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Crusoe makes us privy to the journal that he keeps for a while, beginning with an entry dated “September 30, 1659,” that inaugurates his account of life on the “Island of Despair,” as he calls it. He proceeds to narrate events that have already been narrated: his discovery of the ship’s remains, his salvaging of provisions, the storm that destroys the ship entirely, the construction of his house, and so on. He notes that he has lost track of which day is Sunday, and he is thus unable to keep the Sabbath religiously. He records the building of various pieces of furniture and tools. He tames his first goat.
Continuing his journal, Crusoe records his failed attempt to tame pigeons and his manufacture of candles from goat grease. He tells of his semimiraculous discovery of barley: having tossed out a few husks of corn in a shady area, he is astonished to find healthy barley plants growing there later. He carefully saves the harvest to plant again and thus is able eventually to supply himself with bread. On April 16, an earthquake nearly kills him as he is standing in the entrance to his cellar. After two aftershocks, he is relieved to feel it end with no damage to his life or property.
Immediately after the earthquake, a hurricane arrives. Crusoe takes shelter in his cave, cutting a drain for his house and waiting out the torrential rains. He is worried by the thought that another earthquake would send the overhanging precipice falling onto his dwelling and resolves to move. But he is distracted from this plan by the discovery of casks of gunpowder and other remains from the ship that have been driven back to shore by the hurricane. Crusoe spends many days salvaging these remains for more useful items.
For more than a week of rainy weather, Crusoe is seriously ill with a fever and severe headache. He is almost too weak to get up for water, though he is dying of thirst. He prays to God for mercy. In one of his feverish fits, he hallucinates a vision of a man descending from a black cloud on a great flame. The man brandishes a weapon at Crusoe and tells him that all his suffering has not yet brought him to repentance. Crusoe emerges from the vision to take stock of the many times he has been delivered from death and cries over his ingratitude. He utters his first serious prayer to God, asking for an end to his distress. The next day, Crusoe finds he is beginning to recover, though he is still so weak he can hardly hold his gun. He struggles with thoughts of self-pity followed by self-reproach. Taking some tobacco and rum, his mind is altered and he opens the Bible to read a verse about calling on the Lord in times of trouble, which affects him deeply. He falls into a profound sleep of more than twenty-four hours, which throws off his calendar calculations forever. In the days that follow, Crusoe almost completely recovers and kneels to God in gratitude. He prefers not to eat the wildfowl while sick and instead eats some turtle eggs that he finds. He begins a serious reading of the New Testament and regrets his earlier life. He comes to conceive of his isolation on the island as a kind of deliverance from his former guilty existence.
Now, in the month of July, in his tenth month on the island, Crusoe discovers that the rainy season is a very unhealthy time. Having acquiesced in the idea that only Providence controls his deliverance from the island, Crusoe resolves to explore the place thoroughly. He discovers sugarcane and grapes, and is delighted with the beauty of one valley especially. He secretly exults in imagining himself the king and lord of the whole domain. Crusoe lays out grapes to make raisins and carries home a large basket of limes and grapes. He contemplates choosing that site as his new home, then spends the rest of July building a bower in the valley. He notes that his domicile now houses some cats. He celebrates the passing of one year on the island by fasting all day. Shortly after this occasion, he runs out of ink and discontinues his journal.
Crusoe’s journal provides little interesting new information for us, since most of it narrates previously recounted material. But it does offer insights into Crusoe’s character, especially his conception of his own identity. First, he introduces himself as “poor, miserable Robinson Crusoe,” which strikes a startling note of self-pity that contradicts the sturdy, resourceful self-image of his narrative. There may be some grandiose posturing in this journal. Moreover, as many have noticed, Crusoe’s journal is false in its dating, despite its author’s loudly trumpeted concern for absolute accuracy. By Crusoe’s own admission, he states that he arrived on the island on the thirtieth of September. His idea of a journal comes only later: “After I had been there about ten or twelve days, it came into my thoughts, that I should lose my reckoning of time for want of books, and pen and ink. . . .” Thus he keeps no journal for the first ten or twelve days. Yet his first journal entry is dated “September 30, 1659,” the day of his arrival. Clearly Crusoe likes the idea of using the journal to account for all his time on the island, giving himself an aura of completeness, even if it requires some sneaky bookkeeping to do so. This deception suggests to us that his interest in the hard facts may be less than objective, and may actually be more subjective and self-serving.
Read more about the significance of the switch from journal accounts to fuller storytelling after a few chapters.
The most important psychological development in these chapters is Crusoe’s born-again conversion. Crusoe has had many religious moments, sometimes quickly forgotten. One example of this forgetting occurs when he first calls the sprouting corn a miracle, then later attributes it to mere good luck. But during his illness, his turn to religion seems profound and lasting. His hallucination of a wrathful angel figure that threatens him for not repenting his sins is a major event in his emotional life, which up to this point has seemed free from such wild imaginings. When he later takes tobacco-steeped rum and reads a verse of the Bible that tells him to call upon God in times of trouble, he seems deeply affected. Indeed, his loss of a day from his calendar may represent his relinquishment of total control of his life and his acknowledgment of a higher power in charge. When he falls on his knees to thank God for delivering him from his illness, his faith seems sincere. This faith forces him to reevaluate the island itself, which, he tells himself, may not be a place of captivity, but a place of deliverance from his earlier sins. He thus redefines his whole landscape—and his whole life—much more optimistically.
Read more about the necessity of repentance as a theme.
Partly as a result of Crusoe’s born-again experience, his attitude toward the island improves dramatically. No longer viewing it as a place of punishment and misery, he starts to see it as his home. Indeed, he now uses the word “home” explicitly in reference to his camp. Significantly, he now notices how beautiful parts of the island are when he explores the terrain after his recovery. He describes the “delicious vale” that he discovers, in which he decides to build a bower. He surveys the area “with a secret kind of pleasure . . . to think that this was all my own, that I was king and lord of all this country indefeasibly and had a right of possession.” This attitude shift is extraordinary. He no longer views himself, as he does in his first journal entry, as “poor, miserable Robinson,” but is now feeling the pleasure of calling himself king and lord of a delicious vale. Yet his happiness in his island life is short-lived, since only a few pages later he refers to the “unhappy anniversary of my landing,” as if forgetting that his landing, in a different perspective, seems cause for rejoicing. Defoe is underscoring the extent to which Crusoe’s sense of fate and suffering is not objective, but rather created by his own mind.
Read more about Crusoe’s bower as a symbol.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Robinson Crusoe!