Essay on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe: Critical Analysis from Different Perspectives

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This extract belongs to the opening of Robinson Crusoe's journal, the main protagonist of Daniel Defoe’s novel The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. This novel has been analyzed from different perspectives by critics: as an adventure story, as the enthusiastic European imperialistic drive for colonization present in the 18th-century English society or as a meditation on the human condition.

Robinson Crusoe draws inspiration from one of the main important figures of the Age of Reason, the empiricist philosopher John Locke. In comparison to the Cartesian theory ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’, Locke states that knowledge is not intrinsically present in the subjects’ minds. Consequently, he rejects Descartes’ objectivity and highlights the relevance of the subjective individual’s perspective of the world. His theory is visibly rooted in 18th-century novels, as they began to focus on developing a new style of writing based on the first person I, following the Enlightenment ideas that were centred on the importance of reason and the senses as primary sources of knowledge.

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Robinson Crusoe is a clear example of how 18th-century authors achieved their purpose. In the novel, the recording of the protagonist’s thoughts on a journal is the perfect example of the analysis of the individual’s psyche: Robinson Crusoe starts writing this journal after his boat got shipwrecked and finds himself alone on a desert island, as he feels the importance of staying aware of his situation. Crusoe decides to describe the story of his life in his journal (some biographical background, adventures, relevant aspects and accomplishments), as a way of persevering his identity in a context of opposite realities: the contrast between him being an York’s upper-class man and him being a shipwreck survivor. Nevertheless, the aim of autobiographical writing in this novel is also to show the main character’s arch to emphasize the transformation of Crusoe’s subjective self-perception of the world, the self-identity construction process, and the spatial and time evolution of the novel. By the end of the self-analysis, there is a specific moment that marks a turning point in Crusoe’s attitude: After reading the Bible, there is a change in his writing style: his subjective perspective on the world remains unaltered, but he deliberately remarks the specific experiences that demonstrate the virtues of a faithful man. Therefore, it is demonstrated in Defoe’s novel that characters can achieve such self-awareness by interacting with their environment, by changing their viewpoint and by being influenced by external factors, as human beings do in the real world.

Robinson Crusoe broke the rules of spiritual autobiography because it was the result of mixing travel literature and adventure stories. Eventually, Defoe’s accomplishment boosted the novel’s popularity. This genre was an emerging phenomenon back in the 18th-century, but its main objective was to respond to the readers’ demand for realistic stories. One of its most important characteristics of this is the use of the first-person point of view in the storytelling: this writing style allows the reader to have direct access to the characters’ thoughts and feelings, which makes them more plausible and reliable. As a result, readers quickly become engaged with the story. However, despite the use of the subjective style and tone in his writing, Defoe wants to highlight the importance of realism in his novel: It is explicitly specified in the preface titled “Just a History of Fact”, referring to the potential (or not) reliability of the events narrated by the protagonist. For this reason, Defoe believes that readers are free to decide whether they trust Crusoe’s storytelling or not. In any event, that is precisely the power of literature: it is a mirror of the real world, but it also questions what the word real actually means.


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  4. Popa-Petrar, P. (2019). Presentation on Enlightenment and Rise of the Novel. Retrieved 21 December 2019, from:
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Essay on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe: Critical Analysis from Different Perspectives. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
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