Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Robinson Crusoe...

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe or Foe, as was his birth name before he changed it to sound more aristocratic, was our March Socratic Book Club read.  Though nearly 300 years old, this great adventure tale still appeals to modern readers.  It is the story of shipwreck and survival, man against nature and man against self.  

In opposition of his father, Robinson Crusoe leaves home to find adventure at sea.  He is shipwrecked, captured by pirates, sold into slavery, eventually escaping, and becomes a prosperous land owner in Brazil. However, his success is not enough, for he sets sail from Brazil to Africa to participate in the slave trade.  While enroute, he is again shipwrecked.  Being the lone survivor, he makes his way to an uninhabited island.  It is here, he spends the next 28 years of his life.   

Weaving between first and third person narrative, Defoe keeps the reader's attention during those initial years of Crusoe being marooned. Like any masterful storyteller, Defore also uses a variety of literary devices, including vivid description, metaphors, similes, contrast, foreshadowing, and flashback. to make his story more interesting.  I was totally pulled into Crusoe's struggle.  The author writes,
I had a dismal prospect of my condition; for as I was not cast away upon that island without being driven, as is said, by a violent storm. quite out of the course of our intended voyage, and a great way, some hundreds of leagues out of the ordinary course of the trade of mankind, I had great reason to consider it as a determination of Heaven, that in this desolate place, and in this desolate manner, I should end my life.  The tears would run plentifully down my face when I made these reflections, and sometimes I would expostulate with myself, why Providence should thus completely ruin its creatures, and render them so absolutely miserable, so without help abandoned, so entirely depressed, that it could hardly be rational to be thankful for such a life.  
But something always returned swift upon me to check these thoughts, and to reprove me; and particularly one day, walking with my gun in my hand by the seaside, I was very pensive upon the subject of my present condition, when Reason, as it were, expostulated with me t'other way, thus: "Well, you are in a desolate condition, it is true, but pray remember, where are the rest of you?  Did you come eleven of you into the boat?  Where are the ten?  Why were they not saved, and you lost? Why were you singled out?  Is it better to be here, or there?"  And then I pointed to the sea.  All evils are to be considered with the good that is in them, and with that worse attends them.  
Then it occurred to me again, how I was furnished for my subsistence, and what would have been my case if it had not happened, which was an hundred thousand to one, that the ship floated from the place where she first struck and was driven so near to the shore that I had time to get all these things out of her; what would have been my case, if I had been to have lived in the condition in which I at first came on shore, without necessaries of life, or necessaries to supply and procure them?
Here, we see Crusoe attempting to rationalize and tame his thoughts.  For the first few years of his abandonment, he continues to wrestle with his fate. At one point, he makes a list of the good and evil of his circumstances, "And as my reason began now to master my despondency, I began to comfort myself as well as I could, and to set the good against the evil, that I might have something to distinguish my case from worse; and I stated it very impartially, like a debtor and creditor, the comforts I enjoyed against the miseries I suffered..."  

Over time he takes up the Bible and begins reading it on a regular basis trying to find purpose and meaning in his condition.  Finally, after multiple fits of "ague", Crusoe accepts Christ and his lot.
Thus I lived mighty comfortably, my mind being entirely composed by resigning to the will of God, and throwing myself wholly upon the disposal of His providence.  
From that point on, he not only tames his inner self, but also conquers the physical realms of nature.  He depends on God's provisions and learns to work the land instead of against it, making a comfortable home and life for himself.  Eventually, Crusoe even embraces the simplicity and solitude of life on the island.

Then one day, Crusoe sees a lone footprint in the sand on the shore.  He is both happy and afraid as he realizes the island has been visited by cannibals.  However, many years pass before he actually sees them.  I will not give away the second half of the story, but encourage you to read Robinson Crusoe for yourself, which by the way was originally titled, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates.

If you are fortunate enough to come across a Charles Scribner copy of Robinson Crusoe, pictured above, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, I would recommend it as the illustrations are fabulous and add to the antiquity of the story...

My only caution is that the illustrated copy does not include the full ending, so I did finish the book reading from my Watermill Classic paperback, which included approx. 40 more pages.

This review of Robinson Crusoe will be included as part of my 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge in the Adventure category.

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