J.'s Reviews > Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
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Jun 26, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, memorable-unique-strange, classics, novels, british-books, life-changing

I am really amazed at the negative comments surrounding this book, especially ones that comment on the racist and xenophobic aspects of the novel. I attribute it to the awful trend of "postmodern critiques" in modern Humanities departments that believe history and literature start in 1970s, and anything written before that is garbage written by a dead white male. Well, this book is written by a dead white guy and its pretty darn amazing.

This novel was written in 1719, one cannot expect Defoe to be generations ahead of his society in this respect, although in other terms this book is really incredible. What is more, Crusoe's many moral shortcomings both in terms of racism, disobedience to parents and slave trade are examined in depth in this book. Overall, I must commend Defoe for his plot and while I admire the work for its introspective qualities and first person narration I also think it works extremely well as a pure adventure novel.

Contrary to what some of the reviewers have said, I do not think this novel is necessarily about survival in the technical sense, although that is definitely part of it. The book is about one man's journey (intellectual, emotional, and religious), his mistakes, his regrets, his troubles, and his ever enduring spirit. It is about coming to terms with one's mortality, one's limitations as a human being in the face of nature, and about the boundlessness of one's stupidity and arrogance. Robinson is tested every minute of every day and he comes through each test.

Is Robinson an exploiter, a spoiled son, and perhaps above all an idiot? Yes, but this does not make him an unsympathetic character. Was he a jerk? Yes, but what happens to him is perhaps worse than any other punishment that could befall a person. I do not think I can say, as some of the reviewers pointed out that Robinson lacks character development, even as a child I found his moments of introspection very poignant and moving. The Robinson who leaves the island is certainly not the same man who landed on it, even if he has a hopeless and incurable case of Wanderlust. But I already said he was an idiot, so that is not surprising.

While Robinson does not quite have the depth characters one encounters in 19th century literature, his musings, and self reliant adventures on the Island more than compensate for that. His desire for company and his rationalization of why he must persevere are really wonderful.

I think this is something that should be read when one is a child. I first read it when I was six or seven. It was my first real grown up novel, and it transformed my life. At the time, I loved fairy tales and myths, and I was familiar with Kipling's children's stories, but this was completely different, it captivated me from start to end, I could not put it down. It was while reading this that I experienced that unforgettable feeling of wanting to be part of the novel for the first time. I was obsessed with Robinson's life, his era, his England, his Island and his creative enterprises. Even then, I realized I had his thirst for adventure and travel and a part of me wanted to be like him. I credit this book with my obsessive love of reading, and my fascination with all things English.

Recently I read in John Stewart Mill's autobiography that he was a great lover of this book as a child, and it makes me thing this must be a favorite of solitary children. I also always chuckled at Betteredge in Wilkie Collins' Moonstone for his obsession with the book, but it is something I personally understand. It is the only book I have read more than 10 times. Around the time I first read Crusoe, I moved to a new school I did not like. The feeling of knowing no one, and being isolated was brand new to me, and I felt rather like Robinson on a desert Island. The metaphor was so strong, it made me see the work in a whole different light, it was personal and utterly my own in that sense. It was years before I met anyone else who read, let alone liked this work, and I think for that reason it has always had a special place in my heart.

I think overall the way this novel talks about loneliness, and how the character gets through his hardships, is simply incredible.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 26, 2007 – Shelved
September 11, 2007 – Shelved as: favorites
May 27, 2008 – Shelved as: memorable-unique-strange
March 25, 2009 – Shelved as: classics
June 30, 2012 – Shelved as: novels
July 13, 2012 – Shelved as: british-books
December 3, 2017 – Shelved as: life-changing

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