What are several of the major themes in Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe?

One of the major themes in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe is the importance of the individual. Crusoe is himself very much an individualist, a man who follows his own star in life. When he becomes stranded on a remote island, his individualism becomes ever more pronounced.

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Novels like Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe allow readers to explore important themes through the lens of an exciting story. In this tale, readers are invited to reflect deeply on ambition, risk and consequences, society versus isolation, and repentance.

Robinson Crusoe is an ambitious man. His family warns him against...

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Novels like Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe allow readers to explore important themes through the lens of an exciting story. In this tale, readers are invited to reflect deeply on ambition, risk and consequences, society versus isolation, and repentance.

Robinson Crusoe is an ambitious man. His family warns him against going to sea, and his father especially tells him that he should try to live a secure, modest life. But this will not do for Crusoe. He wants more, and while he obeys his father for a while, eventually, his ambition asserts itself and he goes to sea. Crusoe is successful at first, and this deepens his ambitions further, but it also leads to problems.

Herein lies the second theme. Crusoe's ambition leads him to take great risks with his money and himself, and these risks lead to not-so-pleasant consequences. After his second voyage, Crusoe ends up a slave in North Africa. Even after that hard lesson, though, Crusoe keeps on going. He embarks on a slave-trading voyage (ironic!) and ends up the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Crusoe's risk-taking has gotten him in major trouble this time.

This also leads us to our third theme. Crusoe is now stuck on an island all by himself. He has to learn how to survive on his own and face the loneliness and struggles of isolation. This is a man used to society. Even though he acts for himself and by himself in his journeys and throughout his life, this isolation is something totally different, for he has been forcibly separated from society. Still, Crusoe adapts, spending several years with his parrot and goats before even seeing another human being. His isolation is finally broken when he rescues Friday and eventually returns to England, but his experiences have changed him. He is never fully comfortable in normal society again and ends up as a trader in the East Indies.

Finally, Robinson Crusoe, alone on his island, must face his own failures and sins. He can no longer escape them through his activities. Through a vision of an angel, Crusoe admits his sins and accepts God's forgiveness for them.

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Right from the start of the book, we can see that Robinson Crusoe is nothing if not an individualist. Turning his back on the prevailing moral standards of the time, which include obeying one's elders and betters, Crusoe ignores the objections of his father and heads out to sea.

Crusoe's father had wanted him to pursue a career in law, but young Robinson isn't interested; he'd much rather make his fortune, and what better way to do that than to take to the ocean waves, where there's plenty of money to be made?

In going against his father's wishes, Crusoe is showing himself to be an individualist. He wants to make his own way in the world, and on his terms. He hates the thought of being tied down by what he sees as petty social constraints. The world is his oyster, and he's determined to explore it.

When Crusoe eventually ends up stranded on a remote desert island, his sense of individualism, if anything, becomes even more acute. Due to his enforced island captivity, Crusoe has become, more than ever, the center of his own universe, the biggest and brightest star in his own firmament.

And yet, without this heightened sense of individuality, it's likely that Crusoe would've gone out of his mind all alone on the island. There may be something odious about Crusoe's self-regard, but in the final analysis, it's stood him in good stead through some pretty sticky situations, and it ultimately redounds to his benefit.

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Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe tells the story of a man cast away on an isolated island who attempts to create a life for himself. An important thing to note in reading the novel is that Daniel Defoe was himself a Dissenter and a strong advocate for the rights of Dissenters to freedom of conscience. Many of his protagonist's spiritual developments reflect this.

The first theme in the book is one of survival. In his experience being shipwrecked, Crusoe must think about what is absolutely necessary for physical survival. 

The theme of survival leads to a second theme, which is awareness that in our lives in civilization we constantly long for many things we do not actually need. Thus Crusoe reflects on the theme, or sin, of covetousness:

Those people cannot enjoy comfortably what God has given them because they see and covet what He has not given them. All of our discontents for what we want appear to me to spring from want of thankfulness for what we have.

The next theme is spiritual growth. Away from the regular life of civilization Crusoe begins to understand that religion does not require elaborate rituals or priests, but faith, a position which was the central tenet of many Dissenters. 

Another important theme is the value of self-sufficiency and hard work. Crusoe makes a life for himself on the island by setting goals and achieving them through self-discipline and hard work, a point that might be expressed in Virgil's phrase "labor omnia vincit."

Another major theme is colonialism as it appears in Crusoe's relationship to Friday, which is a microcosm of the British empire's relationships with indigenous peoples.

An additional theme is fear. It is only by overcoming his fears that Crusoe can create a happy life on the island.

A final theme is money, which is essential in the civilized world, but useless in the world of the island.

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