Comment on Daniel Defoe’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, paying special attention to the organising role of the Protestant work ethic in the novel.
Daniel Defoe, the son of a butcher, was born in London in 1660. He attended Morton's Academy, a school for Dissenters at Newington Green with the intention of becoming a minister, but he changed his mind and became a hosiery merchant instead. In 1703 Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, a Tory government official, employed Defoe as a spy. With the support of the government, Defoe started the newspaper, The Review. Published between 1704 and 1713, the newspaper appeared three times a week. As well as carrying commercial advertising The Review reported on political and social issues. Defoe also wrote several pamphlets for Harley attacking the political opposition. The Whigs took Defoe court and this resulted in him serving another prison sentence. In 1719 Defoe turned to writing fiction. His novels include: Robinson Crusoe (1719), Captain Singleton (1720), Journal of the Plague Year (1722), Captain Jack (1722), Moll Flanders (1722) and Roxanda (1724).
Defoe died on April 24, 1731.
The story is widely perceived to have been influenced by the life of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived for four years on the Pacific island called "Más a Tierra" (in 1966 its name was changed to Robinson Crusoe Island), Chile. However, other possible sources have been put forward for the text. It is possible, for example, that Defoe was inspired by the Latin or English translations of Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, an earlier novel also set on a desert island. Another source for Defoe's novel may have been Robert Knox's account of his abduction by the King of Ceylon in 1659 in "An Historical Account of the Island Ceylon," Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons (Publishers to the University), 1911.
One way of reading Robinson Crusoe is as a spiritual autobiography. The spiritual biography portrays the Puritan drama of the soul. Concerned about being saved, having a profound sense of God's presence, seeing His will manifest everywhere, and aware of the unceasing conflict between good and evil, Puritans constantly scrutinized their lives to determine the state of their souls and looked for signs of the nature of their relationship with God. The spiritual autobiography usually follows a common pattern: the narrator sins, ignores God's warnings, hardens his heart to God, repents as a result of God's grace and mercy, experiences a soul-wrenching conversion, and achieves salvation. The writer emphasizes his former sinfulness as a way of glorifying God; the deeper his sinfulness, the greater God's grace and mercy in electing to save him. He reviews his life from the new perspective his conversion has given him and writes of the present and the future with a deep sense of God's presence in his life and in the world.
Crusoe throughout uses religious language, imagery, and Biblical references (he quotes 20 passages from the Bible). Crusoe's conversation with his father about leaving home can be interpreted from a religious perspective as well from an economic perspective. Crusoe repeatedly refers to leaving home without his father's permission as his "original sin"; he not only associates God and his father but regards his sin against his father as a sin against God also. Remembering his first voyage, Crusoe comments: "...my conscience, which was not yet come to the pitch of hardness to which it has been since, reproached me with the contempt of advice and the breach of my duty to God and my Father". In the Puritan family structure, the father was regarded as God's deputy; in rejecting his father's advice, Crusoe is committing Adam and Eve's sin of disobedience. For Crusoe, as for Adam, and Eve, disobedience grows out of restlessness and discontent with the station God assigned. When Crusoe is cast ashore on a deserted island, he sees his situation as the fulfillment of his father's prediction that...
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