represents England, civilization, and, some argue, the imperialist spirit of empire. James Joyce remarked that Crusoe "is the true prototype of the British colonist." Islands in fiction can represent many different things, including a place of retreat and solitude, a utopia (such as in Thomas More's Utopia), a new Eden, or, conversely, a place of savagery. Readers are left to decide the meaning of Crusoe's narrative as he shapes the island to his own needs and desires. But the fact that he is, in some sense, subduing nature arguably reflects the values of Western civilization. Another way in which the novel reflects the values of Western civilization in Defoe's time is the character of Friday, a "native" of the island who becomes Crusoe's servant and whom Crusoe converts to Christianity. This element alone speaks to the colonizing and missionary nature of Crusoe and, by extension, European nations.

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