In The Swiss Family Robinson, what was the father's purpose in teaching his sons through object lessons, devotions, physical exercise, and books of knowledge?

The father in The Swiss Family Robinson spends a lot of time instructing and training his sons. In this way, he is able to benefit the family and help his boys become virtuous men. He wants his children to be good not only for their own sake, but also for God's glory.

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The father in The Swiss Family Robinson spends a lot of time instructing and training his sons.  It is clear that he was in the habit of doing so well before the family was shipwrecked.

From the content of what he says and from comments in the narrative, we can find three purposes for this training:

  1. The good of the family
  2. The good of the boys themselves
  3. The glory of God

First, the good of the family. The narrative shows many times how the father's practice of training his boys in various skills and attitudes can benefit or even save the whole family in a survival situation.  In chapter eleven, after the father and the eldest son Fritz return from an expedition, the mother relates how she felt safe even in their absence:

"I could not help feeling thankful that you had so early taught the boys to use firearms properly, as the defense of my youngest boy [6 years old] and myself now depended on the two boys of ten and twelve years of age."

The father's molding of his sons' characters can also prevent tragic conflict from breaking out within the family itself.  In chapter four, he warns Fritz against "uncontrolled anger," adding, "Remember Cain, who killed his brother in a fit of passion." Considering that the Robinsons are the only six people on the island, with no society to restrain them, it is easy to see how this could become a real danger unless the Robinson boys are trained in virtue.  

Second, the good of the boys themselves.  As a good father, Mr. Robinson is concerned that his boys become capable, responsible adults.  He wants to mold their character not just for his own benefit, but so that they grow up to be men of honor. He is a sharp observer of their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, as we see in chapter three when he gives a very brief sketch of each boy's character. For example: "Ernest, twelve years of age, well-informed and rational, but somewhat selfish and indolent."  Throughout the book, we find many instances of the father giving his sons little assignments to work out on their own, because he wants them to learn this or that skill and become independent. 

Finally, the glory of God.  Mr. Robinson is very concerned that the family honor and obey God.  He sees it as part of his duty to teach his children God's law and actually train them to obey it.  This is obvious from a sermon the father gives in chapter sixteen, wherein a "king" (in context, obviously God) says to his followers,

"I wish you all to acquire the knowledge of my laws, and that every father should keep a copy to read daily to his children, that they [my laws] may never be forgotten. ... He who obeys my commands in Earthly Abode shall receive a rich reward in Heavenly City ..."

The mention of reward makes it obvious that the father does not wish to glorify God at the expense of his boys.  Rather, if the Robinson boys learn to honor and obey God, it will also do them good.  They will be virtuous in this life, and one day they will reach heaven.  However, the father also wants to glorify God for God's own sake, because God is good and has saved and provided for the family many times.  As he says in the last chapter, "Our hearts overflowed with love and veneration for that Almighty hand which so miraculously saved, and continued to protect us."

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