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Defoe's Narrative Technique in Robinson Crusoe

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2004 25 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature

Excerpt

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Genre
2.1 Desert Island Fiction
2.2 Religious Allegory

3. Structure

4. Narrative Situation

5. Language and Style
5.1 Fictional Realism
5.2 Tone
5.3 Vocabulary
5.4 Figures of Speech
5.4.1 Motifs
5.4.2 Metaphors
5.4.3 Images
a) Animal Images
b) The Double Image of the Island
5.4.4 Irony of Situation

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

With the publication of Robinson Crusoe in 1719 the novel became established as a significant literary genre. In this connection Daniel Defoe set new standards for a long period. With his The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe he laid the foundations of the contemporary Robinsonade. “With its common hero, pseudo-authentic style, and focus on ideological problems of materialism and individualism, it has been widely seen as the first modern realist novel”[1], the critic David Fausett writes. But in the history of interpretation there are dissensions about Defoe’s role in the development of the novel. His style although it revolutionised the English novel, first was a topic for extensive discussions.

From Maximillian E. Novak we get to know that “many of Defoe`s critics have regarded his fiction as a kind of accident arising from his desperate need to support his family and to keep off his creditors.“[2] In the Rise of the Novel Ian Watt goes so far as to say that Defoe “is perhaps a unique example of a great writer who was very little interested in literature, and says nothing of interest about it as literature.“[3] In contrast Hammond underlines the novel’s “lasting significance” that “surely lies in its consummate blending of divergent literary traditions and its fruitfulness as a source of myth.“[4] Furthermore he concludes that “a story that has achieved the status of a fable must possess considerably literary and imaginative qualities and respond to some deep need in the human psyche.“[5]

Because there must be something in Defoe’s style and narrative technique that justifies the novel’s position in literature some critics have already tried to find an explanation for Defoe’s role in the rise of the novel. According to Ganzel it is the presentation of Crusoe’s religious concern as a central event of the book that is an intellectual justification for the novel.[6] If we believe Novak "Defoe was able to please his audience (…) by his realistic technique. And through realism Defoe was to find a justification for fiction which was both aesthetic and didactic."[7]

As we can see the opinions of Defoe’s literary style and qualities differ a lot. To see what his narrative abilities really are we need to have a close look at the novel itself. Therefore my preferred questions are ‘How do we read the novel nowadays?’, or in other words, ‘To which genre does Robinson Crusoe belong?’. Further I want to analyse the structure and the narrative situation. And not at least I want to examine Defoe’s language and style in detail to draw a picture of his narrative qualities. In analysing different aspects of language and style of Robinson Crusoe we should come closer to an explanation for the novel’s ‘lasting significance’ and its important role in English literature.

2. Genre

Genre is a French term for a literary type or class. The different literary kinds or genres are distinguished by conventions and rules to which writers are expected to follow. Conventions are essential to all literature as "necessary and convenient ways of working within the limitations of the medium of words."[8] According to Montgomery, the most obvious importance of the idea of genre involves "seeing conventions in a text instead of assuming the text to be a kind of unmediated human expression or way of getting at social meaning or truth."[9] Because every writer accepts conventions as soon as he begins to write the idea of genre has a central position, as a part of a skill of critical reading. This means one has to recognise "that human creativity and the particular meanings texts create, are not fully 'original', but are build up by exploiting already-existing resources or patterns."[10] It is self-evident that Robinson Crusoe follows special conventions too and therefore it can be classified as desert island fiction and religious allegory.

2.1 Desert Island Fiction

“The publication of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe in 1719 marked the inception of a literary genre which has attained universal popularity.”[11] Desert island fiction is “a form of fiction in which a remote and 'uncivilised' island is used as the venue of the story and action. It has a particular attraction because it can be placed right outside the 'real' world and may be an image of the ideal, the unspoilt and the primitive."[12] The story of Robinson Crusoe, as the pioneer of desert island fiction established the main features of this genre. A first characteristic is the isolation of a person brought about by events such as shipwreck, plain crash or other catastrophes. Out of necessity, the person develops survival strategies and such has to deal with the relation between nature and civilisation. Isolation and loneliness support the process of self-seeking and reorganisation of the self. The most important feature is the distance to civilisation, which helps to develop a new attitude towards the world. This fact is closely related to the spiritual experience of the solitude of soul, which plays an important role in the religious allegory, to which Robinson Crusoe belongs, too. As will become clearer in my next paragraph the two genres of desert island fiction and religious allegory are closely interwoven in Robinson Crusoe.

2.2 Religious Allegory

Robinson Crusoe represents a fusion of two literary traditions . It is not just an adventure story about storms and pirates, but also an allegory of moral discovery. The novel is highly allusive and there are religious considerations throughout the book. As Damrosch pointed out, the "affinities of Robinson Crusoe with the Puritan tradition are unmistakable."[13] It draws on the genres of spiritual autobiography and allegory fairly closely. The moral allegory as exemplified by Bunyan's Pilgrim’s Progress in 1678 "depicts a journey through a symbolic landscape in which the central figure moves from innocence to enlightenment ."[14] Robinson Crusoe is an allegory of one man's journey through life and therefore seems to follow logically from the tradition of puritan allegorical writing that was popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. Robinson as a solitary hero learns to triumph over adversity, he systematically gains control over his environment and in this process becomes a wiser and more tolerant being.

First hints as to categorize the novel as a religious allegory one can find in the preface where the editor explicitly tells us that this novel will teach us to "honour the wisdom of Providence". He emphasizes that "the story is told with modesty, with seriousness, and with a religious application of events."[15] Publishing Crusoe's tale, the editor asserts is doing a great service to the world, because the reader is meant to learn something spiritually useful when reading this story. In the opening section of the novel, one can see that Robinson Crusoe bears a strong resemblance to spiritual autobiography. Crusoe himself underscores a religious aspect by focusing on his wickedness in disobeying his father's orders, and the punishments that come upon him for doing so. "Crusoe's 'original sin', like Adam's is disobedience to his father,"[16] Damrosch writes. After going to sea against expressed warnings, Crusoe is punished by shipwreck and isolation, then converted by God and the words of the Bible, and rewarded in the end beyond his hopes. In fictional terms, this metaphor of spiritual pilgrimage towards salvation is modified and made more complex by interlocking systems of biblical parallels that come very close to allegory.[17] Near the end, when Robinson experiences something like Moses' sight from Mount Pisgah of a promised land Blewett sees in him "if only for a moment the embodiment of human suffering or of human hope", and he believes the story "raised to the level of myth."[18] More than once Crusoe likens himself to the Prodigal Son, who is a favourite emblem for fallen man in Puritan homiletics and a shipwrecked sea captain calls him a Jonah.[19] Further there is a reference to a Christ's parable of the ‘sower’, when Crusoe leaves the island and gives those who remain various seeds "and bad them to be sure to sow and increase them."[20] But as Blewett pointed out the references to biblical parallels are more casual and diffuse, "they lack the consistency and concentration necessary for a sustained authorial comment and point to a habit of mind rather than a structural principle."[21] This thesis is supported by Novak's statement that Defoe "for all his praise of Bunyan, (…) never wrote a length allegory in the manner of Pilgrim's Progress and he devoted several pages of his Political History of the Devil to mocking the naiveté of authors like Bunyan."[22]

Daniel Defoe however, recommended Robinson Crusoe to his readers as a didactic work, and called it "an allusive allegoric history"[23] designed to promote moral ends. This theory of the author fits Robinson's self-portrait as an example, from which universal principles can be derived. Narrating a special situation, Crusoe always performs a didactic instruction in three steps.[24] Crusoe first describes an action or observation, then follows introspection and in a last step, he tries to draw moral lessons from the incident. An example is his journey to London after the first great storm. He first analyses the motifs that hinder him to go back home. Then he turns to his inner feelings and finally he reflects a general observance, when he concludes that from then on he has "since often observed, how incongruous and irrational the common temper of mankind is, especially of youth."[25] Examples like this can be found in many situations throughout the book. One can conclude that the introspection and the solitude of soul are needed for repentance and conversion. "I was a prisoner," Crusoe exclaims, "locked up with the eternal bars and bolts of the ocean (…) this would break out upon me like a storm, and make me wring my hands and weep like a child."[26] Very much in the Puritan tradition Crusoe learns to recognise the "particular providences" with which God controls his life.

Although we have found a lot of characteristics of religious allegory in Robinson Crusoe, I am inclined to agree Hammond that "today we no longer read the novel as a child's adventure story or a religious parable, but recognise it as a watershed in English literature and an allegory of the human condition."[27]

[...]


[1] Fausett, David. 1994. The Strange Surprizing Sources of ’Robinson Crusoe’. Amsterdam: Rodopi, p. 25.

[2] Novak, Maximillian E. “Defoe`s Theory of Fiction.“ In: Heidenreich, Regina und Helmut, eds. 1982. Daniel Defoe: Schriften zum Erzählwerk. (Wege der Forschung. Vol. 339). Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, p. 182.

[3] Watt, Ian. 1957. The Rise of the Novel. Berkeley, p. 70.

[4] Hammond, John R. 1993. A Defoe Companion. MD: Barnes & Noble, p. 67.

[5] ibid., p. 67.

[6] See Ganzel, Dewey. “Chronology in Robinson Crusoe“. In: Heidenreich, Regina und Helmut, eds. 1982. Daniel Defoe: Schriften zum Erzählwerk. (Wege der Forschung. Vol. 339). Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, p. 68.

[7] Novak, Maximillian E. “Defoe`s Theory of Fiction.“ In: Heidenreich, Regina und Helmut, eds. 1982. Daniel Defoe: Schriften zum Erzählwerk. (Wege der Forschung. Vol. 339). Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, p. 189.

[8] "Convention."The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 41998

[9] Montgommery, Martin et al. 1992. Ways of Reading. Advanced Skills for Students of English Literature. London: Routledge, p. 174.

[10] ibid., p. 174.

[11] "Desert Island Fiction."The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 41998.

[12] "Desert Island Fiction."The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 41998.

[13] Damrosch, Leopold. “Myth and Fiction in Robinson Crusoe.“ In: Lund, Roger D., ed. 1997. Critical Essays on Daniel Defoe. New York: Macmillan Press, p.155.

[14] Hammond, John R. 1993. A Defoe Companion. MD: Barnes &Noble Books, p. 179.

[15] Defoe, Daniel. 1994. Robinson Crusoe. London: Penguin, p. 7. Quotes from this book will from now on be referred to as Robinson Crusoe, <page number>.

[16] Damrosch, Leopold. “Myth and Fiction in Robinson Crusoe.“ In: Lund, Roger D., ed. 1997. Critical Essays on Daniel Defoe. New York: Macmillan Press, p. 156.

[17] see Zimmerman, Everett. 1975. Defoe and the Novel. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 42.

[18] Blewett, David. 1979. Defoe`s Art of Fiction. Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, Colonel Jack & Roxana. Toronto: University Press, p. 30.

[19] see Damrosch, Leopold. “Myth and Fiction in Robinson Crusoe.“ In: Lund, Roger D., ed. 1997. Critical Essays on Daniel Defoe. New York: Macmillan Press, p. 156.

[20] Robinson Crusoe, p. 277

[21] Blewett, David. 1979. Defoe`s Art of Fiction. Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, Colonel Jack & Roxana. Toronto: University Press, p. 29

[22] Novak, M.E. 1983. Realism, Myth and History in Defoe`s Fiction. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, p. 183.

[23] cited according to: Damrosch, Leopold. “Myth and Fiction in Robinson Crusoe.“ In: Lund, Roger D., ed. 1997. Critical Essays on Daniel Defoe. New York: Macmillan Press, p.155.

[24] see Petzold, Dieter. 1982. Daniel Defoe ´Robinson Crusoe`. (UTB. Vol. 1154) München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag.

[25] Robinson Crusoe, p. 20.

[26] ibid., p. 113.

[27] Hammond, John R. 1993. A Defoe Companion. MD: Barnes &Noble Books, p. 67.

Details

Pages
25
Year
2004
ISBN (eBook)
9783638352291
File size
655 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v35255
Institution / College
RWTH Aachen University
Grade
1,3
Tags
Defoe Narrative Technique Robinson Crusoe

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Title: Defoe's Narrative Technique in  Robinson Crusoe