Table of contents
2. The religion in Robinson Crusoe
2.1. Robinson Crusoe's character and religion before his arrival on the island
2.1.2. The original sin
2.1.3. The recurring circle of structure
2.2. Robinson Crusoe's character and religion after his arrival on the island
2.2.1. First religious contacts
2.2.2 The conversion
2.2.3. Friday's conversion
3. Life and religion of Daniel Defoe
4. Puritanical characteristics in Robinson Crusoe
In 1719, Daniel Defoe published the novel The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner. Defoe's most famous and most successful work is regarded as the first realistic novel of the world literature. Therefore Defoe can be considered as the pioneer of the modern English novel (Nünning 1998: 124-127). This view is justified in the fact that Defoe uses a realistic way of narrating and turns away from the tradition of the fantastic and romance-like way which was predominant so far. Besides he chooses a middle-class person to be the protagonist, a life which the most part of his readers could identify with. Finally, Defoe applies a concrete determination of time and location in the novel which was unknown so far as well (Bode 2005: 43; Kley 2002: 2). The story, a fictional autobiography, is told by the fictitious person Robinson Crusoe who leaves his home to explore the world. After different journeys his ship gets shipwrecked and Robinson Crusoe reaches as the only survivor a remote and isolated island where he lives for the following 28 years until he gets rescued.
The novel is interpreted from different perspectives. Therefore it is regarded as an adventurous travelogue, as an economic parable or as a do-it-yourself-manual. The interpretation as an adventurous travelogue examines for example the topic of a lonely person in an unfamiliar land who develops different strategies to survive while the interpretation as an economic parable would emphasise Robinson Crusoe’s way of thinking rational and economical, e.g. while equipping his cave which functions as a kind of logistical store (Defoe 1719: 55). The interpretation as a do-it-yourself-manual could refer for example to the way of producing tools out of very scarce material (Defoe 1719: 54-55).
In this research paper, however, I will make use of another way of interpreting Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, namely to regard the novel as a religious allegory, i.e. I will examine the novel from the religious perspective. I will present the development in his relation to God and point out the importance of religion for Robinson Crusoe after his conversion, in each case demonstrated by suitable exemplary passages. Therefore, after beginning with an investigation of Crusoe’s character and his relation to religion before he arrives on the island I will turn to Crusoe’s time on the island which includes his first religious contacts as well as his conversion. In the whole novel the topic of providence emerges various times. I will point to this topic exemplary at suitable passages within this research paper. Finally, I will point out a connection between the novel Robinson Crusoe and the life and religion of Daniel Defoe. Therefore I will list some of the most important facts and events in the life of Daniel Defoe and present his personal religious opinion; in this connection the Puritanism plays an important role. Afterwards I will demonstrate which of Defoe's religious views and opinions can be found in the novel.
2. The religion in Robinson Crusoe
2.1. Robinson Crusoe’s character and religion before arriving on the island
2.1.2. The original sin
Robinson Crusoe is born as a son of a respected merchant family. He has two older brothers; the first is killed as a Lieutenant at a battle while the other one is missed and never found again. All the more his parents want Robinson to be well educated and to get a respectable job: “My father, who was very ancient, had given me a competent Share of Learning, as far as House-Education, and a Country Free-School generally goes, and design’ d me for the Law […]” (Defoe 1719: 4). However, Robinson Crusoe has other intentions and his head is “fill’d very early with rambling Thoughts” (ibid): “I would be satisfied with nothing but going to Sea, […] , nay the Commands of my Father, and all the Entreaties and Perswasions of my Mother and other Friends […]” (ibid). However, nobody in Crusoe’s surroundings shows understanding for his intentions; above all, his father does not agree and directs his son to him to provide different arguments in order to persuade him not to go to sea. According to his father, his current, i.e. the middle station of life is the best one for Robinson to live in because the middle station guarantees certain future reliability (Frick 1988: 123). He mentions that “the middle Station had the fewest Disasters” (Defoe 1719: 5) and that “they were not subjected to so many Distempers and Uneasinesses either of Body or Mind” (ibid) as those were who live in Luxury on the one hand or in hard labour on the other hand. In the following Robinson’s father increases his argumentation in that he states he would do nearly anything to prevent Robinson from leaving home and also points to the destiny of Robinson’s brothers to change his mind while he is crying out of anxiety about his youngest son. Finally, he includes the religious aspects of the consequences of going to sea:
[…] and tho’ he said he would not cease to pray for me, yet he would venture to say to me, that if I did take this foolish Step, God would not bless me, and I should have Leisure hereafter to reflect upon having neglected his Counsel when there might be none to assist in my Recovery. (Defoe 1719: 6)
However, although Robinson is affected by the discourse with his father, he does not deviate from his intentions. So, “without asking God's Blessing, or my Father's, without any Consideration of Circumstances or Consequences, and in an ill Hour, God knows, On the first of September 1651 I went on Board a ship bound for London” (Defoe 1719: 7).
In retrospect, Robinson Crusoe blames himself for this decision and designates the opposition to the advice of his father as his ‘original sin’ (Defoe 1719: 141). He goes to sea against the will of his father and thus breaks out of the solid middle station (Frick 1988: 115). According to Hunter (1966: 71) Robinson’s tendency towards restlessness leads to his original sin and Seidel (1943: 86) mentions Robinson’s wandering inclination which is so strong that he opposes the command of his parents to stay at home and goes to sea even without God’s blessing. It is true that up to this point in the novel Robinson’s relation to religion is not intense but a religious core is already included in him otherwise he had not mentioned that he goes without God’s blessing. Up to this passage, his own intention is just more decisive for him than God-fearing behaviour.
In all of the arguments Robinson Crusoe’s father provides to persuade his son to stay at home, it seems that he already seems to be aware of the following disasters which will befall Robinson. The topic of providence emerges which maintains a key function within the story (Frick 1988: 125). Robinson’s father also mentioned “That Boy might be happy if he would stay at home, but if he goes abroad he will be the miserablest Wretch that was ever born […]” (Defoe 1719: 7). These predictions will come true in Robinson’s future. The importance of providence in the story already gets evident in the preface. Defoe, or rather the supposed editor, mentions:
The Story is told with Modesty, with Seriousness and with a religious Application of Events to the Uses to which Men always apply them (viz.) to the Instruction of others by this Example, and to justify and honour the Wisdom of Providence in all the Variety of our Circumstances, let them happen how they will.” (Defoe 1719: 3)
Thus, Defoe emphasises that nearly every no matter how unusual event can be explained by the Wisdom of Providence (Frick 1986: 109). Moreover, the religious topic in general is mentioned. Already after reading the preface the reader of the novel is prepared of the appearance of a religious motive in the story.