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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Analyze Robinson Crusoe as a bildungsroman.

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Robinson Crusoe follows the trajectory of a classic bildungsroman by showing Crusoe mature through adversity from a self-centered youth who wants to get rich quickly to a wiser person who understands the role of providence in his life, learns to work hard, save, and plan, and ends up grateful for what he has.

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A bildungsroman is a novel that explores the growth, development, and maturity of a person on the journey through life. Often, this experience is acquired on a literal journey away from home.

Robinson Crusoe , in addition to being an adventure story, is a bildungsroman. Crusoe begins his young adult...

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life as a willful young man who will not pay attention to his parents' advice. He is determined to make his fortune in the wider world and so sets out as a sailor. He has little use, at this point, for God or providence.

After he gains his plantation in Brazil and the possibility of the prosperous, comfortable life it will afford him, he remains dissatisfied. As puts it, he had all the "happy things" that his father had advised a "middle station of life to be full of" but persisted in an "obstinate adhering to my foolish inclination of wandering abroad." At this point, he had "a rash and immoderate desire of rising faster than the nature of the thing admitted:" in other words, he is overly ambitious to get rich quickly so he heads back out to sea.

Crusoe's greed leads to his position as the sole survivor of a shipwreck on a deserted island. This situation, which at first throws him into deep despair, becomes an an opportunity for spiritual growth and maturity. He begins to realize that God is watching over him, both because his life was spared in the shipwreck and because God has provided for his survival on the island. This new faith inspires a new gratitude for what he does have rather than an endless yearning for immoderate wealth.

Crusoe works hard, plans, carefully marshals his resources, and thrives after his initial despair. He learns to make the best of his situation, teaching his parrot to "talk" to him, and finally feeling joy and content that he is master of his kingdom (never questioning, however, whether it is really his to take). While he was once discontented among many people, he is grateful now when finally finds and saves Friday and can make him a servant and companion.

After he is rescued from the island after many years, he indicates he has become a wiser and more mature man:

A life of Providence’s chequer-work, and of a variety which the world will seldom be able to show the like of; beginning foolishly, but closing much more happily than any part of it ever gave me leave so much as to hope for.

He realizes his life has been a "chequer-work," or mix of good and bad, but that in the end it has ended happily. He has gone from an impetuous youth wanting to get rich quickly to a faithful man who understands that the middle-class virtues of slow and steady work are valuable and who has grown to appreciate what he has.

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Analyze Robinson Crusoe as a Bildungsroman.

Our first step in analyzing Robinson Crusoe as a Bildungsroman is to define “Bildungsroman” and discuss the characteristics of this genre. Bildungsroman is a German word that literally translates as “education-novel.” It presents the education and especially the psychological and moral formation of a young person. The Bildungsroman is generally written from the first-person perspective of the young person in question, and it is sometimes labeled as a “coming-of-age” story, for that is its primary theme. The character must become a mature adult.

Now let's see how Robinson Crusoe fits the Bildungsroman pattern. The story is told from the first-person perspective of the title character. He is a young man as the tale opens and all set to strike out on his own. He wants to go to sea and have adventures, but his father wants him to study law and settle down to a modest, secure life. Young Crusoe has every intention of obeying his father until the lure of the sea becomes too tempting and he set out on a merchant ship. The voyage goes well, and Crusoe makes money, so he sets out yet again.

This time, though, Crusoe ends up shipwrecked and stuck by himself on an island. Crusoe must grow up in a hurry. He learns how to grow and raise his own food, provide shelter for himself, and find or make what he needs to live. He also experiences a spiritual and religious awakening as he comes to terms with his past sins and discovers God's forgiveness. Crusoe continues to grow and develop through his “education” on the island and as he learns more and more about himself. By the time he is rescued, he is a completely different person than he was at the time he was shipwrecked. He has truly come of age. His education may not be traditional, but it is education nonetheless, and we can see how Robinson Crusoe is very much a Bildungsroman.

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