Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. Defoe has his hero practice two different types of writing in the novel. One type is the journal that Crusoe keeps for a few chapters until his ink runs out. The other is the fuller type of storytelling that makes up the bulk of the novel. Both are in the first-person voice, but they produce different effects. Why does Defoe include both types? What does a comparison between them tell us about the overall purpose of the novel?
2. Crusoe expresses very little appreciation of beauty in the novel. He describes the valley where he builds his bower as pleasant, recognizes that some of his early attempts at pottery making are unattractive, and acknowledges that Friday is good-looking. But overall, he shows little interest in aesthetics. Is this lack of interest in beauty an important aspect of the character of Crusoe, or of the novel?
3. Crusoe spends much time on the island devising ways to escape it. But when he finally does escape, his return to Europe is anticlimactic. Nothing he finds there, not even friends or family, is described with the same interest evoked earlier by his fortress or farm. Indeed, at the end of the novel Crusoe returns to the island. Why does Defoe portray the island originally as a place of captivity and then later as a desired destination?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. Although he is happy to watch his goat and cat population multiply on his island, Crusoe never expresses any regret for not having a wife or children. He refers to his pets as his family, but never mentions any wish for a real human family. While he is sad that his dog never has a mate, he never seems saddened by his own thirty-five years of bachelor existence. Does Crusoe’s indifference to mating and reproduction tell us anything about his view of life, or about the novel?
2. Although Crusoe proudly reports that he allows freedom of religion on his island, giving his Catholic and pagan subjects the right to practice their own faiths, he describes Friday as a Protestant. He attempts to rid his servant of his belief in the pagan god Benamuckee. Why does Crusoe generally show religious tolerance, but insist on Friday’s Protestantism?
3. During the return voyage to England from Lisbon at the end of the novel, Crusoe and his traveling party encounter a bear that is frightening until Friday turns it into an amusing spectacle. His teasing of the bear, which prompts the group’s laughter, is the first example of live entertainment in the novel. There is no mention of Friday trying to amuse Crusoe on the island. Does this episode foreshadow a new role for Friday after he moves to Europe from the Caribbean? What is Defoe trying to symbolize in having Crusoe bring Friday with him to Europe at all?
4. In many ways Crusoe appears to be the same sort of person at the end of the novel as he is at the beginning. Despite decades of solitude and exile, wars with cannibals, and the subjugation of a mutiny, Crusoe hardly seems to grow or develop. Is Crusoe an unchanging character, or does he change in subtle ways as a result of his ordeal?
5. Crusoe’s religious illumination, in which he beholds an angelic figure descending on a flame, ordering him to repent or die, is extremely vivid. Afterward he does repent, and his faith seems sincere. Yet Defoe complicates this religious experience by making us wonder whether it is instead a result of Crusoe’s fever, or of the tobacco and rum he has consumed. We wonder whether the vision may be health- or drug-related rather than supernatural and divine. Why does Defoe mix the divine and the medical in this scene? Does he want us to question Crusoe’s turn to religion?
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