Robinson Crusoe

Bringing Order to Chaos

There is an argument mounted by environmental philosophers that states, more or less, that the root of our environmental problems stems from the false biblical view that humans were given dominion over the earth by God and that it was their duty to subdue it. In Genesis 1:28, for example, it states: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” Setting the environmental impact of this ideology aside, it is useful as a tool for analyzing Robinson Crusoe’s behaviors, e.g. his needless killing for sport, drowning kittens for convenience, and domesticating wild animals to name a few. Robinson is clearly portrayed by Defoe as endorsing the ideology that he has dominion over the earth and that his duty is to bring it under submission. This is exemplified every time Robinson admits that the island is his kingdom, which implies that he is sovereign ruler over everything on it. What does this have to do with bringing order to chaos? Nature, the wild, chaotic, unknown and savage, is to be ordered by man for man. Robinson Crusoe is more or less a story about bringing order to what is chaotic (even the chaos within ourselves). We begin with total chaos, the storm, and we progress toward everything from cheese and pottery-making, to agriculture, carpentry, and maintaining livestock. The most basic element of each of these things is the bringing of order, either through understanding or force. Agriculture was successful when he understood and ordered the seasons. Maintaining livestock was successful when he tamed or ordered the goats. Pottery-making was much more successful or more ordered when he devised a wheel. Did you notice Robinson’s overall obsession with creating order? He built a shelf, for instance, just to bring order to his belonging. He made earthenware and baskets to order his foods. He dug various compartments in his cave so that everything would have its place. I am interested to find out what all this hubbub about order will amount to by the end of the novel.


One thought on “Bringing Order to Chaos

  1. I interpreted Crusoe’s determination to control and bring order to the island’s chaos in all the ways you described as something of a reaction to the sequence of events that lead to his shipwreck and isolation. In the opening sections of the novel, Crusoe finds himself time and again at the mercy of chaos – not only capital-N Nature, as in the storms that mark his first days at sea and later maroon him on the island, but the capriciousness of world events and human nature as well, as in his capture and enslavement on the Barbary Coast. In the course of the novel’s events, Crusoe is conditioned to believe that he suffers when he places himself at the whims of Nature and its essential uncertainty and disorder, and prospers when, as on his plantation in Brazil and later on the island, he asserts his authority over his “dominion” and harnesses its power for his own gain. Perhaps the choice he is presented is not quite so dire as, “Kill or be killed” – but it is at least, “Dominate or be dominated.”

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