The novel Robinson Crusoe is written by Daniel Defoe and was first published in the year 1719. It is about a man named Robinson Crusoe, from England who has a dream to explore the sea. Robinson’s father does not agree with his dreams and wants him to live a normal middle-class lifestyle. Robinson’s disagreement with his father caused him to run away and start adventuring into the sea. During his adventures with sailing he makes money in trade, but then was captured and turned into a slave off the coast of Africa. He then escapes from captivity. Where he was picked up by a sailing crew. Crusoe makes it to Brazil where he then buys a sugar plantation. Crusoe eventually becomes involved in the slave trade from Africa. On his way to Africa, he gets shipwrecked and is the only survivor on what seemed to be a deserted island. Crusoe builds a shelter to survive. He spends his time planting corn and other crops and trying to stay alive. During Crusoe’s time on the island, he grows stronger in his religious faith and creates a relationship with God. Near the end of the book, Crusoe rescues a native man named Friday from cannibals. Crusoe teaches Friday English and converts him to Christianity. Friday and Crusoe also rescue a Spaniard and Friday’s father from a different group of cannibals. Eventually, an English sailing crew that has many problems amongst themselves comes to the island. Crusoe helps gain peace between the captain and sailors and is rescued by them. At the end of the novel, Crusoe returns to Europe, where he comes home to a lot of money that his sugar plantation had earned for him. Crusoe then promises to continue adventures in the last lines of the novel. The four main themes of the book are progress, self-reliance, civilization, and most importantly Christianity.
Progress is one of the main themes in the novel Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe makes progress in more than just physical ways but also mentally. During Crusoe’s time on the island, Cruso becomes independent. He learned to live and survive on his own. It’s easy to see the progression from when Crusoe first got stranded on the island to when he was rescued. He goes from pure survival mode to living comfortably by hunting and farming. He had also created tools and furniture which helped him progress in his style of living. The most notable progression is mental. Before coming on the island Crusoe was a goal-driven man that wanted to make money and to travel the sea. He also had quarrels with God in his younger days. Throughout the novel, he had learned to be happy with where he was and what he had. He had started to focus on not what he wanted but being thankful for the good things that happen to him. “I learned to look upon the bright side of my condition, and less upon the dark side, and to consider what I enjoyed rather than what I wanted.” (Defoe, p.129) He had also progressed in his relationship with God and gave in to the fact that this is God’s world and he is just living in it. “I survive by the Word of God, and by the assistance of His grace.”(Defoe, p.128). The whole unit that we have learned this semester can relate to the progress of Great Britain. Great Britain became one of the strongest empires of all time consisting of two separate empires. Britain’s empire consisted of colonies in America and the West Indies. Which came to an end after the American Revolution. However, in the 19th century, the British built a second empire, due to their strong navy. Their second empire was made up of India and conquest in Africa. Great Britain made progress in their empire and had improved their circumstances through time just like Crusoe had done on the island.
Self-Reliance is another one of the major themes in the novel Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe had to rely on his cleverness, physical ability, and spirituality to survive. Throughout the novel, one can see this theme in his actions. He demonstrates self-reliance in building his plantation in Brazil and escaping from slavery. The best example of self-reliance can be seen on the island. Crusoe is the only one on his crew who survived on the ship. He was responsible for providing for himself and he could not depend on anyone to help. Crusoe had to go through the goods on the wrecked ship to determine what would best aid him to survive. He also was responsible for building his shelter and he wasn’t able to split the labor with anyone. He had built two shelters one for comfort and the other for defense. Crusoe had few materials available to him, but he was able to use them effectively. He also had to do the labor of hunting for food and planning plans on his own. Crusoe had used his spirituality to keep him going and to aid himself in his tasks. Later in the novel, he rescues a slave named Friday from cannibals who becomes his companion. Crusoe had spent 28 years on the island where he had to depend on self-reliance to stay alive. Crusoe said in the novel ‘ I would look upon my condition with the utmost Regret. I had nobody to converse with but now and then this neighbor; no work to be done but by the Labour of my own Hands and I live just like a man cast away upon some desolate island, that had nobody there but himself.’ (Defoe, p. 27). This is similar to the colonies’ self-reliance from England. The colonies were self-governing and thought of themselves as independent from the control of the British government. The colonies were on their own in a sense because they were an ocean away from England and only able to depend on themselves. Parliament began to pass laws in an attempt to regulate their colonies by setting taxes and restrictions on trade. This evidently resulted in the colonist’s resentment of British control. This caused the colonists to become totally independent and self-reliant starting the American Revolutionary War on April 19th, 1775 to gain freedom from British rule. This is similar to Robinson Crusoe because he was stuck on an island with no government to protect him or govern him. He became self-reliant and governed himself, he set his own rules and survived on his own without the help of others like the colonists had to survive without the help of Great Britain.
Civilization is another one of the main themes in the novel Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe models his way of living off rules and beliefs that he believed to be based on the civil society he had once lived by. Crusoe’s concept of civilization is based on his experience with European culture. When Crusoe first experienced native culture he was disgusted by their cannibalism and the differences between their civilizations and the one he was accustomed to in Europe. When Crusoe rescues Friday he trained him to give up his cannibal ways, to wear clothing, and to learn to speak English. He also taught him about God. Crusoe does not make any effort to learn Friday’s language or adopt any of the cultures of the natives. We can see these characteristics in many aspects of modern American society. Crusoe believes that Friday was a savage and thought it was his duty to turn Friday into a civilization like him. Crusoe treated Friday like he was a dog in a sentence, he had taken him from the wild and trained him to act as he desired him to. “I was greatly delighted with him, and made it my business to teach him everything proper to make him useful, handy, and helpful; but especially to make him speak, and understand me when I spoke” (Defoe p.203). This is similar to discussions in class about the Triangular Trade route. The route went from Europe to Africa, then to the Americas. The trade route had supplied fruits, molasses, sugar, and slaves to the colonies in America. When the Europeans took the slaves from Africa and brought them to America they stripped them of their beliefs, culture, and language forcing them to understand the English language. They made the Africans follow the standards set by western civilization and abide by the rules that were set by colonists. This is much like how Crusoe took Friday out of his native civilization and forced him to change instead of the other way around.
Christianity is the most important of the four major themes in the novel Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe relies on God to take care of him. He also feared that God would punish him for his behavior before he was on the island. An example of the wrongdoing Crusoe had done was abandoning his family, his lack of faith, and how he did not appreciate what he had. One can see as Crusoe’s faith becomes stronger his quality of life improves. God is a motivating factor for him to keep on surviving. Crusoe believes that since he was the only one to survive the shipwreck God must have a reason to keep him alive. The impact God had on Crusoe made him want to share his faith with Friday. Crusoe forced Friday to convert to his religion because he wanted Friday to believe in Christianity like himself. Crusoe had not cared if Friday had any prior beliefs. Christianity had become a type of governing force for Crusoe in his life. “Thus I lived mighty comfortably, my mind being entirely composed by resigning myself to the will of God, and throwing myself wholly upon the disposal of His providence.” (Defoe p.135). Crusoe understands that this is God’s world and he is just living in it. Crusoe’s treatment of Christianity and religion is much like some of the leaders we discussed in class. One of them is King Henry VIII. King Henry VIII declared himself head of a new Church of England and passed the Act of Supremacy during the Reformation. Henry VII was a very religious man like Crusoe, he was nicknamed the Defender of the Faith. They are also similar because they wanted others to believe in what they did. Henry VII broke away from the Catholic Church and named himself the leader of the Church of England. He forced people to stop following what they had previously believed in and follow the rules of the Church of England to govern their life. Henry VIII looked at how changing religion could change his life by getting him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He did not care about how forcing others to change their religion could hurt them. Catholics were treated horribly because of Henry VIII’s choice. This is a lot like what Crusoe did with Friday he forced him to believe in Christianity without any concern for how this may contradict some of his former beliefs or culture.
I believe that the novel Robinson Crusoe is a great form of historical fiction because one can relate it to British history. Throughout the novel, one can examine the similarities the novel has to Great Britain’s history. Robinson Crusoe was written during a time when Great Britain was heading towards becoming an imperial power and was utilizing the trade industry. The character Robinson Crusoe represents the needs and wants of the citizens in Great Britain during the time through his need for material goods and how he was able to use religion to benefit himself. The author Defoe lived during a time where materialism was on the rise and the wealth of a person meant happiness. At the end of the novel, Robinson Crusoe made the island like Great Britain as he based the civilization on the island off British ways of religion and greed. The history of the book can be seen through the four main themes of the novel progress, self-reliance, civilization, and Christianity. Overall the novel is very interesting and it is intriguing to see how Defoe based the character Robinson Crusoe’s personality on Great Britain’s social ideology.