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After planting his grain in the dry season when it cannot sprout, Crusoe learns from his mistake, and afterward makes a table of the dry and rainy months to facilitate his farming. He also discovers that the wooden stakes he drove into the ground when building his “bower,” or country house, have sprouted and grown. Over the course of several years they grow into a kind of sheltering hedge providing cool shade. Crusoe also teaches himself to make wicker baskets, imitating the basket makers he remembers from his childhood. By this time he lacks only tobacco pipes, glassware, and a kettle.
Finally carrying out his earlier wish to survey the island thoroughly, Crusoe proceeds to the western end, where he finds he can make out land in the distance. He concludes it belongs to Spanish America. Crusoe is reluctant to explore it for fear of cannibals. He catches a parrot that he teaches to speak, and discovers a penguin colony. He takes a goat kid as a pet, keeping it in his bower where it nearly starves until Crusoe remembers it. By this point, Crusoe has been on the island two years, and his moments of satisfaction alternate with despairing moods. He continues to read the Bible and is consoled by the verse that tells him God will never forsake him.
Crusoe spends months making a shelf for his abode. During the rainy months he plants his crop of rice and grain but is angered to discover that birds damage it. He shoots several of the birds and hangs them as scarecrows over the plants, and the birds never return. Crusoe finally harvests the grain and slowly learns the complex process of flour grinding and bread making. Determined to make earthenware pots, Crusoe attempts to shape vessels out of clay, failing miserably at first. Eventually he learns to shape, fire, and even glaze his pots. Thinking again of sailing to the mainland, Crusoe returns to the place where the ship’s boat has been left upturned by the storm. He tries for weeks to put it right side up but is not strong enough.
“Poor Robin Crusoe! Where are you? Where have you been? How come you here?”
See Important Quotations Explained
“Poor Robin Crusoe! Where are you? Where have you been? How come you here?”
Resolving to make a canoe, Crusoe selects and cuts down an enormous cedar. He spends many months hacking off the branches, shaping the exterior, and hollowing out the insides. The result is a far larger canoe than he has ever seen before. He now realizes the mistake of not previously considering its transport, since for him alone it is immovable. He considers building a canal to bring the water to the canoe, but he calculates it would take too long and abandons the idea. By this point, four years have passed. He reflects that all his wants are satisfied, since he already has everything that he can possibly use on his island. He feels gratitude imagining how much worse off he could be now. He also reflects on several calendar coincidences that he finds remarkable: he left his family on the same day he was enslaved by the Moor; he escaped from the ship near Yarmouth on the same day that he escaped from Sallee; and he was born on the same day he was cast ashore on the island. Crusoe undertakes to make himself some new clothing out of animal skins, and he also constructs an umbrella. Building a smaller canoe, he sets out on a tour around the island. He is caught in a dangerous current that threatens to take him out to sea and away from the island forever, and when he is saved he falls to the ground in gratitude. Crusoe hears a voice say his name repeatedly on his return, asking where he has been, and Crusoe discovers that it is his parrot Poll.
Wary of sea journeys, Crusoe spends a quiet year in his new home, missing nothing but human contact. He is pleased with his newly developed skills of basket making and pottery making. Alarmed by his low supply of gunpowder and wondering how he will feed himself if unable to shoot goats, Crusoe decides he must learn animal husbandry and tries to catch a small number of goats. He builds a pit in which he traps three young kids, and within a year and a half Crusoe has a flock of twelve goats. He learns to milk them, setting up a dairy that provides him with cheese and butter. He is pleased at his “absolute command” over all the subjects of his island kingdom and enjoys dining like a king surrounded by his parrot, his senile dog, and his two cats. He provides us with a brief inventory of his island holdings: he has two “plantations” on the island, the first his original home or “castle,” the second his “country seat.” He has a grape arbor, fields under cultivation, and enclosures for his “cattle,” or goats.
With his survival no longer in question, Crusoe begins to redefine himself not as a poor castaway, but as a successful landowner. We see again how important his attitude is. He begins to refer to his island dwelling as his “home” and his “castle,” and when he constructs a shady retreat inland, he calls it his “bower” or “country seat,” both references having upper-class connotations. He refers to the totality of his land as his “plantations” and even refers to his goats as his “cattle.” All these terms suggest that his relationship to the island is becoming more proprietary, involving a much greater sense of proud ownership than before, though of course the ownership is a fiction, since there is no deed to this land. Naturally, he still has gloomy moods in which he bemoans his fate and views the island as a prison. But now the alternation between his different moods allows us to see how subjective his situation is and how nearly impossible it is to define Crusoe’s island experience objectively. Totally dependent on his frame of mind, it is, as he says, “my reign, or my captivity, which you please.”
Read more about the ambivalence of mastery as a theme.
Crusoe’s sad lack of human contact in an otherwise satisfied life is first noted toward the beginning of Chapter XVII, when he remarks that “I thought I lived very happily in all things, except that of society.” We can feel how much he misses social relations when he takes the trouble to teach his parrot to talk, though Defoe allows us to imagine how boring their conversations must be, since the parrot can only say Robinson’s name and ask where he has come from. Nevertheless, Crusoe calls the bird his “sociable creature,” and we are made aware of how starved for company our hero actually is. The same desire for affectionate relations explains his fondness for his new pet goat in Chapter XIV, though we wonder how devoted to it Crusoe can be when he forgets about it for a week and nearly starves it to death. Crusoe’s idea of a social gathering presupposes himself at center stage and with the most power, as we see when he describes the dinners he has with his parrot, dog, and cats, where he presides over them all “like a king.” Crusoe’s eagerness to display superior power in social relations foreshadows his later relationship with his servant Friday.
Read more about the importance of self-awareness as a theme.
With the passage of many years on the island by the end of these chapters, Crusoe is beginning to accept his island existence as his life. Accordingly, he is beginning to show a desire to integrate past and present into one totality. Thus, for the first time on the island, Crusoe refers to childhood memories in Chapter XIII, when the subject of basket making leads him to recall the basket weavers in his father’s town. He says, “when I was a boy, I used to take great delight in standing at a basket maker’s, in the town where my father lived, to see them make their wickerware.” The young Crusoe used to lend his hand, so that when as a grown man he again makes baskets, his childhood and adulthood fuse for an instant. The same union of past and present is notable in Crusoe’s new interest in his life’s calendar repetitions. When he fixates on the fact that he left his father’s house the same day he entered slavery, or arrived on the island the same day he was born, he shows a desire to integrate earlier and later parts of his life. No longer just missing the past or living in the present moment, he is trying to bring the two together and see his life as a whole.
Read more about counting and measuring as a motif.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Robinson Crusoe!