ROBINSON CRUSOE – A MODEST PROPOSAL?

28 May

dsry              

 

Just as Crusoe wanders his island in order to reveal its various assets and to explore the nature of his new world, so he revisits time and again old arguments that allow him to discover, discard and then reanimate pre-possessed beliefs. The Crusoe story is a circuitous argument posing difficult questions that are accepted, reevaluated and then forgotten, only to be resurrected later in the novel.

               In particular Crusoe has to endure the loneliness of the island, where he yearns to be in contact with his fellow man, yet must suffer isolation to the point of domesticating house pets and teaching “Poll” to talk. By bending nature to his own will – God Like – he is able to tolerate what otherwise would be an untenable existence. “Providence which had thus spread my table…I’d learned to look upon the bright side of my condition.”(p.103) His wanderlust takes him to all parts of the island and even back into the ocean revealing just how desperate he is to reconnect with humanity; a Biblical analogy perhaps, to the loneliness of Adam in Genesis.

               The discovery of the footprint throws his ordered universe into disorder where once again Defoe demonstrates to his audience that they should be careful for what they wish. Crusoe’s life is suddenly turned upside down, and instead of the carefree Eden-like existence he has come to enjoy, suddenly becomes a recluse and prisoner of his own mind. “O, what ridiculous resolution men take, when possess’d with fear.”(p.126) The realization that his island is being visited by “savages” renders him from the paragon of brotherly love, “…that I might have that have one companion, one fellow creature…”(p.148), to that of a murder-revenge figure. His reaction given that he’s found human remains is understandable, the instinct for self-preservation being the strongest. Then, just when we’re prepared to accept that Crusoe must defend his own life we are sermonized on the prospect of the cannibals being no worse than ordinary men except – not having enjoyed the benefits of religious instruction – are simply outside of God’s lore. To kill them would be unjust and unchristian, and so Crusoe waxes lyrical on the value of human life and “allows” them to live. “…these people were not murtherers in the sense that I had before condemned them.”(p.134)

               This argument is unusual as instead of offering God as the great savior Crusoe himself has become God. “I was absolute lord and law-giver.”(p.190) It is he who decides who lives and dies, who is subject to the master-slave relationship and what is permitted to happen on the island and what isn’t. Perhaps the circuitous argument is meant to demonstrate that without an omnipotent eighteenth century God man’s fallibility is only to be expected. Although, forgotten on a deserted island, Crusoe – despite God’s reluctance to enlighten non-westerners – will ultimately reveal his own true path.

               Defoe, in what appears to be an appeasement to his audience, is apt to pose contrary positions only to later discard them in favor of quotidian doctrine and religious dogma. From the abhorrence of Crusoe as a white slave, to him setting sail from Brazil to capture slaves, and then ultimately dreaming of a savage to do his bidding, it’s clear that Defoe is playing to both sides of the house. Defoe demonstrates the fickleness of humanity by offering illogical solutions to impossible situations. As in Swift’s “Modest Proposal” Defoe creates a serious of elephant-traps that cause his audience to rethink that which they took for granted by putting themselves in the position of his castaway. Clearly it is the readership that is adrift and Defoe that is the island.

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