Eighteenth Century / Robinson Crusoe

Fate and Responsibility in Robinson Crusoe

Something that really struck me in the beginning of the text is the contradictory way that Crusoe assigns responsibility for his misfortunes. While on the one hand he continually reminds the reader that he himself is to blame for his failure to follow the advice of his father (and god?), on the other, he attributes his horrible judgment to an irresistible force outside himself.  He is constantly making references to his ‘ill fate’, which he claims to be unable to escape. I’m interested in the contradictory aspect of Crusoe’s conception of his experiences.


In some aspect the story seems very didactic, showing the inevitable downfall of greed and hubris.  Extensive time is spent establishing how satisfactory and even luxurious Crusoe’s origins are, first in his upper-middle class family and then at his plantation in the Brazils.  In his family situation special care is taken to explain why it is superior to be in his somewhat modest station, and in the case of the plantation, the focus is on how successful he would have been had he not gotten greedy and impatient. In both cases he displays a dooming kind of hubris and greed.


It is plain to see how Crusoe is being punished for these characteristics both in the story and in Crusoe’s own narrative.  As a narrator, he is continually owning the fact that his failure to heed good advice, grave warnings, and his own better judgment are the direct cause of his suffering. At the same time, when he describes these moments of decision, he describes being fated to make these bad choices. It is his ill fate, not his own faults, which cause him to choose the paths that will lead to his destruction.


This conception of himself is somewhat problematic for me because it assigns responsibility for his life to contradictory places. Is his life pre-destined? He seems to think that it is. But he also seems to feel that his struggle is a just punishment for his greedy and prideful character. If he is doomed to make bad decisions and then is punished for them this casts God in an unfavorable light. 


One thought on “Fate and Responsibility in Robinson Crusoe

  1. I think that this is a common struggle for all mankind. What do we believe in? Is there truly something greater than ourselves? Mankind has used “stories” for as far back as recorded history to explain away that which they do not understand. This is evident in the book as well, “but it was his Opinion tht they were so dreadfully frighted with the Manner of their being attack’d, the Noise and the Fire, that they believed they would tell their People, they were all kill’d by Thunder and Lightning, not by the Hand of Man, and that the two which appear’d, (viz.) Friday and me, were two Heavenly Spirits or Furies, come down to destroy them, and not Men with Weapons”. (pg.204).

    This applies not just to the Cannibals that Crusoe encountered, but can be found across all different regions and religions. Mankind has always found ways to explain what they can not always understand at first. It is this constant struggle between answer and reason.

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