Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Themes of Robinson Crusoe

Themes :Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Ambivalence of Mastery
Crusoe’s success in mastering his situation, overcoming his obstacles, and controlling his environment shows the condition of mastery in a positive light, at least at the beginning of the novel. Crusoe lands in an inhospitable environment and makes it his home. His taming and domestication of wild goats and parrots with Crusoe as their master illustrates his newfound control. Moreover, Crusoe’s mastery over nature makes him a master of his fate and of himself. Early in the novel, he frequently blames himself for disobeying his father’s advice or blames the destiny that drove him to sea. But in the later part of the novel, Crusoe stops viewing himself as a passive victim and strikes a new note of self-determination. In building a home for himself on the island, he finds that he is master of his life—he suffers a hard fate and still finds prosperity.

But this theme of mastery becomes more complex and less positive after Friday’s arrival, when the idea of mastery comes to apply more to unfair relationships between humans. In Chapter XXIII, Crusoe teaches Friday the word “[m]aster” even before teaching him “yes” and “no,” and indeed he lets him “know that was to be [Crusoe’s] name.” Crusoe never entertains the idea of considering Friday a friend or equal—for some reason, superiority comes instinctively to him. We further question Crusoe’s right to be called “[m]aster” when he later refers to himself as “king” over the natives and Europeans, who are his “subjects.” In short, while Crusoe seems praiseworthy in mastering his fate, the praiseworthiness of his mastery over his fellow humans is more doubtful. Defoe explores the link between the two in his depiction of the colonial mind.

The Necessity of Repentance

Crusoe’s experiences constitute not simply an adventure story in which thrilling things happen, but also a moral tale illustrating the right and wrong ways to live one’s life. This moral and religious dimension of the tale is indicated in the Preface, which states that Crusoe’s story is being published to instruct others in God’s wisdom, and one vital part of this wisdom is the importance of repenting one’s sins. While it is important to be grateful for God’s miracles, as Crusoe is when his grain sprouts, it is not enough simply to express gratitude or even to pray to God, as Crusoe does several times with few results. Crusoe needs repentance most, as he learns from the fiery angelic figure that comes to him during a feverish hallucination and says, “Seeing all these things have not brought thee to repentance, now thou shalt die.” Crusoe believes that his major sin is his rebellious behavior toward his father, which he refers to as his “original sin,” akin to Adam and Eve’s first disobedience of God. This biblical reference also suggests that Crusoe’s exile from civilization represents Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden.

For Crusoe, repentance consists of acknowledging his wretchedness and his absolute dependence on the Lord. This admission marks a turning point in Crusoe’s spiritual consciousness, and is almost a born-again experience for him. After repentance, he complains much less about his sad fate and views the island more positively. Later, when Crusoe is rescued and his fortune restored, he compares himself to Job, who also regained divine favor. Ironically, this view of the necessity of repentance ends up justifying sin: Crusoe may never have learned to repent if he had never sinfully disobeyed his father in the first place. Thus, as powerful as the theme of repentance is in the novel, it is nevertheless complex and ambiguous.

The Importance of Self-Awareness
Crusoe’s arrival on the island does not make him revert to a brute existence controlled by animal instincts, and, unlike animals, he remains conscious of himself at all times. Indeed, his island existence actually deepens his self-awareness as he withdraws from the external social world and turns inward. The idea that the individual must keep a careful reckoning of the state of his own soul is a key point in the Presbyterian doctrine that Defoe took seriously all his life. We see that in his normal day-to-day activities, Crusoe keeps accounts of himself enthusiastically and in various ways. For example, it is significant that Crusoe’s makeshift calendar does not simply mark the passing of days, but instead more egocentrically marks the days he has spent on the island: it is about him, a sort of self-conscious or autobiographical calendar with him at its center. Similarly, Crusoe obsessively keeps a journal to record his daily activities, even when they amount to nothing more than finding a few pieces of wood on the beach or waiting inside while it rains. Crusoe feels the importance of staying aware of his situation at all times. We can also sense Crusoe’s impulse toward self-awareness in the fact that he teaches his parrot to say the words, “Poor Robin Crusoe. . . . Where have you been?” This sort of self-examining thought is natural for anyone alone on a desert island, but it is given a strange intensity when we recall that Crusoe has spent months teaching the bird to say it back to him. Crusoe teaches nature itself to voice his own self-awareness.Themes :Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Ambivalence of Mastery
Crusoe’s success in mastering his situation, overcoming his obstacles, and controlling his environment shows the condition of mastery in a positive light, at least at the beginning of the novel. Crusoe lands in an inhospitable environment and makes it his home. His taming and domestication of wild goats and parrots with Crusoe as their master illustrates his newfound control. Moreover, Crusoe’s mastery over nature makes him a master of his fate and of himself. Early in the novel, he frequently blames himself for disobeying his father’s advice or blames the destiny that drove him to sea. But in the later part of the novel, Crusoe stops viewing himself as a passive victim and strikes a new note of self-determination. In building a home for himself on the island, he finds that he is master of his life—he suffers a hard fate and still finds prosperity.

But this theme of mastery becomes more complex and less positive after Friday’s arrival, when the idea of mastery comes to apply more to unfair relationships between humans. In Chapter XXIII, Crusoe teaches Friday the word “[m]aster” even before teaching him “yes” and “no,” and indeed he lets him “know that was to be [Crusoe’s] name.” Crusoe never entertains the idea of considering Friday a friend or equal—for some reason, superiority comes instinctively to him. We further question Crusoe’s right to be called “[m]aster” when he later refers to himself as “king” over the natives and Europeans, who are his “subjects.” In short, while Crusoe seems praiseworthy in mastering his fate, the praiseworthiness of his mastery over his fellow humans is more doubtful. Defoe explores the link between the two in his depiction of the colonial mind.

The Necessity of Repentance

Crusoe’s experiences constitute not simply an adventure story in which thrilling things happen, but also a moral tale illustrating the right and wrong ways to live one’s life. This moral and religious dimension of the tale is indicated in the Preface, which states that Crusoe’s story is being published to instruct others in God’s wisdom, and one vital part of this wisdom is the importance of repenting one’s sins. While it is important to be grateful for God’s miracles, as Crusoe is when his grain sprouts, it is not enough simply to express gratitude or even to pray to God, as Crusoe does several times with few results. Crusoe needs repentance most, as he learns from the fiery angelic figure that comes to him during a feverish hallucination and says, “Seeing all these things have not brought thee to repentance, now thou shalt die.” Crusoe believes that his major sin is his rebellious behavior toward his father, which he refers to as his “original sin,” akin to Adam and Eve’s first disobedience of God. This biblical reference also suggests that Crusoe’s exile from civilization represents Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden.

For Crusoe, repentance consists of acknowledging his wretchedness and his absolute dependence on the Lord. This admission marks a turning point in Crusoe’s spiritual consciousness, and is almost a born-again experience for him. After repentance, he complains much less about his sad fate and views the island more positively. Later, when Crusoe is rescued and his fortune restored, he compares himself to Job, who also regained divine favor. Ironically, this view of the necessity of repentance ends up justifying sin: Crusoe may never have learned to repent if he had never sinfully disobeyed his father in the first place. Thus, as powerful as the theme of repentance is in the novel, it is nevertheless complex and ambiguous.

The Importance of Self-Awareness
Crusoe’s arrival on the island does not make him revert to a brute existence controlled by animal instincts, and, unlike animals, he remains conscious of himself at all times. Indeed, his island existence actually deepens his self-awareness as he withdraws from the external social world and turns inward. The idea that the individual must keep a careful reckoning of the state of his own soul is a key point in the Presbyterian doctrine that Defoe took seriously all his life. We see that in his normal day-to-day activities, Crusoe keeps accounts of himself enthusiastically and in various ways. For example, it is significant that Crusoe’s makeshift calendar does not simply mark the passing of days, but instead more egocentrically marks the days he has spent on the island: it is about him, a sort of self-conscious or autobiographical calendar with him at its center. Similarly, Crusoe obsessively keeps a journal to record his daily activities, even when they amount to nothing more than finding a few pieces of wood on the beach or waiting inside while it rains. Crusoe feels the importance of staying aware of his situation at all times. We can also sense Crusoe’s impulse toward self-awareness in the fact that he teaches his parrot to say the words, “Poor Robin Crusoe. . . . Where have you been?” This sort of self-examining thought is natural for anyone alone on a desert island, but it is given a strange intensity when we recall that Crusoe has spent months teaching the bird to say it back to him. Crusoe teaches nature itself to voice his own self-awareness.Themes

Fear

Robinson Crusoe must overcome his fear in order to survive his long ordeal on the deserted island. The trial by fear begins when he runs about like a madman, scared of every shadow, and sleeps in a tree with a weapon: "fear banished all my religious hope, all that former confidence in God." He quickly realizes that he must recover his wits and reason if he is to survive.

At several points in the narrative, Crusoe is almost overwhelmed by his fear of the unknown. It propels him to colonize the island, securing his shelter and becoming self-sufficient. His ability to funnel his fear into productivity and creativity allows him to survive under extreme conditions.

Crusoe masters his fear when he faces the ultimate challenge — the devil. Investigating a cave, he is met by a pair of eyes. At first scared, he realizes that he can confront this enemy just like he has met every other challenge on the island. "He that was afraid to see the devil, was not fit to live twenty years in an island all alone."

With that, he rushes in to confront the devil and discovers a dying goat. He has passed his trial. Had he not faced his fears, he would have run away in full belief that the devil lived in that cave. Instead, he investigates and confronts his fear.

Human Condition

Robinson Crusoe is a meditation on the human condition, and an argument for challenging traditional notions about that condition. Finding himself alone in a deserted island, Crusoe struggles to maintain reason, order, and civilization. His "original sin" is his rejection of a conventional life. When he leaves England for a life on the high seas, he refuses to be "satisfied with the station wherein God and Nature hath placed" him.

Crusoe struggles with — and eventually triumphs over — nature. The book suggests that this struggle is at the heart of human nature: man is on earth to triumph and gain profit from nature. Any profit makes sense in this view of the world, whether that means getting just one plank out of a huge tree or building a boat too heavy to bring to the water. Once Crusoe is able to overcome his fear and subdue nature is rewarded handsomely.

Money

Consistent with Defoe's writings on economics, money is an important theme in Robinson Crusoe. At the beginning of the narrative, Crusoe details how much money he has, what he does with it, and what he gains by his actions.

On the island, money loses all value. Crusoe has to find another way to measure his worth. While rummaging through a ship for salvage he laments aloud at the sight of some money, "O Drug! what are thou good for." At that point he realizes that just one knife is worth more than money. Usefulness is the key to evaluation of worth.

Crusoe's hope of returning to England is symbolized by these tokens of civilization — on the island, the money is only a reminder of his old life and he treasures it as a memento. In all of his other endeavors he freely admits his success or failure. But as a merchant, he knows that though separated from the world now, he can only reconnect with it if he has money. Once he returns to London, his old reliance on money returns.

Industrialization

Industrialization is defined here as a process whereby humans channel the forces of nature into the production and manufacture of goods for their economic consumption. This industrialization is Crusoe's occupation, according to his cultural background and his religion. He immediately sets out to be productive and self-sufficient on the island.

By the time of Robinson Crusoe, most villages were experiencing labor specialization. People began to buy bread instead of baking it. Thus Crusoe has to relearn many of these arts to survive. With practice, Crusoe is able to increase the level of industrialization on his island.

Crusoe has a few implements with which he is able to reconstruct a semblance of civilization as well as create more advanced technology. While building his house, he notes that every task is exhausting. In brief, he praises the idea of "division of labor" as he describes cutting timber out of trees, bringing the wood from the trees to the construction site, and then constructing his shelter. He soon devises labor-saving devices, thus increasing his efficiency and productivity.

The necessity of a sharp ax leads Crusoe to invent his own foot-powered sharpener. He has "no notion of a kiln," but he manages to fire pottery. He needs a mill for grinding his grain, but not finding a proper stone, he settles for a block of hard wood. The entire process of baking his own bread spurs a realization of how wonderful the state of human technology is.

People take the labor behind the necessities of life for granted when such items can be easily purchased in the market. Crusoe is not suggesting that people return to a world of self-sufficient households. Instead, as he goes about his Herculean tasks, like creating a simple shelf in his house, he comments that a carpenter could have finished the two-day job in an hour. Thus he appreciates the process of specialization that helps make industrialization so successful.



taken herehttp://www.sparknotes.com/lit/crusoe/themes.html:

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