Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

8:22 AM

“Why has God done this to me? What have I done to be thus used?”
Robinson Crusoe - Chapter 8 "The Journal"

Many people hated reading that dreadfully long story about a guy stuck in an island. But what Robinson Crusoe lacks in action, it makes up for in heroism.

Think: his ship sank, he is the only survivor. His reaction is to make a list of the bad aspects while rationalizing that those aren’t as bad as they could be. ““Evil: I am cast upon a horrible desolate island, void of all hope of recovery. Good:But I am alive, and not drowned, as all my ship’s company was.” (Chapter 6 "I build my fortress")

So, Crusoe actually teaches us how to go from despair and grief to gratitude and self-reliance.

The proof that what he teaches us is so essential is that his stoicism seems impossible to modern readers. On the IMDB forum for Castaway (the movie with Tom Hanks with a similar story) someone asked a curious question: “Why didn’t he act crazy when he got back?”*

Apparently, it was unrealistic for a person that lived for such a long time without any human contact or any sign of our modern civilization to come back “normal”. I guess with so many movies of people going crazy after traumatic situations, it is expected that people go crazy. If you don’t go crazy… now, that’s very strange.

“I might be more happy in this solitary condition than I should have been in a liberty of society.”
Robinson Crusoe - Chapter 14

However, I don’t think it is unrealistic at all. It was the person’s ability to adapt to a new environment that made him survive in the first place. It is likely that this same ability will help him adapt to modern society as well.

I wonder what Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe’s author and a proponent of Realism, would say when accused of being unrealistic. Or what he would think if he knew that to us it is strange for a person not to go crazy.

How do you feel about Crusoe’s adventures – inspiring or boring? 

* The link for this comment no longer exists, because it's a couple of years old. I guess IMDB deletes older comments. However, on the current IMDB Castaway forum someone asks why he didn't commit suicide. This goes even further than the previous comment. It implies that it's impossible to bear being stranded on an island. But then again, Crusoe provides the answer: "O what ridiculous resolutions man take when possessed with fear! It deprives them of the use of those means which reasons offer for their relief." (Chapter 14 "I find the print of a man's naked foot")

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  1. I've read RC when I was a pre-teen (think I was ten or eleven) and his solitude didn't bother me then, but I was truly amazed by his ingenuity. He could even make an umbrella!! My favorite part, then? When he finds out how to make his pottery lasts longer by "cooking" them in slow fire ... (I know there are not the proper words, but it's 23:17 and I feel a bit lazy to look for the right words) Great book, indeed!!

  2. It's so encouraging to watch him learn everything he needs to know in order to survive. He has a goat, he makes cheese, he plants grapes. His perseverance is palpable. I seriously thought about trying to dry grapes the way he does!


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