The Spiritual Journey of Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe is a novel that easily lends itself to analytical discussions surrounding themes. The novel is not simply a tale of adventure and excitement and one should not place shallow expectations on it before reading. To discard the thematic relevance that author, Daniel Defoe, exhibits would be to miss out on what the novel has to offer. Wealth, the natural world, family, order, slavery, society and class are all valid themes to carefully dissect within the novel. After reading Crusoe, all of these themes were interesting, but the recurrent and overarching theme of religion proved to be the one that stuck with me the most. Throughout the novel, we see Robinson Crusoe embark, not only on a voyage into the sea, but on a spiritual voyage as well. At times, Crusoe appears to be devout in his faith and other times he contradicts himself and his faith. My goal is to carefully select the most interesting religious moments of Crusoe and call attention to the significance of these moments.
At the beginning of the novel, Crusoe ignores the warnings of his father regarding leaving and going out to sea. This same authoritative advice is given to him by the captain of the first ship he sails on. Both his father and the captain of the ship act as figures of God. By disobeying his father’s warnings, Crusoe shows his first rebellion against God. “I consulted neither Father or Mother any more, nor so much as sent them Word of it; but leaving them to hear of it as they might, without asking God’s Blessing, or my Father’s, without any Consideration of Circumstances or Consequences and in an ill Hour, God knows, (Defoe 7). This defiance will later curse and haunt Crusoe. Much later in the novel, Crusoe refers to his disobedience as, “ORIGINAL SIN” (Defoe 142). Crusoe is correlating the sinning against his father with the sinning against God. In the Bible, original sin refers to the fall of man and Adam’s rebellion in Eden.
During his first voyage, Crusoe encounters a terrible storm at sea. “… I made vows and resolutions, that if it would please God here to spare my life this one voyage, if I ever got once my foot upon dry land again, I would go directly home to my father…” (Defoe 8). At this stage in Crusoe’s spiritual life, he tends to call upon God selfishly, when his life is in real danger. He is quick to forget these promises and vows to God and his father once he is out of trouble.
After Crusoe has shipwrecked on the island and is alone, we start to see a more self-aware Crusoe. At first, he is angry and upset that God would forsake him with such a terrible set of events. However, after a vivid fever dream, he begins to realize that the storms and his shipwreck are God’s will. It’s not simply a punishment for Crusoe, rather, God wants him to find his way to Providence by the trials and tribulations that are to come on the island. Crusoe repents and begins his new spiritual life at this point.
It would be boring if Crusoe simply became a well-rounded Christian who never did anything wrong after his vision and repentance. Even after this transformative experience, he tends to contradict himself and his motives aren’t always pure. “…I had nothing to do with them; they were National, and I ought to leave them to the Justice of God, who is the Governour of Nations, and knows how by National Punishments to make a just Retribution for National Offences…” (Defoe 144). Here, we see Crusoe rationalizing why he shouldn’t engage with the Cannibals. He plays it off as if it should be up to God to punish the wicked, but later in the novel he does engage them, rescuing Friday. It is fair to say that Crusoe is afraid for his life and does not want to engage with the cannibals unless he is forced to. I believe that Crusoe, while he may have had a major repentance experience, is resorting to selfish behaviors here. He is using God when it is convenient for him.
The ultimate reason for Crusoe’s conversion and repentance can’t simply be chalked up to his vision, or even his guilt regarding the disobedience of his father. I don’t doubt that those are major factors in the conversion, but I’d like to propose another factor. I have never been stranded alone on an island, but I would imagine that having no contact with people or real social order would drive a person to become desperate in many ways. Any indication of comfort or guidance, real or imagined, would be welcomed without resistance. we know this conversion happened before Friday entered the picture, so during that time, Crusoe was left only with his mind and pets. I think it’s very possible that Crusoe’s newfound outlook and relationship with God was created by his loneliness. This would coincide with his selfish nature, which we’ve seen over and over throughout the story. His fever dream and vision could have been created by his subconscious. I don’t think there is any one right answer, but I do find it necessary to exhaust all possible motivations and reasons in exploring his spiritual journey.
Robinson Crusoe’s spiritual journey is not a simple journey. It does not have beginning, middle and end in my mind. It raises several questions and there is a back-and-forth action that is never steadily consistent. I don’t say that in a negative way either. Crusoe represents the spiritual battle in all of us. Whether one is religious or not, remaining static is a hard thing to achieve morally and our motivations aren’t always as pure as we would like them to be. This novel warrants close inspection and anyone willing to take the time to go down this rabbit hole will learn a great deal.
Wyeth, NC. Crusoe carves his cross on the beach to keep track of passing . 1920. Painting. candlelight Stories. Web. 25 Feb 2014. <http://www.candlelightstories.com/2010/03/05/audio-podcast-novel-robinson-crusoe-part-5/>.
Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1994. Print.
“Religion in “Robinson Crusoe”.” N.p., Web. 25 Feb. 2014.