Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Robinson Crusoe

The actual book Robinson Crusoe was OK as far as stories go. Robinson defies his father’s wishes and goes off travelling. Because he defied his father, God punishes him by making all of his journeys difficult and dangerous but he survives with the help of kind people. Wherever he settles, he prospers, the first time being in the Brazils where he sets up a plantation, with the help of said kind people, that prospers and grows. Unfortunately for Rob, he feels like travelling and goes off again on an expedition to Africa to pick up slaves. It all goes wrong again and he winds up, as the only person to survive the voyage, on an island where he lives for the next 28 years before being rescued.

The tale itself is not bad, but the religious theme to it is overly dramatic and overly done. Defoe makes his point time and time and time again and it gets a little annoying after a while. There are also several incidents which, at least by today’s standards, directly contradict the moral of the story. The references to slavery are at best stomach churning as is the assumption that the white man is superior to the “savages” in every sense.

This gets worse in the stories following the first volume. The version I read tacked on his further adventures as if it were all one book. Robinson eventually leaves his island and the people who subsequently joined him and helped him to defeat the cannibals who occasionally came from the other islands to devour their victims. The further stories reveal that he makes no attempt to send help or ships to rescue them. They are basically left to themselves there, although life on the island is portrayed as being fairly good. When he eventually returns over 9 years later, he does bring provisions, but goes with no intention of getting the people off the island. Rather he brings more to help populate it, among them a priest who eventually stays there to Christianize the colony. His reception on the island is all rather sickening. Everyone seems to look up to him, the righteous Christian, as some sort of demi-God even though he left them there to their fate without sending help.

At this point the “story” starts to slide into a long religious dialogue between himself, the priest and the islanders, which frankly becomes quite boring. Between that and the continued references to Robinson as some sort of hero, the assumption that white man is obviously better than the “savages” and it’s references to slavery as an assumed right, I wasn’t able to stomach it any longer and gave it up. Had the tale been at least engaging, I would have continued, but I really had to force myself to stick with it even though I know the book simply reflects the views of the day. It’s almost odd how the book and its intentions are almost turned on their head in today’s society. Much of what Robinson says and does in the book would only serve to teach about ignorance today where it was actually meant to be a model to people at the time when it was written; the great exception to this being the core of religion, which is still widely followed in today’s society.

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend this as a good read, unless you look at it as a lesson in society of the time.

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