Alone On Humdrum Island
During an age where the most scandalous thing you could do to your family was to leave them and pursue your dreams of being a bonified seafarer, Daniel Defoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe,” rocked England. During the early seventeen hundreds, bookworms had their noses buried in breathlessly romantic literary masterpieces with plucky characters. Take Voltaire’s Candide, who is faced with geological disasters, syphilis, and murder, or Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver, who travels to lands beyond comprehension and sensibility. Then we have Daniel Defoe’s protagonist Robinson Crusoe, who makes pottery, milks goats, and occasionally calmly wages war on the local cannibal population.
Throughout his stay on the dreary island, Robinson Crusoe zealously keeps account of his doings, often mundane and recounted in a deadpan voice that grinds even the most potentially interesting circumstances into mundane happenstance. This dull narrative technique is satisfactory for describing the process of making a fence, but saps the thrill from suspenseful scenes. When Crusoe dispatch the cannibals, instead of providing the reader with a riveting play by play of the battle, Crusoe jots down a list of who shot whom and where. While this writing style may prove tedious for today’s reader, it provided a metronome-like consistency for seventeenth century readers, a way to downplay the frightful situations that “fate” may hash out in ordinary life. At first he attempts to record his innumerable misfortunes via paper and ink, but as his ink supply dwindles he must instead suffer the reader with an after-the-fact testimony of his survival and thrival after he has seamlessly readjusted to life in civilization, in which he experiences “that latter end of Job, [which] was better than the beginning” (Defoe 205).
Crusoe is the antithesis of the lauded romantic hero of the time. He is a middle class man in “the upper Station of low life” (Defoe 5). Our protagonist does not even posses a trade that might redeem him to the working-class reader by his virtuous toil and assiduous vision. At the beginning of the novel, all that Crusoe possesses is the weak capacity for social, spiritual, and economical advancement through his aspirations of maritime exploration. These lacking character qualities at the commencement of the novel slowly ossify into some thing more tangible than a delusion, though they never achieve the audacious fanfare that other characters of the age cleaved to. The tale of Robinson Crusoe is a study on the physical, spiritual, and economic betterment of an intrepid individual in the industrial age. This every-man quality of Defoe’s protagonist is precisely why it is so widely appreciated by its audience.
Defoe, Daniel, and Michael Shinagel. Robinson Crusoe. New York: Norton, 1975. Print.