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Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe is a story of one man’s adventure to become his own person, free of inherited wealth and station.  He rejects his family’s pleas to stay at home where it is safe and he can have a good education, live comfortably, and be happy.  Immediately after departing, Crusoe’s ship falls upon bad weather and he is nearly killed.  Crusoe muses that despite his ill fortune, he must press on.  It is not without pondering the consequences of his actions, however.  He ponders the warnings of his parents and even considers turning around and heading home, but with an unknown sense of self-destruction, he continues his adventure:

But my ill fate pushed me on now with an obstinacy that nothing could resist; and thought I had several times loud calls from my reason and my more composed judgment to go home, yet I had no power to do it. I know not what to call this, nor will I urge that it is a secret overruling decree, that hurries us on to be the instruments of our own destruction, even though it be before us, and that we rush upon it with our eyes open. Certainly, nothing but some such decreed unavoidable misery, which it was impossible for me to escape, could have pushed me forward against the calm reasonings and persuasions of my most retired thoughts, and against two such visible instructions as I had met with in my first attempt.

Each time Crusoe has a near-death experience, he goes through the same process of recovery. He always thinks back to what could have been if he had stayed home, waits a little while for the terror to become a distant memory, and sets out again. It is important to note that Crusoe himself doesn’t understand the motivations for why he continually puts himself in situations where he suffers needlessly. He seems to be thinking soundly, because he states that one part of him urges him to take the easy route, to go home and live how his family intended for him to live, but he has an insatiable urge to press on in his adventure. This insatiable urge must stem from his need to become an independent man and not follow in his family’s footsteps, as evidenced by his original desires to leave home.

An additional point to note is that at one point in his travels, Crusoe ends up owning and maintaining a successful farm. It takes him some time and trouble to get to that point, during which he never complains about the effort that it takes, but once he realizes that most of the hard work is done, he becomes complacent and yearns to move on. He muses about how he could have ended up doing the same thing back home, surrounded by friends and family, but now he doesn’t desire to continue farming forever. He must search out more adventure. At this point, Crusoe’s motivations must have changed. It is no longer enough to “make it on his own”, he must achieve something greater. He is still very much aware of the dangers of venturing out (especially because almost every time he does so, tragedy happens almost immediately), but that is not enough to dissuade him. It is almost as if he needs to struggle, becoming complacent is enough to make him depressed, “I must go

and leave the happy view I had of being a rich and thriving man in my new plantation, only to pursue a rash and immoderate desire of rising faster than the nature of the thing admitted; and thus I cast myself down again into the deepest gulf of human misery that ever man fell into”. It is unclear is Crusoe has delusions of grandeur or if he chooses to take the difficult road as a test of honor or manhood. Either way, at some point Crusoe must develop achievable, concrete goals, or he will succumb to disaster.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/521/521-h/521-h.htm

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2 thoughts on “Robinson Crusoe

  1. I think you have done a very interesting reading of Robinson Crusoe. I definitely agree that Crusoe had a strong desire and aptitude for the types of adventures he gets himself into, but I feel like there are several things that need to be reconciled before we can definitively call it a desire to be a self-made man. One thing that really stood out to me was the fact that he is so quick to praise God each time he pulls through a near-death experience, rather than believing that it was his own struggle that gave him deliverance. Another complicating factor is his desire to use slave labor. Literally, he wants to keep building his plantation on the backs of others. This desire is also the reason that he sets off from Brazil; it’s not that he simply wanted some grand adventure. In terms of trying to reconcile these elements with your reading, I feel like they would not have been disqualifying for someone hoping to be a self-made man during this time period. Owning slaves and thanking God were likely part of what it meant for someone to be a self-made man in those days. Either way, I think it is really interesting how all of these dynamics come together in the novel.

  2. I think it is interesting how you pointed out about his recovery process after a near death experience. I found this process interesting as well, how he starts to regret his decisions and think of everything he did wrong and could have possible done right. I think that he may look back and question his choices because of the fact that he went against his father’s wishes on his travels. He does have a good sense of business, since he can keep different businesses afloat for a while until something tragic and unseen occurs. Why do you think that he always ends up regretting his decisions though? Is it maybe because of how close he was with his family and decided to go against their wishes and go out to sea multiple times even with death-threatening adventures and experiences? How do you think his family influenced his choices to go on his adventures, especially with how they did not want him to go in the first place?

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