Robinson Crusoe, the legend

Updated: Feb 26, 2020

Welcome back, readers!

Today’s visit to the Wardrobe will see the culmination of our Robison Crusoe series, as we analyze the influence that both ancient mythology and the story of Adam had on Defoe’s masterpiece.

Looking beyond the parables that Defoe tries to emulate throughout Robinson Crusoe, we see that the novel isn’t just a religious tale in content, but also in structure. Defoe uses the tool of repetition, a tactic used throughout the Bible as a means to permeate a philosophy into the minds of readers. The phrase, “be not afraid” is repeated 365 times throughout The New Testament. In Robinson Crusoe, the protagonist lists his daily routine, each journal entry often times sounding confusingly like the previous entry. Crusoe repeats his actions and his words, giving the readers a sense of familiarity in a situation that would otherwise be difficult to relate to.

Similarly, Crusoe repeats passages from psalms and ideologies regarding God’s mercy through the entirety of the novel. In many myths, it is common to see the hero leave home and go on a journey that often times takes them so far that they never return, and if they do return, they are no longer the same person.

We have witnessed Homer’s hero Odysseus leave Ithaca, going on a journey that takes him all the way to Circe’s Island where he is held captive by the goddess Calypso. We have read the tales of Jesus, who left his home and mother in Nazareth to teach the Gospel, ultimately never to return, being killed in Calvary. Centuries later, readers experience Defoe’s hero, Robinson Crusoe, abandon his father and his home, embarking on a journey that displaced him on a deserted island for 26 years. Entangled through his experiences are recurring themes of sin; his original sin that he cannot escape from, penance for these sins, and the divine providence that ultimately delivers him from isolation.

The role that religion played in Defoe’s masterpiece is undeniable. In analyzing the similarities between Crusoe’s story and that of the first man in biblical history, and through examining the themes of sin, penance, and divine providence, considering the critical roles they played during Crusoe’s time on the island, readers are given a glimpse into how Daniel Defoe saw his own humanity and the state of his soul.

Crusoe’s memoirs mirror the biblical story of Adam, a man created by God, who was freely given paradise, who chose to go against God’s command, and who was ultimately cursed as a result of his disobedience. Crusoe spends a lot of time lamenting over his sins, specifically the ones committed against his own father, and subsequently serves his penance as he is shipwrecked and left to survive on a deserted island. It is during his time on the island that the theme of divine providence plays a pivotal role. Throughout the novel, readers see that Crusoe constantly gives thanks to God when good things happen, as he sees every positive moment as an act of His divine intervention. Not only is Crusoe’s journal an homage to God, it is also a story of penance and how divine providence begins to shine light on one’s life when sins are repaid.

It is within this context that we can now conclude whether Defoe truly believed in the concept of original sin. As a Puritan, he was supposed to believe that humans were destined to be exempt from salvation because of the original sin. He was supposed to believe that humans were depraved by birth, and the doctrine he was brought up in did not allow room for him to question this.

Robinson Crusoe acted as a sort of alter ego for Defoe, who used his protagonist’s experiences of 26 years in solitude to prove that it is in our nature to sin because we are human. It is in our nature to be impulsive, restless, and curious; and it is our human nature that is our saving grace. We cannot be damned for something that is out of our control.

Defoe’s Crusoe brings hope to the weary. He makes readers feel like they can right their wrongs, and that they can start a new path even if the old one is tattered. This sense of optimism is not a trait shared amongst Puritans, but an echo of the central theme of the New Testament.

In her article, “The Revaluation of Literary Character: The Case of Crusoe”, Elizabeth Kraft explains that by the end of the novel,

“Robinson Crusoe has become an everyman figure

for a variety of cultures precisely because he represents ‘new beginnings’—

that is, the human ability to start over and re-make

(or in currently fashionable parlance ‘reinvent’)

ourselves no matter how lonely and bereft

the circumstances in which we find ourselves” (38).

Because Defoe’s message was in defiance of his religious traditions during a time when protestors were heavily persecuted, the hopefulness of Robinson Crusoe was able to transcend time as true religious texts tend to do. In using his protagonist as an extension of himself, he was able to give readers a sense of unity; that even if our personal beliefs and human nature would be publicly shunned, we are not living in the same solitude that Crusoe did for 26 years. We always have hope, and that is a concept that will outlast time.