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Character Analysis in Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe: Robinson Crusoe is the main protagonist and first-person narrator of the novel. He is born to a middle-class family and expected to find stable employment as a lawyer. However, Crusoe is characterized by his search for adventure and restless nature. Against his father’s wishes, he becomes a sea-merchant, then a planter in Brazil, then a slave trader. On his slave-trading expedition, Crusoe is marooned on an island where he spends 35 years. Crusoe’s diligent mind and objective approach to survival allow him to collect, categorize, and build a sustainable life on the island. This clinical approach to his condition has caused many to criticize Crusoe as a cold, unlikable character. However, Crusoe’s personality is shown through his deeply religious reactions to events, such as feelings of guilt for abandoning his family. It is important to note that Crusoe’s opinions about slavery and social hierarchy do not change after his experience on the island. Even after he is taken as a slave himself, Crusoe still wholeheartedly supports the ownership of human beings and rejoins the aristocracy when he returns to England.
Friday: Crusoe meets Friday on the island after spending 28 years there alone. Friday is a Caribbean native and a cannibal. Crusoe convinces him to convert to Protestantism. After Crusoe rescues Friday from being eaten by cannibals, Friday becomes his servant. Friday’s character has been criticized as the stereotypical invention of a British author. His characterization and subsequent enslavement are symbolic of the rise of imperialist oppression that characterized the 18th and 19th centuries.
Character Analysis Examples in Robinson Crusoe:
Chapter I - Start In Life
"As to going home, shame opposed the best motions that offered to my thoughts, and it immediately occurred to me how I should be laughed at among the neighbours, and should be ashamed to see,..." See in text (Chapter I - Start In Life)
Notice that Crusoe’s pride plays a big role in his decisions. He believes that the shame of going home would be worse than the danger of boarding another boat. This type of dangerous pride will serve as a character trait that brings about his tragic story.
""Young man," says he, "you ought never to go to sea any more; you ought to take this for a plain and visible token that you are not to be a seafaring man."..." See in text (Chapter I - Start In Life)
Much like Crusoe’s father, the captain warns him against continuing to pursue a life at sea. This is yet another warning that Crusoe ignores in order to pursue his ambitions. In this way, the narrator sets the story up to be a moral allegory about pride, ambition, and lack of reverence for the will of god.
"It was my advantage in one respect, that I did not know what they meant by FOUNDER till I inquired..." See in text (Chapter I - Start In Life)
Notice that Crusoe reveals his meager practical knowledge about sailing. He has longed to venture out on the sea; however, he does not actually know how to sail. This suggests that Crusoe has motivations for going out to sea other than a love for the craft.
"and the having returned from them to the resolutions I had wickedly taken at first, than I was at death itself..." See in text (Chapter I - Start In Life)
When faced with death, Crusoe worries more about the sins he has committed, namely making a promise to God that he did not keep. This fear demonstrates Crusoe’s religious mentality. However, it also demonstrates that this religious devotion is a type of false piety: it only occurs when he is faced with death or harm.
"without asking God's blessing or my father's, without any consideration of circumstances or consequences, and in an ill hour, God knows, on the 1st of September 1651, I went on board a ship bound for London...." See in text (Chapter I - Start In Life)
Crusoe seems to feel guilt for defying his family and pursuing his own ambitions. At this time, a “blessing,” or given approval of something, from one’s family mimicked God’s blessing. Without his father’s approval, Crusoe can be seen as pursuing his ambitions against God’s will. For Crusoe, this lack of blessing foreshadows his future calamities, which in turn, demonstrates his religious mentality.
"he was so moved that he broke off the discourse, and told me his heart was so full he could say no more to me..." See in text (Chapter I - Start In Life)
Notice the juxtaposition of Crusoe’s emotional father and his own cold, indifferent mentality. This description of his father gives the reader insight into Crusoe’s mind. Not only is he unemotional, he does not share his father’s pious desire for an average life; he seeks to be extraordinary.
"something fatal in that propensity of nature, tending directly to the life of misery which was to befall me..." See in text (Chapter I - Start In Life)
Crusoe believes in the providence of his actions. He draws a direct link between his choice to deny his father’s wishes and follow his nature to pursue a career on the sea and the shipwreck. He sees the events on the island as divine punishment for his choices and suggests his deeply religious ideology.
Chapter II - Slavery And Escape
"but if you come near the boat I'll shoot you through the head, for I am resolved to have my liberty..." See in text (Chapter II - Slavery And Escape)
The Moor begs to be taken with Crusoe when it is clear what Crusoe has planned. However, Crusoe denies the Moor the opportunity to escape the master for fear that the Moor will somehow prevent Crusoe from freeing himself. Crusoe looks out only for his own interests and cares not for the plight of others.
"As my new patron, or master..." See in text (Chapter II - Slavery And Escape)
The word “patron” refers to someone who performs a role of oversight, protection, or sponsorship to another. It generally has neutral or even positive connotations. The word “master” is associated more closely with slave owners. Crusoe uses the more positive word first, which reveals his 18th century European perspective on slavery: proponents of the slave trade believed that slaves were subservient to their masters because they need such patrons to protect them and provide them with support.
"but, alas! this was but a taste of the misery I was to go through..." See in text (Chapter II - Slavery And Escape)
Somewhat ironically, Crusoe becomes a slave while seeking to make a life for himself as a slaver. He loses his individuality in slavery. However, notice how Crusoe as narrator describes these events: he states that being in slavery was only the beginning of his troubles, which trivializes the event. Crusoe appears to find no issue with the slave trade unless it inconveniences his own goals.
"who was an honest, plain-dealing man..." See in text (Chapter II - Slavery And Escape)
Crusoe’s characterization of this captain reveals much about his own character and the setting of the story. While he considers the captain “honest” and “plain-dealing,” readers should not forget that this man is participating in the slave trade. Many Europeans at the time sought their fortunes in this abhorrent practice. Since Crusoe gives this man positive qualities, it suggests that he does not condemn the practice of slavery. He chooses instead to view the voyage as an opportunity for adventure and wealth.
"to such loose and misguided young fellows as I then was..." See in text (Chapter II - Slavery And Escape)
Crusoe as the narrator looking back on his younger self provides insight into his development. Since he considers his younger self misguided, this indicates that the character-development arc in the novel will involve the young Crusoe becoming more virtuous.
Chapter III - Wrecked On A Desert Island
"I was still to be the wilful agent of all my own miseries; and particularly, to increase my fault, and double the reflections upon myself, which in my future sorrows I should have leisure to make..." See in text (Chapter III - Wrecked On A Desert Island)
Probably as a result of his distance from the events at the point of narrating the story (versus living it), Crusoe can craft a coherent explanation for the reasons behind the developments of his life. This is an instance to think about Crusoe-the-character’s differences with Crusoe-the-narrator. His troubles could result from other reasons than his disregard for his father’s advice, but the events that he lives through allows him to locate that advice as the starting point.
"I used often to say to myself, I could have done this as well in England, among my friends, as have gone five thousand miles off to do it among strangers and savages, in a wilderness, and at such a distance as never to hear from any part of the world that had the least knowledge of me...." See in text (Chapter III - Wrecked On A Desert Island)
In this moment of remembered self-reflection, Crusoe strangely does two things at once. He reinforces how important England is to his own identity, but he also suggests that places are interchangeable. The relationship between character and setting was a common theme in narratives of colonial travel, and Defoe is shaping conventions that will persist by characterizing Crusoe in this dual way.
Chapter V - Builds A House - The Journal
"household affairs..." See in text (Chapter V - Builds A House - The Journal)
Although Crusoe has nothing but a cave, a wall, and his possessions, forming a rough shelter, he still refers to his dwelling as his household and attending to his affairs as though he lives at a manor in England. This word choice speaks to his upbringing as an English gentleman and creates irony when readers consider that the seemingly lofty household affairs he refers to so earnestly involve rounding up wild goats and fashioning candles out of goat fat.
"so that I caught it and led it home in a string..." See in text (Chapter V - Builds A House - The Journal)
Here we see Crusoe’s first attempt at raising animals rather than simply killing what he needs. Taming animals is a significant step in his quest to master nature and provide himself with a sustainable food source. It also builds on the notion of Crusoe’s self-awareness in that it demonstrates his assumption that he could be on the island much longer than his supply of gunpowder will last and that he has come to accept his fate in the long term.
"All the rest of the day I spent in afflicting myself at the dismal circumstances I was brought to..." See in text (Chapter V - Builds A House - The Journal)
In his early days on the island, Crusoe plays the role of victim rather than fearless conqueror. By juxtaposing the helpless man he was when he arrived at the island with the determined master of his own fate Crusoe became after repenting his sins to God, Defoe emphasizes the importance of spirituality in determining the course of an individual’s life. Crusoe effectively made his own fate, but not without first gaining pardon from God.
Chapter VII - Agricultural Experience
"I had no vessels to hold anything that was liquid, except two runlets, which were almost full of rum, and some glass bottles - some of the common size, and others which were case bottles, square, for the holding of water, spirits, &c...." See in text (Chapter VII - Agricultural Experience)
Crusoe starts to long for the things that he does not have then stops himself to focus on what he does have. Throughout the novel, Crusoe convinces himself that circumstances are not as bad as he thinks and counts his blessings. This can be interpreted as another sign of his Christian mentality as he thanks God for the limited things he has on the island rather than cursing the fact that he is marooned.
" I kept this day as a solemn fast, setting it apart for religious exercise, prostrating myself on the ground with the most serious humiliation, confessing my sins to God, acknowledging His righteous judgments upon me, and praying to Him to have mercy on me through Jesus Christ..." See in text (Chapter VII - Agricultural Experience)
Crusoe sees his confinement on the island as punishment for his sins. He begins to pray and mark the religious day of the Sabbath in order to praise God and atone for his sins. Notice also that Crusoe confesses that he was not religious minded before this moment. This suggests that the religious references up to this point were imposed by the narrator’s future perspective rather than an account of his state of mind at the time the events occurred.
"But from these three cats I afterwards came to be so pestered with cats that I was forced to kill them like vermin or wild beasts, and to drive them from my house as much as possible...." See in text (Chapter VII - Agricultural Experience)
Notice that at the beginning of this paragraph, Crusoe called the cats his “family.” However, as soon as the animals become inconvenient, he kills them as if they were “vermin.” This capricious treatment demonstrates Crusoe’s narcissistic approach to the world: he believes that everything in his life must serve him, and if it doesn’t, he disposes of it. In regard to animals, Crusoe’s actions are rooted in a Judeo-Christian tradition in which humans have dominion over animals and can do with them what they please.
"I lay very secure, sometimes two or three nights together; always going over it with a ladder; so that I fancied now I had my country house and my sea- coast house; and this work took me up to the beginning of August...." See in text (Chapter VII - Agricultural Experience)
Crusoe begins to build a life on the island that resembles life back in Europe. Imagining his beach hut as a “sea-coast house” and the structure in the grove as his “country house,” Crusoe mimics the aristocracy’s homelife. Since he imagines that he is king of this island, he can also imagine that he lives in places befitting a king.
"the grapes were spoiled; the richness of the fruit and the weight of the juice having broken them and bruised them, they were good for little or nothing..." See in text (Chapter VII - Agricultural Experience)
Notice that Crusoe once again tries to separate himself from the concept of “barbary.” While shipwrecked on an island with presumably limited food, he rejects these grapes simply because they are “bruised” and some are “broken.” His selective tastes reveal his upper-middle class upbringing and the “civilized” standards by which he lives his life.
"Accordingly, having spent three days in this journey, I came home (so I must now call my tent and my cave)..." See in text (Chapter VII - Agricultural Experience)
Crusoe comes to view his hut on the beach as “home.” It seems important to him to establish home and order within that home. One explanation for this connection to a seemingly unimportant place touches on the theme of civilization vs. barbary. The concept of home and the establishment of this “settlement” connects Crusoe to his “civilized,” domestic world; he continues to reveal the importance he places on “civilization” and act in a way that separates him from what he perceives to be “barbary.”
"to think that this was all my own; that I was king and lord of all this country indefensibly, and had a right of possession; and if I could convey it, I might have it in inheritance as completely as any lord of a manor in England..." See in text (Chapter VII - Agricultural Experience)
Crusoe believes that he controls the land he stands on. He seems to have let go of his fear when he began to believe in his “right of possession” over the island. This is a notably imperialist mindset. Colonists generally believed that the land they encountered was theirs to own and set about replicating their homeland and culture in the new space.
Chapter VIII - Surveys His Position
"I had the next six months to apply myself wholly, by labour and invention, to furnish myself with utensils proper for the performing all the operations necessary for making the corn, when I had it, fit for my use...." See in text (Chapter VIII - Surveys His Position)
In his previous life as a farmer, Crusoe never needed to worry about starting a farm from nothing. This passage focuses in on the difficulties of life without tools and support from society. As even simplest tasks become more difficult and time-consuming, Crusoe has to try and recreate the farming environment to which he is accustomed. His realizing how difficult this is emphasizes the benefits of working as part of a society, because when removed from others, he is forced to do everything for himself, which is inefficient and far more difficult.
"and therefore I acquiesced in the dispositions of Providence, which I began now to own and to believe ordered everything for the best..." See in text (Chapter VIII - Surveys His Position)
While Crusoe recognizes the potential threat of unknown people to his safety, another reason for choosing to stay is his decision to accept “the dispositions of Providence.” This decision contrasts with his earlier disregard for the wishes of his father and God, preferring to fight his destiny and choose his own paths. This recognition to remain because it is the will of God marks a turning point in his character and faith.
"and perhaps was all inhabited by savages..." See in text (Chapter VIII - Surveys His Position)
Crusoe sees land from a high point on his island and knows that he is not completely isolated. This line represents a practical reason for why Crusoe does not attempt to reach the other land. We’ve seen how suspicious Crusoe is of those he calls “savages,” applying this word to any non-Europeans he considers uncivilized and, therefore, a potential threat to his own well-being. While his personal beliefs regarding fate and God may have reached a turning point, his assumptions about those unlike him have yet to be challenged or changed.
Chapter IX - A Boat
"This made my life better than sociable,..." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
As the chapter comes to a close, Crusoe reflects on the religious character of his island solitude. His unignorable loneliness pushes Crusoe to connect with God. He reflects that his life has become “better than sociable.” He asks himself whether conversing with “God Himself, by ejaculations, was not better than the utmost enjoyment of human society in the world?”
"and this I performed so well, that after I made me a suit of clothes wholly of these skins..." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
As the clothing Crusoe brought from Britain falls into tatters, Crusoe begins to wear rough-hewn assemblages of fur. Crusoe’s adoption of this outfit made up of animal skins marks his psychological shift from member of society to rugged individualist.
"this gave me great hopes that my repentance was accepted, and that God had yet mercy in store for me...." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
As a Christian, Robinson Crusoe often wrestles with the notion of Providence, attempting to divine his fortune by wondering whether his actions are favored or rejected by God. By reframing his condition in terms of the relative plenty he enjoys, Crusoe decides that God is treating him mercifully.
"All our discontents about what we want appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have...." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
Gratitude is an increasingly important practice for Crusoe. Left by circumstance with few possessions, little information as to the nature of his whereabouts, and no social contact whatsoever, Crusoe is forced to consider what is absolutely essential to him. In these reflections, Crusoe counts his blessings, so to speak, finding that he has much what he needs, and that additional wants “spring from the want of thankfulness.”
"In a word, the nature and experience of things dictated to me, upon just reflection, that all the good things of this world are no farther good to us than they are for our use..." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
One might say that in the evolution of his thinking, Crusoe adopts a pragmatic approach to the world. Crusoe understands that the world occurs to him in terms of what he can use. It is impossible to devise an moral assessment of what is good or bad outside of experience. Part of the newest iteration of Crusoe’s evolving philosophy is a profound sense of simplicity: all that matters is what may be used in one’s direct field of experience. Additional wants are excessive.
"This grieved me heartily; and now I saw, though too late, the folly of beginning a work before we count the cost, and before we judge rightly of our own strength to go through with it...." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
The paradox of this sentence lies in truth that Crusoe did actually “count the cost” of the endeavor, deemed it undoable, went through with it against his own reasoning, and then afterward found himself “grieved… heartily.” Once again, Crusoe’s reasoning does not align with his actions.
" and it cost me a prodigious deal of pains (but who grudge pains who have their deliverance in view?)..." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
This sentence contains a double entendre on the word “deliverance.” Struggling to drag his boat across a significant stretch of land, Crusoe copes with the frustration by keeping the “deliverance in view.” There is Crusoe’s literal deliverance of the boat to the sea. Crusoe also considers deliverance in the biblical sense—that is, to be rescued from trouble by God. This notion of deliverance makes sense given Crusoe’s increasingly devout Christian philosophy over the course of Chapter IX.
"for I had heard that the people of the Caribbean coast were cannibals or man-eaters, and I knew by the latitude that I could not be far from that shore...." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
Seeing a distant shore, Crusoe quickly assumes its inhabitants must be cannibals. If they are not cannibals, he figures they would undoubtedly by hostile toward a European like him. In such situations, Crusoe functions based on the presuppositions and stereotypes held by imperialist Europeans.
"The baking part was the next thing to be considered, and how I should make bread when I came to have corn..." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
Despite the ample sources of food provided by the island, Crusoe puts a great deal of effort into the cultivation of grains to make bread. On one level, this tendency can be read as a token of his English upbringing, a comforting reminder of home. On another level, it can be seen as a metaphor for the colonial ethos, with its emphasis on imposing European culture on foreign lands.
"No joy at a thing of so mean a nature was ever equal to mine..." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
Despite the often severe challenges, Crusoe comes to experience moments of satisfaction and gratitude. Having succeeded in creating a piece of earthenware from clay, he delights in his creation. Crusoe’s perspective on life continues to shift as Chapter IX progresses as he takes on a simpler, more grateful philosophy.
"However, I got through that, and sowed my seed in two large flat pieces of ground, as near my house as I could find them to my mind, and fenced them in with a good hedge,..." See in text (Chapter IX - A Boat)
As Crusoe attempts to survive in the wild, his methods become increasingly sophisticated. He begins to grow crops, tilling a field and surrounding it with hedges. Through this work Crusoe creates a sort of garden, an ancient symbol for the middle ground between nature and culture. The act of creating a garden allows Crusoe to bring some measure of order to the chaos of the island wilderness.
Chapter XI - Finds Print Of Man's Foot On The Sand
"To-day we love what to-morrow we hate; to-day we seek what to-morrow we shun..." See in text (Chapter XI - Finds Print Of Man's Foot On The Sand)
Crusoe comments on the irony of his situation. He has been craving human contact for years, but when the possibility of another person arrives, he is intensely fearful. Notice the parallel structures of the sentences, which add to the poetic, rhythmic tone.
"Sometimes I fancied it must be the devil, and reason joined in with me in this supposition..." See in text (Chapter XI - Finds Print Of Man's Foot On The Sand)
Crusoe’s incorrect conclusion—that the footprint he found was from the devil, not a human—showcases his unreliability and his preference for divine explanations over natural ones. Notice how he justifies this line of inquiry by using “reason” though the logical path he follows does not lead him to the correct conclusion. He has been alone for so long that he believes that no ordinary human other than himself should be able to survive the island’s hardships.
"never frightened hare fled to cover, or fox to earth, with more terror of mind than I..." See in text (Chapter XI - Finds Print Of Man's Foot On The Sand)
In his fear at discovering that he might not be alone on the island, Crusoe’s strategic, intellectual mind returns to more basic emotions, as shown by the images he chooses. Fleeing rabbits and foxes are not animals that inspire courage; rather, they show Crusoe’s descent into pure terror and a drive to survive above all else. Notice how, since Crusoe was initially marooned on the island, his longing for companionship has shifted to fear of others.
"This will testify for me that I was not idle..." See in text (Chapter XI - Finds Print Of Man's Foot On The Sand)
For Christians, laziness is immoral and subject to divine punishment. Crusoe worries about seeming idle on the island, so he constantly devotes himself to projects that prove he is hard at work making a civilized home for himself. Notice the word choice of “testify,” which suggests Crusoe believes that he is constantly on trial and having to defend himself and his actions.
"my cattle, that is to say my goats..." See in text (Chapter XI - Finds Print Of Man's Foot On The Sand)
Crusoe’s redefining of goats as the more English and common cattle points to his tendency toward exaggeration, reminding readers that his narration is not entirely reliable.
" I would build, or rather make, me another periagua or canoe, and so have one for one side of the island, and one for the other..." See in text (Chapter XI - Finds Print Of Man's Foot On The Sand)
Repetition of tasks and improving upon old designs keeps Crusoe busy during his many years on the island. Though another boat assists with his physical survival, the effort to build the boat is more important to keep his mental health intact. Crusoe is always looking for new duties so that he will not succumb to the sin of idleness.
"resolved to spend some time in the observing it..." See in text (Chapter XI - Finds Print Of Man's Foot On The Sand)
Notice Crusoe’s desire to comprehend what he doesn’t understand. He wishes to come to some understanding of how the tides work so that he can better use them for his own ambitions, speaking to his desire to master the island and its natural mysteries.
"There was my majesty the prince and lord of the whole island;..." See in text (Chapter XI - Finds Print Of Man's Foot On The Sand)
Crusoe uses the metaphor of a kingdom where he is the ruler to show both his pride in his accomplishments and to make fun of himself. While it is impressive that he has built a habitable dwelling and survived stranded for so long, his royal “subjects” are animals, who, though they are under his care, likely do not fully obey him. He does not leave behind his imperialist mindset, as he still believes he has animals under his command. However, there might be a note of sarcasm in his description here.
Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat
"when I should be sure to kill or wound perhaps two or three at every shot; and then falling in upon them with my three pistols and my sword, I made no doubt but that, if there were twenty, I should kill them all...." See in text (Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat)
Crusoe’s confidence in his abilities with pistols, swords, and combat seem relatively unfounded. He has not mentioned any military training or alluded to how he might have obtained his combat prowess. This confidence is either a sign of Crusoe’s low opinion of the natives and their abilities or evidence of Crusoe’s isolated mindset: having been alone on the island for so long, Crusoe might have grown to believe in his “kingly” power over the island.
"But my invention now ran quite another way; for night and day I could think of nothing but how I might destroy some of the monsters in their cruel, bloody entertainment, and if possible save the victim they should bring hither to destroy..." See in text (Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat)
Crusoe’s thoughts here mimic the Western-colonial mindset. He thinks about destroying this native population, whom he sees as barbarous, in order to “save” their victims. Crusoe sees himself as a savior and the natives as beasts.
"even in this miserable condition, been comforted with the knowledge of Himself, and the hope of His blessing: which was a felicity more than sufficiently equivalent to all the misery which I had suffered, or could suffer..." See in text (Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat)
Crusoe demonstrates the proper Christian response to his plight. He never loses faith in God or God’s plan, and he believes that every silver lining is evidence that God is still protecting him. In this way, Crusoe represents the ideal colonial settler: a faithful man who is able to endure hardships because of his belief.
"had yet given me so many comforts in it that I had still more to give thanks for than to complain of..." See in text (Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat)
Again, Crusoe thanks God for the positive things, or silver linings, that make his life bearable rather than decrying the horrors of his condition. This reflects Crusoe’s focus on religion and Christian responses to his situation.
"I was presently convinced that the seeing the print of a man's foot was not such a strange thing in the island as I imagined: and but that it was a special providence that I was cast upon the side of the island where the savages never came, I should easily have known that nothing was more frequent than for the canoes from the main,..." See in text (Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat)
Once again, Crusoe sees providence, or the presence of god, within his circumstances. Rather than seeing the ships and people as a sign that he will make it off the island, Crusoe is convinced that landing where he did is part of God’s plan. God willed him to land on the deserted side of the island because it protected him from the natives. This assumption reveals Crusoe’s deeply religious ideology and his notion that God is “on his side.”
"I had now lived two years under this uneasiness, which, indeed, made my life much less comfortable than it was before, as may be well imagined by any who know what it is to live in the constant snare of the fear of man. ..." See in text (Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat)
Slave ships would land on the coasts of Africa, South America, and other continents in order to abduct people from their homes and enslave them. Crusoe’s fear of the “snare of man” mimics the fear that populations devastated by the slave trade might have felt. However, careful readers might also notice that Crusoe does not recognize this similarity; rather, he sees his experience as unique and it does not make him feel more empathetic towards slaves.
"I was loath to lose the advantage of them, and to have them all to nurse up over again...." See in text (Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat)
Notice that Crusoe’s reaction to discovering another person on the island is not to go find this person. He immediately believes that the person will take what he has built for himself. This seems to be a un-Christian response. He never considers that this person is also shipwrecked and may be in need of help; he never considers that this person might be able to help him. Instead, he tries to protect what he has built and continue to exercise dominion over his “kingdom.”
Chapter XIV - A Dream Realised
"Now my life began to be so easy that I began to say to myself that could I but have been safe from more savages, I cared not if I was never to remove from the place where I lived...." See in text (Chapter XIV - A Dream Realised)
Like many other characters in literature, Crusoe suggests that what he really needed to be truly happy is true companionship. But it should also strike readers by this point in the story that Crusoe’s character never seems to be content to stay anywhere for too long, and thus readers can guess that the stasis reached here is unlikely to be long-lasting.
"first, I let him know his name should be Friday, which was the day I saved his life: I called him so for the memory of the time. I likewise taught him to say Master; and then let him know that was to be my name..." See in text (Chapter XIV - A Dream Realised)
The acts of naming here reveal much about the relationship between these two figures. Crusoe names Friday, and he renames himself in terms of the social position he wants to inhabit in their relationship.
"I smiled at him, and looked pleasantly, and beckoned to him to come still nearer; at length he came close to me; and then he kneeled down again, kissed the ground, and laid his head upon the ground, and taking me by the foot, set my foot upon his head; this, it seems, was in token of swearing to be my slave for ever...." See in text (Chapter XIV - A Dream Realised)
This is a key moment in terms of the novel’s master and servant theme. As Crusoe tells it, the man he rescues submits completely and immediately to his mastery, making Crusoe a master figure. Notably, Crusoe himself cannot submit to this extent—even to God, the clearest master-servant analogue.
"Pray note, all this was the fruit of a disturbed mind, an impatient temper, made desperate, as it were, by the long continuance of my troubles, and the disappointments I had met in the wreck I had been on board of, and where I had been so near obtaining what I so earnestly longed for - somebody to speak to, and to learn some knowledge from them of the place where I was, and of the probable means of my deliverance...." See in text (Chapter XIV - A Dream Realised)
In this use of apostrophe to his reader, Crusoe anticipates the Christian reader’s criticism and asks that they understand his situation through his point of view. In doing so, Defoe contributes to a tradition some see as central to the novel as a form: its ability to convey experiences framed by other minds. Ironically, given his treatment of most strangers, Crusoe is calling on the reader to use a skill that he himself does not seem to model.
"I was as happy in not knowing my danger as if I had never really been exposed to it...." See in text (Chapter XIV - A Dream Realised)
This “out of sight, out of mind” mindset characterizes Crusoe’s approach to many situations. However, the narrative seems to caution against this fallacy. Just because something is not known to be dangerous does not make the danger any less real. Readers might take a lesson from Crusoe’s repeated mistaken mindset as it contributes to his condition more than once.
"my unlucky head, that was always to let me know it was born to make my body miserable, was all these two years filled with projects and designs how, if it were possible, I might get away from this island..." See in text (Chapter XIV - A Dream Realised)
Notice how the idea of “character” splits in this moment as Crusoe differentiates between his body and his mind. This idea of “mind-body dualism” was originally proposed by French philosopher Rene Descartes, who claimed that the non-physical mind was the seat of self-awareness while the physical brain was the seat of intelligence. Crusoe demonstrates this philosophy when he separates his personality and its irrational responses from the sensible needs of his body.
Chapter XV - Friday's Education
"to save the life, and, for aught I knew, the soul of a poor savage,..." See in text (Chapter XV - Friday's Education)
Notice that the religious journey Defoe documents in Robinson Crusoe is deepened by his sharing of his faith with another individual. Though Crusoe seems to struggle with his own faith and how it dictates the events of his life, he seems to believe that bringing Friday to the knowledge of the Christian God will save his life and his soul. Crusoe enjoys a degree of satisfaction in bringing another individual to Christ even though he is far from the perfect Christian himself.
"I began to instruct him in the knowledge of the true God..." See in text (Chapter XV - Friday's Education)
Notice that Crusoe again demonstrates the imperialist mindset by attempting to educate Friday in the British tradition. Crusoe belittles Friday’s deity (Benamuckee) and refers to his God as the only “true” God. Early western explorers believed it was their duty to bring knowledge and religion to the “uncivilized,” people of the world, often enslaving and oppressing indigenous populations in the process.
Chapter XVI - Rescue Of Prisoners From Cannibals
"it was a merry reflection, which I frequently made, how like a king I looked...." See in text (Chapter XVI - Rescue Of Prisoners From Cannibals)
Notice Crusoe’s narcissism and entitlement in this passage. Though others have visited the island, Crusoe claims control over the land because he has built a home there. He also believes that he has total control over Friday, Friday’s father, and the Spaniard because he saved them—a mindset that modern readers may recognize as problematic. Notice that Crusoe conveniently leaves out Friday’s role in helping to rescue the others and contributing to Crusoe’s homestead.
"to butcher the poor Christian..." See in text (Chapter XVI - Rescue Of Prisoners From Cannibals)
Notice how Crusoe assumes that the man is Christian just because he is a white European. Because Crusoe presumes the captive’s religion, he is able to take action against the natives. The captive’s impending death also adds a sense of urgency to the scene, as Crusoe and Friday must quickly decide how to interfere.
"he was an European, and had clothes on..." See in text (Chapter XVI - Rescue Of Prisoners From Cannibals)
Crusoe is given the motivation he needs to attack the natives; they appear to be preparing to eat a white European, an unforgivable offense that he cannot simply watch happen. Remember that he had earlier concluded that the natives’ actions were none of his business. Since the natives have taken in a European like himself, he feels obligated to interfere.
"whose barbarous customs were their own disaster, being in them a token, indeed, of God's having left them, with the other nations of that part of the world, to such stupidity, and to such inhuman courses, but did not call me to take upon me to be a judge of their actions, much less an executioner of His justice..." See in text (Chapter XVI - Rescue Of Prisoners From Cannibals)
Here Crusoe encounters a dilemma: he believes he should not punish the natives for cannibalism since they don’t know any better without the teachings of the Christian God. God, he believes, will discipline them when the time is right. He decides that he is neither the right person to judge nor decide on a just punishment. Notice how Crusoe attributes the native’s cannibalism to their location. At the time, non-European nations were thought to have been abandoned by God, which was why they had resorted to less appropriate behaviors—a lack of guidance that Europeans would be happy to provide.
"they were naked, unarmed wretches, it is certain I was superior to them..." See in text (Chapter XVI - Rescue Of Prisoners From Cannibals)
Crusoe references two types of superiority: he’s better than the natives both militarily, since they are unarmed, and culturally. A hallmark of British culture was modesty, and the natives’ lack of clothing would have signalled to Crusoe that he was encountering uncivilized people. Nakedness would have symbolized either mental illness or a less-advanced culture.
"if I resolved to defend him, he would defend me, and stand by me, and do just as I bid him. He said, "Me die when you bid die, master."..." See in text (Chapter XVI - Rescue Of Prisoners From Cannibals)
Although it may seem as though Crusoe is elevating Friday to the status of equal, as someone worth protecting, notice that Friday must follow Crusoe's commands so that Crusoe can maintain control over the situation. This mirrors Crusoe’s devotion to God, in that he is under God’s protection and, likewise, will die when God deems it time for him to perish.
"this creature with me..." See in text (Chapter XVI - Rescue Of Prisoners From Cannibals)
Crusoe does not refer to Friday as a human being, but rather opts for the more animalistic “creature.” Though Friday has learned basic English and European customs, Crusoe still refuses to acknowledge him as an equal, typical of the time period when the novel was written.
"I told him then and often after, that I would never send him away from me if he was willing to stay with me..." See in text (Chapter XVI - Rescue Of Prisoners From Cannibals)
Crusoe justifies keeping Friday as a servant because of Friday’s devotion to him. Since Friday is so attached to Crusoe that he claims he would rather die than leave Crusoe’s side. Here Crusoe shows his dominion not only over the island’s natural wonders but also its native inhabitants. Since people like Friday were seen as backwards and barbarous, it would not have surprised Defoe’s 18th century English audience that Friday was devoted to the person who brought him enlightenment.
Chapter XVII - Visit Of Mutineers
""Well, then," says I, "necessity legitimates my advice, for it is the only way to save our lives." However, seeing him still cautious of shedding blood, I told him they should go themselves, and manage as they found convenient...." See in text (Chapter XVII - Visit Of Mutineers)
Crusoe’s urging to the captain gives readers insight into his seemingly paradoxical standpoint. He decries the natives for their brutality, but he champions bloodshed himself. While this appears counterintuitive, Crusoe’s mentality revolves around “righteous bloodshed”; in other words, he believes that the sinful actions of others, such as the sailors and the natives, “legitimates” his violent actions.
"I ordered Friday also, whom I had made an excellent marksman with his gun, to load himself with arms. ..." See in text (Chapter XVII - Visit Of Mutineers)
Notice the language of ownership that Crusoe uses to refer to Friday. Crusoe takes credit for Friday’s accomplishment with marksmanship because he ordered his servant to learn the skill. This assumption demonstrates Crusoe’s colonial mindset: he does not see Friday as a human being; he sees him as an object.
"nor had I kept even the number of years so punctually as to be sure I was right; though, as it proved when I afterwards examined my account, I found I had kept a true reckoning of years...." See in text (Chapter XVII - Visit Of Mutineers)
Crusoe’s description of his time-keeping methods reminds the audience of his narrative perspective. Crusoe narrates the story with a distinct understanding of how events unfolded because the story is told far in the future, after he escaped the island. Moments such as this indicate to readers that his first-person account is far removed from the activities that he describes.
Chapter XVIII - The Ship Recovered
"I told him I looked upon him as a man sent by Heaven to deliver me, and that the whole transaction seemed to be a chain of wonders; that such things as these were the testimonies we had of a secret hand of Providence governing the world..." See in text (Chapter XVIII - The Ship Recovered)
Crusoe’s religious faith is cemented in this conversation with the captain, showing that he has fully repented from his earlier mistakes. Notice that Crusoe believes that everything—from his first marooning to his rescue—is determined by God, as the chain of events that has led to his rescue is too outrageous to be anything but divinely planned. At this point in the novel, Crusoe is gracious and repentant, believing that he has adequately atoned for his previous sins—and that such atonement is acknowledged through the captain’s presence.
"trust to the governor's mercy: by which he meant me, for they all called me governor..." See in text (Chapter XVIII - The Ship Recovered)
Crusoe’s title of “governor” shows not only the respect his various comrades give him but also his adherence to English civility after all the time he’s spent on the island. They likely choose to call him governor to try and put the mutineers at ease since the title would signify that they were dealing with an educated, civilized sort of person—and someone who has total control over the island, their fates, and the laws that may deal out their punishments.
"I immediately advanced with my whole army..." See in text (Chapter XVIII - The Ship Recovered)
Notice Crusoe’s metaphorical usage of military ranks and terms. His army is rather small as far as armies go, indicating that this vocabulary choice is somewhat sarcastic. Though it’s obvious that Crusoe still considers himself in command as a general would be, he curiously ranks Friday above the English captain, showing that his friendship and camaraderie with Friday is to some extent sincere.
Chapter XIX - Return To England
"except that I found two sisters, and two of the children of one of my brothers; and as I had been long ago given over for dead, there had been no provision made for me; so that, in a word, I found nothing to relieve or assist me; and that the little money I had would not do much for me as to settling in the world...." See in text (Chapter XIX - Return To England)
It is clear that Crusoe’s primary concern upon returning to England is his personal security. The existence of his remaining family seems to be of tangential importance to him. The information he receives about his sisters, nieces, and nephews arrives in the context of “provisions made for me,” or lack thereof. Considering that Crusoe has been struggling to survive on a desert island for three decades, his thoughts of self-preservation are justified.