Literary Devices in Robinson Crusoe
Repetition: In order to survive, Crusoe keeps extensive catalogues of goods and resources he has available to him. Often, similar events—such as visiting the wrecked ship multiple times, or building different-sized canoes—happen more than once. Defoe uses this repetition to present not only the monotony of island life but also Crusoe’s obsessive personality. Recounting many mundane events also helps contribute to the realism of the novel.
Point of View: The novel is narrated in first-person point of view, showcasing Crusoe’s firsthand experiences and recounting events in his own words. Because of his subjectivity, not all of Crusoe’s words should be taken at face value. Unreliability is especially notable in scenes where Crusoe describes his encounters with native wildlife and people, due to his upbringing in English society making him likely to see them as less civilized than he is. Furthermore, several scenes where Crusoe is under the influence of alcohol and tobacco may portray events differently from how they actually occurred.
Allusion: Since Daniel Defoe was a Puritan Christian, Crusoe shares his beliefs and frequently references biblical stories or figures. These references serve as ways for Defoe to show Crusoe’s struggle to be pious or to provide guidance for Crusoe in tough situations.
Literary Devices Examples in Robinson Crusoe:
Chapter I - Start In Life
"Had I now had the sense to have gone back to Hull, and have gone home, I had been happy..." See in text (Chapter I - Start In Life)
Moments like this one remind readers that the narrator tells his story from a removed, future perspective. He foreshadows the tragic turn his tale will take and colors his story with the knowledge of what will happen.
"Colonel Lockhart..." See in text (Chapter I - Start In Life)
Notice how Crusoe establishes the importance of naming at the very beginning of his story. Historically, one’s family name, reputation, and social status was inherited. However, here we see Crusoe and his family making their own wealth and creating their own name. This establishes the fluid nature of the novel’s social setting: personal status is determined by earned or chosen names, not by family.
Chapter II - Slavery And Escape
"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
"in order to act the rebel to their authority, and the fool to my own interests..." See in text (Chapter III - Wrecked On A Desert Island)
Instances of parallel structure are usually instructive because of what they put together. In this case, the turn from his parents to himself as his authority is what turns the rebel to fool.
"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.
Chapter VII - Agricultural Experience
"and afterwards served for a defence also, as I shall observe in its order...." See in text (Chapter VII - Agricultural Experience)
The narrator scatters sentences such as this one throughout the story to foreshadow the more exciting or interesting events that will come. This is a way in which he keeps his readers engaged while elaborating on things like farming and building his habitation.
" 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.
Chapter XI - Finds Print Of Man's Foot On The Sand
"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.
Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat
"How do I know what God Himself judges in this particular case? It is certain these people do not commit this as a crime; it is not against their own consciences reproving, or their light reproaching them; they do not know it to be an offence, and then commit it in defiance of divine justice, as we do in almost all the sins we commit. ..." See in text (Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat)
While Crusoe has thus far exhibited a traditional colonial mindset towards the natives, this passage of questioning slightly challenges the ingrained Western discourse on natives. This might be a moment in which the author places questions about this dominant colonial narrative in the thoughts of his narrator. While it does not markedly change Crusoe’s thought patterns or actions, this moment of questioning is an interesting point of contention with the overall colonial narrative.
"Sometimes I thought if digging a hole under the place where they made their fire, and putting in five or six pounds of gunpowder, which, when they kindled their fire, would consequently take fire, and blow up all that was near it:..." See in text (Chapter XII - A Cave Retreat)
Crusoe’s thoughts create a paradox. He wants to “save” the victims of the natives, but the method by which he might do this involves extreme violence. He would wipe out the entire population of natives in order to achieve his objectives. This should give readers pause about the colonial mission to “civilize” native populations.
Chapter XIII - Wreck Of A Spanish Ship
"But to waive all this for a while..." See in text (Chapter XIII - Wreck Of A Spanish Ship)
At this halfway point in the adventure of his protagonist, Defoe manages the various sources of tension that might be interesting to readers. He promises that there will be more encounters with the “savages” even as he announces the start of a different episode.
"all this time I was in a murdering humour..." See in text (Chapter XIII - Wreck Of A Spanish Ship)
Crusoe is at least partly self-conscious of the irony that he demonstrates violent inclinations as he judges the cannibals for their violent ways.
Chapter XIV - A Dream Realised
"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 ran over the whole history of my life in miniature, or by abridgment, as I may call it, to my coming to this island, and also of that part of my life since I came to this island...." See in text (Chapter XIV - A Dream Realised)
As a developing form, the novel had to deal with the likelihood of readers not finishing a narrative in one sitting. And given the particular ebbs and flows of a reader’s attention span, Crusoe reiterates preceding events to remind readers of the plot. These gestures also contribute to Crusoe’s credibility, or the story’s realism. Presumably, the practice he gets telling his story to other characters throughout the story makes it more plausible that he would remember a detailed account when writing his narrative in full.
Chapter XVII - Visit Of Mutineers
""No no," says I, "Friday; I am afraid they will murder them, indeed; but you may be sure they will not eat them." ..." See in text (Chapter XVII - Visit Of Mutineers)
Notice how Crusoe makes a point to distinguish the murderous sailors from the “barbarous” natives. His distinction suggests that there is a hierarchy to sinful, malicious acts of violence, and he places cannibalism at the bottom of this hierarchy. In this way, he suggests that there is no crime greater than cannibalism.
"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.