Thursday, March 03, 2011

Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe is one of those books I first read as a kid in junior high school - and I still remember my excitement about the great adventure it described.  The funny thing, though, is that during that first reading the moral of the story went right over my head.  It is only now, having re-read the book as an adult, that I see that Crusoe’s hard-earned spiritual transformation from godless man to believer might just have been Daniel Defoe’s main point.  While I was being thrilled by Crusoe’s battles with pirates and cannibals, and his struggle to survive from one week to the next, an equally important story was happening inside Crusoe’s head. 

Most everyone knows the basic plot of Robinson Crusoe: a young Englishman, seeking adventure, goes to sea and eventually, after already having escaped from Barbary Coast pirates, finds himself stranded on a desert island where he manages to survive for 28 years by avoiding the cannibals who use the island as their private picnic grounds.  Crusoe finally makes his way back to England, but only after doing battle with both the cannibals and a group of mutinous sailors who stumble upon his island.  No boy-reader would argue with a story like that one.

Daniel Defoe
But most of the “action” happens before Crusoe is shipwrecked and during the last two years of his stay on the island.  In between, are the years Crusoe spends salvaging necessities from the shipwreck and figuring out how to manufacture items that he is unable to find on the ship before its remains wash away forever.  The brilliance with which Crusoe was able to make the most of everything he carried ashore intrigued me on my first reading of the novel (and I probably enjoyed that aspect of the book even more than I enjoyed the battles Crusoe was involved in, truth be told) but I do not recall being overly impressed by Crusoe’s belief that small “miracles” were being worked on his behalf by a god he, early on, barely believed existed. 

By modern standards, this is not a politically correct novel, but it should not be judged by modern standards.  That a three-century-old novel can still appeal to modern youth is remarkable, and Robinson Crusoe should be appreciated as a snapshot in time, a novel reflecting the racial and political attitudes of its day.  Recommend Crusoe to an early-teen-reader of your acquaintance and watch what happens.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. Sadly, I've never read this one. When I was growing up the boys were steered towards reads like this and we were steered towards things like Little Women. I'd love to give this one a try in the future. I would enjoy the adventurous aspects of the story as well as the deeper layers of meaning that you mention in your commentary.

  2. This was one of my favorites as well as a teen. It wasn't quite as good as Swiss Family Robinson or Jules Verne's Mysterious Island but it was definitely a great book! I should follow your example and give some of those classics I loved as a child another look!

  3. Other classics to revisit: A Tale of Two Cities, The Count of Monte Cristo. You won't be able to put them down.

  4. Kathleen, that's exactly why I never got all the way through "Little Women," although I've pretty much learned the plot details via books about Alcott, both fiction and nonfiction. I tried to read it last year but gave up after about 30 pages; maybe I'll give it another ago because I do find Alcott's life fascinating.

  5. Andy, reading some of the classics was one of my 2011 goals, so I'm hoping to sneak in another half dozen or so. But my TBR stack gets taller and taller...what to do?

  6. Factotum, I've read "Tale" three or four times and still enjoy the trip, but I've never read "Count." I'll have to do exceuses anymore with all these free e-books, mostly classics of this type, available.