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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?
With his interest in practical details, Crusoe
naturally gravitates toward the journal as a form of writing. His
idea of journal keeping follows the example of a captain’s logbook
rather than a personal diary: it is objective and factual, sometimes
tediously so, rather than emotional or self-reflective. But Defoe
could not sustain the whole novel as a journal, since much of the
moral meaning of the story emerges only retrospectively. Having
survived his ordeal, Crusoe can now write his story from the perspective
of one remembering past mistakes and judging past behavior. The
day-by-day format of the journal is focused on the present rather
than the past, and it makes this kind of retrospection difficult.
The moral dimension of the novel can best be emphasized through
a full autobiographical narrative, with Crusoe looking back upon
earlier stages of life and evaluating them.
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
A marked indifference to beauty is indeed
an important feature both of Crusoe and of the novel. Not only does
Crusoe devote little attention to the visual attractions of his
Caribbean landscape, but he also has hardly any interest in more
abstract forms of beauty, such as beauty of character or of experience.
Beautiful ideas like heroism or moral excellence, for example, rarely
enter his head. Moreover, since Crusoe is in many ways a stand-in
for the author, we can say that Defoe too seems resistant to aesthetics.
This lack of attention to aesthetics is in large part his revolutionary
contribution to English literature. Rejecting earlier views that
the purpose of art is to embellish and make charming what is ordinary,
Crusoe and Defoe show that novels can be profound by focusing on
the humdrum, unattractive facts of everyday life that nevertheless
are deeply meaningful to us.
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?
Crusoe’s ordeal is not merely the adventure
tale it seems at first, but a moral and religious illustration of
the virtues of solitude and self-reliance. At the beginning, Crusoe
can only perceive his isolation as a punishment. But after his religious
illumination, and after he has turned an uninhabited island into
a satisfying piece of real estate, he learns to relish his solitude.
His panic at the sight of a footprint shows how he has come to view
other humans as threatening invaders of his private realm. His fellow
humans in Europe undoubtedly also represent not the advantages of
society, but the loss of empowered solitude, and so he dreams of
returning to the island where he was king alone.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Robinson Crusoe!