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June 3, 2017

Robinson Crusoe as an Allegory


The Eighteen century English novelist Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731) was part of a Protestant culture that was vigorously intellectual and energetically literary. Separated from the life of the upper classes and their erudite writers, he produced, amongst many pieces of commissioned writings, a series of purportedly true but actually fictitious memoirs and confessions, which made him one of the great masters of realistic narrative. His skillfully crafted fictions, presented by specific and well – chosen details create the illusion of exact truth, tricking the reader into suspension of disbelief.

Robinson Crusoe (1719) is an allegorical story of conversion employing metaphoric symbols readily recognisable to an audience familiar with a similar set of symbols found repeatedly in the sermons, tracts, and other religious writings of both Anglican and dissenting divines. Defoe’s novel does not simply chronicle a practical man’s continuous strife and struggle for adjustment of life on a deserted island; rather it is the record of a notable spiritual pilgrimage across the sea of life, from a lawless course of living to true Christian repentance.

Crusoe’s wandering in desolate and afflicting circumstances stresses the allegorical and figurative meaning of the novel. Crusoe’s journey advances through suffering, repentance and realisation. Finally, he finds atonement by exploring himself and God. Each adverse situation makes Crusoe realise that it is a punishment for him given by the God for his wicked deed of ignoring the good advice of his parents and defying his duty to God. Each time he promises and vows to God that he will not continue his journey and return to home. However, when he is saved from the danger, he forgets all his repentance and repeatedly makes the same mistakes. He learns almost nothing. His emotionally volatile mind entirely kept him aloof from becoming spiritually enlightened.

Eventually, under the stress of the hardships of life on the island, and more specifically under the severe strain of his illness, Crusoe realises his sin and undergoes a spiritual transformation. During his illness he sees a frightening dream in which a man, having descended from a cloud, threatens to kill him with a spear. This dream may be considered as a kind of divine warning or a divine guidance to him. On waking up from dream, Crusoe recalls the excellent advice which his father gave him at his desire to set out for the journey. But it is the irony of his fate that Crusoe did not pay any heed to his father’s advice. He now remembers that during the past eight years since he left home, he had not looked upwards to God with any sincerity of feeling even once. During these eight years he has been guilty of a certain ‘stupidity of soul’ without any desire for goodness and without any repentance of evil. Tears now begin to flow from his eyes, and he prays to God for help. This, Crusoe tells us, was the first prayer which he had ever addressed to God for many years. Here we have the turning point in Crusoe’s spiritual life. From this time onwards, his mind is essentially at peace and entirely free from spiritual apathy.

Thus, Robinson Crusoe allegorically treats the theme of transgression, punishment, and repentance. Crusoe suffers from his sin and he is salvaged through his repentance and prayer. In this way, the novel becomes essentially a religious tale. Crusoe ultimately possesses the infinite knowledge. He becomes spiritually enlightened by believing in God. Like the journey of the Christian hero in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, the journey of Robinson Crusoe in not merely a physical journey but a religious journey too.

Robinson Crusoe
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