Read at a simple level, the novel includes a number of mechanisms to propel the plot of this adventure story: the many foreshadowings, the dangers and uncertainties, surprising events, and our simple curiosity to see how this castaway makes out. But Defoe combines these elements with a much richer texture. Perhaps because Robinson Crusoe is an everyman character, he does not become a wooden or stereotyped castaway. The novel combines an almost obsessive concern with details and quantification (like one of Swift's satiric narrators--the Modest Proposer, Gulliver) with an ongoing concern for finding a larger meaning in the events and quantities of life. We humans are meaning seekers, who constantly seek to find (or discover) meaning and to create meaning from our experiences. Crusoe in this is quintessentially human. He interprets particular events as God's responses to his actions (the responses being seen as punishments at first), or as evidences of God's care and wisdom.
As a spiritual autobiography, the narrative reveals Crusoe's bumpy, halting, backtracking journey toward genuine Christian faith and a mature understanding of God, himself, and others. More than twenty years of Bible reading, self struggle (especially with his own temperament), and thought are required to mature him. Indeed, the arrival of Friday and the new role of Crusoe as spiritual teacher is a major influence in his own development.
Written in 1719 and being set during the years 1632-1694, the novel shared a worldview that saw reason and faith as allies rather than as strangers or even enemies. (In Samuel Johnson's "Vision of Theodore" (1748), Reason tells the hermit Theodore, "I am Reason, of all subordinate beings the noblest and the greatest; who, if thou wilt receive my laws, will reward thee like the rest of my votaries, by conducting thee to Religion.") Therefore, one of the powerful motivators to faith and growth in faith is Crusoe's thoughtful and reasoning nature. He uses his mind not just for spiritual self analysis but to analyze, interpret, and understand what we might call "the big picture" or "the meaning of it all." "What is this earth and sea?" he asks himself. He thinks through the strengths and weaknesses of his situation, his values, and his own personality.
Why do so many people enjoy learning about Robinson Crusoe as a person? He is resourceful. But many other characters are resourceful. He reveals his weaknesses. But so do many others. Perhaps one reason is that he has a "half full" rather than a "half empty" attitude toward his life (at least after he has an opportunity to think things through). "All evils are to be considered with the good that is in them and with what worse attends them," he says. And later, "I learned to look more upon the bright side of my condition and less upon the dark side and to consider what I enjoyed rather than what I wanted." In the end, though, perhaps it is the sum of his characteristics that make him interesting and likable: rugged individualist, worried castaway, rational and logical thinker, easily blinded by emotion, realistic and practical, hoarder of cash on an island of one. He learns and then forgets, he decides and then changes his mind. So, it may be that as we read we do find ourselves there. And if Defoe's stated purpose is worked out, as Crusoe finds faith, compassion, and hope in the middle of challenging circumstances, so do we.
First Paragraph. Take a few moments to look closely at the first paragraph. It reveals several important facts:
What do these paragraphs mean? They tell us that we are reading