Thursday, October 18, 2018

Lessons from Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel DeFoe, is a classic. That is, it has stood the test of time and is one that folks keep reading. As I find it to be rather dull and difficult to really "get into", I have to wonder how it ever made the classics list.

In order to understand books like Robinson Crusoe, the reader really needs to look deeply at what the writer is trying to say. DeFoe wrote Crusoe during the enlightenment period of literature. In art, the movement was called neoclassical. The enlightenment period followed on the heels of the renaissance, which included authors such as Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser. Great writing and classical works formed the renaissance. Authors such as DeFoe and Jonathan Swift turned the tide with works that challenged the reader with reasoning, often with religion as the base, and the social and political issues of the time.

In Robinson Crusoe, the reader must read through the eyes of a person living in 18th century England. Slavery was legal and the buying and selling of slaves was a regular thing. The middle class was also a real thing, distinct from both the poor and the rich.

Robinson Crusoe, DeFoe's main character, was a middle class lad who decided to rebel against his father and travel aboard ship. In the first half of the book, Crusoe has adventures that only get him into trouble. He is made a slave in Africa - hmmm, Africa from which the British captured their slaves. He later escapes and winds up in Brazil, where he has a sugar plantation. Is he now rich? Then, the infamous shipwreck happens and he lands on a, so he thinks, deserted island.

Bad things happen to Crusoe - bang, bang, bang. Every time something good happens, Crusoe sins and then something bad happens. Then, he repents and the good happens once again. It becomes a cycle, much like the sin and repent cycle of the early Israelites of the Bible. They sinned and God brought disaster upon them in order to bring them back to Him. Once they repented, things went well. But they would forget God's goodness and again sin. And the cycle continued.

Robinson Crusoe follows this pattern and Daniel DeFoe wrote that pattern in his book on purpose. The book fits right with the enlightenment. DeFoe wanted to illuminate sin and repentance. The slavery issue was in there, but was not really the issue that DeFoe wanted to use to enlighten the reader. Salvation was.

As the novel reaches the climax - the point when Crusoe realizes he isn't living on that island alone after all and meets Friday - he has learned something. He has found repentance and forgiveness. His life has changed with this new spiritual awakening. Like the Prodigal Son of the Bible, Crusoe returns home. He brings Friday with him and becomes rich off of his sugar plantations. There is a happy ending, yet the book ends with the promise of a sequel.

So, the difficult to read story has a very deep, and pertinent meaning buried inside of the sometimes boring narrative. It was Daniel DeFoe's plan to bring the news of Christ and salvation to those readers in his day. Little did he know that Robinson Crusoe would still be read today and be considered a great classic.
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