Wednesday, October 22, 2008

#8 - "Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe

There were a couple of reasons that I picked up Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, a classic tale of adventure first published way back in 1719. The first was that a television show called "Crusoe" is just coming out and I had been inundated by commercials, which made me more aware of the name and interested in the source material. The second reason is that my local library has a little "classics" section that holds all those old, famous books in a couple of shelves for my easy perusal. I've already read Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe because of this classics section and when I wandered over there again, Robinson Crusoe stood out and I grabbed it.

Robinson Crusoe is a man who lived by himself on a mostly deserted island for 28 years before finding his way back to England. I guess it's first important to note that the television show probably only took the name and the idea of an island from the book and made up the rest because there is no way to reconcile the commercials I've been seeing on television with the actual book. I'm too lazy to watch the actual show, but I'm pretty sure it's not worth it anyway. But there are no women in the book until a couple sentences at the end that says he married, had some kids, and then his wife died. A romance this book is not.

First off, on the whole I liked this book. Sure, the narrator rambled on and on and there often wasn't much plot to follow, and it took forever to get on the island, but Crusoe is a pretty likable character and he tells his story in such an honest way that reveals his struggles, loneliness, and life that it wasn't hard for me to finish this book.

Another interesting point is Crusoe's take and discussions on religion that go throughout the entire book. I have to admit--not being religious myself--at times it got a little tiresome to hear some more thanking God for his precious gifts, etc., etc. On the other hand, it was clear that Crusoe received a lot of comfort from his growing interest in God and religion, and it clearly helped him with his solitude. And there were such honest reflections about God that were enlightening to read. Crusoe's interest in God grew along with his hopelessness of being on the island. He wouldn't have looked to God or made him such an important part of his musings if he still had a comfortable life. Crusoe also made some points about how priesthoods were fake and that all the little differences in belief and religion weren't all that important and that all one really needed was a bible and some private study. I think some of these religious points are clearly biased in favor of English Protestantism and against the Spanish Catholics and the Inquisition, but I still thought they were somewhat insightful.

Finally, in a number of ways, Robinson Crusoe is truly dated. Crusoe, as likable and perceptive as he is, is clearly a product of his time. He waxes on about the horrors of his sins and how he defied his father and went to sea, but he is not concerned at all with the fact that he has slaves, lives on slave labor back in England, and was going to fetch slaves when he found himself shipwrecked. His "servant," the "savage" Friday, he converts to Christianity and brings him to England, without even mentioning that Friday was never able to say good-bye to his father who had recently been on the island. Crusoe is so comfortable with this master/servant relationship that he never even ponders the morality of it. Crusoe also kills some animals for sport, which has always been a pet peeve of mine. He discusses how inhuman it was for the Spanish to murder the indigenous people in South America, which I was a little surprised at because that's what the English and French were doing in North America. I think now, though, that this was more of Defoe's anti-Spanish bias and not so much a concern for the indigenous people. But even though he clearly thought more of the Christian white men, he did refrain from murdering the "savages" that came to his island, knowing that it would be wrong and leaving it up to God to punish them for their cannibalism.

All in all, I'm glad I read this book, even if it is to just discredit a bad television show.

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