Number of Pages: 320
Publisher: Modern Library
Release Date: 1719
“Robinson Crusoe, set ashore on an island after a terrible storm at sea, is forced to make do with only a knife, some tobacco, and a pipe. He learns how to build a canoe, make bread, and endure endless solitude. That is, until, twenty-four years later, when he confronts another human being.”
Let me start by saying that my initial expectations for this novel were not high. To be honest, I really didn’t think I would enjoy it at all when I first saw it listed on the syllabus of my Introduction to Literature class. All I knew about the story was that a man gets stuck on a deserted island and that the novel was him narrating his experiences there. Beyond that basic premise of the plot, I had no idea what it was about. His survival story alone didn’t appeal to me very much, mostly because I’ve read so many survival stories and seen so many movies about survival (and nothing can compare to Lost!). It might have been exciting back in the eighteenth century, but now– unless they’re done incredibly well– these types of stories tend to feel unoriginal and overused. All in all, I really was expecting to have to force myself to trudge through the boredom, monotony, and triviality I thought this novel would exude.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I realized that I actually enjoyed reading this book! It’s certainly not my favorite book of all time, but it provided such food for thought that I couldn’t help but look forward to discussing it in class and seeing what new layers of meaning our analysis could uncover. Crusoe’s story is one of survival, but it is not about survival solely in the physical sense. The story soon transforms into a discussion about religion and whether or not God is controlling our fates or if our futures are simply the consequences of our actions. This twist in focus was unexpected, yet it made the story much more interesting. I’m not very religious myself, but I think learning and thinking about religion is fascinating. It’s interesting to notice how people tend to embrace religion or spirituality in general when confronted with dire situations, such as Crusoe’s isolation on the island.
It’s a wonder that Defoe was able to write such a sizable, detailed novel in which, for the majority of the time, there is only a single character. Crusoe’s narration certainly adds intrigue to the story, mostly regarding the details that Crusoe chooses to emphasize or omit entirely. He’s clearly writing for an audience, but whether or not that audience is himself or other people is sometimes hard to conclude. An argument can be made that in narrating the story he is trying to remake himself in the eyes of others; however, it can also be suggested that he is attempting to convince himself of his new image and keep himself sane while on the island. Although this novel seems fairly simple at the outset, it’s actually quite complex and worth reading closely.
As a character, I didn’t find Robinson Crusoe to be all that agreeable. Sure, he has many flaws that make him easy to relate to as a human being, but being inside of his head for so long does grow wearisome after a while. His meticulous descriptions of caring for goats, constructing his shelter, and other tasks are frequent and rather dry, much to my chagrin. By far my favorite parts were Crusoe’s inner rambles and debates, particularly regarding religion and the savages of which he was terribly afraid. Not only were these parts the most interesting to read, but they also showed the effect that being isolated on the island had on him. He doesn’t talk much about physical distress, apart from when he gets very sick, but it’s clear that he struggles mentally and emotionally with his place on the island.
In fact, I even wrote my midterm paper on Robinson Crusoe. In my paper I argued that Crusoe attempts to create a sense of civilization on the island and reconnect with his past as a civilized man in English society in order to separate himself from the wildness of the savages. If any of you have read this novel before I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this thesis– do you agree? Disagree? Have a different opinion? I’d love to know!
Overall, I must admit that Defoe surprised me with Robinson Crusoe. It’s a solid novel– not one of my favorites, but surely worth reading. The slow pace and exhaustive amount of detail in the novel are countered by the interesting narration and themes of religion and morality, thus balancing its weaknesses with its strengths. I’m glad it was required reading for my Introduction to Literature class because otherwise I might never have picked up this often underestimated classic novel.
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) 3 out of 5 smileys
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes, bearing in mind that it is a rather slow-paced and character-driven novel. It’s not for those who prefer constant action and adventure to contemplative thought, but I wouldn’t automatically discount it.
Have you ever read this book before? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments section below!