Robinson Crusoe: Theme Analysis
Readers of Robinson Crusoe will find themselves confronted with several major thematic questions, including but not limited to:
What is the role of Providence in human life?
Do human beings shape their own destinies, as Crusoe seems to do through much of the narrative, or are we primarily acted upon, as Crusoe also is? To what extent are we actually, as Crusoe fancies himself to be, "masters of our own business?" Although the novel concludes with pious thanksgivings to the benevolence of divine providence, readers are keenly aware that Crusoe has done much to shape his own ends. Does Crusoe's ingenuity and self-reliance "give the lie" to his protestations that all deliverance comes from the hand of God alone-or is this dichotomy a false one?
What does it mean to be civilized?
Crusoe entertains many fears throughout the narrative regarding the "savages," whom he regards (in the main-exceptions can be found, but they tend only to prove the rule) as "sub-Humane." Yet what is the dividing line between the cannibalism of the savages and the slavery in which Crusoe is engaged before his exile-and to some extent, considering his relationship to Friday, after? What does it say about "civilization" that Friday, once exposed to it, goes on to kill more of his own people than Crusoe does, and, in the novel's final major episode, to jocularly torment a bear for his "superiors'" amusement before shooting and killing it?
Does humanity belong in Paradise?
Crusoe is depicted, time after time, as another Adam in a primordial garden: exercising dominion over the local wild animals, for instance, and tilling the soil to make a living for himself. He is like Adam in other senses, however, the most obvious being his pride. It is pride, Crusoe freely confesses, that drove him to disregard his father's advice and to leave Hull in search of adventure at sea; but is it not also pride that leads him to "civilize" Friday (this writer's term, not Defoe's) and to become the self-styled "Monarch" and "Governour" of the island he regards as "his"-to become the "Deliverer" and "Saviour" of Friday, the Spaniard, and the crew of the mutinied sailing vessel near the book's end? From time to time, the idea of a felix culpa has appeared within theology and philosophy; that is, the notion that humanity needed to leave the garden in order to mature and develop. If the product of such a fall, however, is, arguably, a prideful imperialist like Crusoe, is such a "happy fall" reason for celebration or mourning?
Robinson Crusoe Study GuideChoose to Continue
- Robinson Crusoe
- 1. "I was born."
- 2. "As my new Patron."
- 3. "The generous Treatment."
- 4. "After I had solac'd my Mind."
- 5. "My Thoughts were now wholly employ'd."
- 6. Crusoe’s Journal, September 30 through June 27 (pp. 52-67)
- 7. Crusoe's Journal, June 28 through September 30
- 8. "The rainy Season."
- 9. "I was now, in the Months of November and December."
- 10. "But all this while."
- 11. "I had now been here so long."
- 12. "I improv'd my self in this time."
- 13. "I was something impatient."
- 14. "Things going on thus."
- 15. "I believe the Reader of this will not think strange."
- 16. "I have been in all my Circumstances."
- 17. "After I had been two or three Days."
- 18. "After Friday and I became."
- 19. "The rainy Season."
- 20. "Having now Society enough."
- 21. "All I shew'd them."
- 22. "When we had talk'd a while."
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Daniel Defoe
- Essay Q&A