Robinson Crusoe is in its entirety an odd novel; in fact it can be seen to go against the form of a novel as journal entries are interspersed with the descriptive narrative. However throughout the reading of the novel I was never comfortable, and to some extent was nervy and edge throughout. Clearly this was not to do with the suspense that Defoe creates because in my opinion there is none. The very fact that the novel is a retrospective first person narrative quells such suspense as a reader because you are always aware that Crusoe survives to tell his tale.
This uncomfortable feeling must have been created through Defoe’s writing style and thus I have compiled this list to highlight this point: The Frontispiece – this is notably the first impression of any novel, giving the title, author and publication information. However in this instance Defoe sought an opportunity to summarise the novel. In doing so he surmises some strange utterances as he declares the novel is ‘The life and strange surprising adventures…’ Why did Defoe feel it necessary to use this form of sibilance in describing Crusoe’s adventures?
In fact the truths that Defoe reveals in this frontispiece go some way towards telling the most important facts of the story and thus ruin it; leaving the novel devoid of any suspense or tension. The fear that the reader would have felt towards Crusoe during the storm and subsequent shipwreck is diminished, as the reader is informed prior to the first word of the actual novel that Crusoe is going to spend ‘eight and twenty years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island. ’ Similarly this ruins the ending of the novel as the reader is aware formerly that Crusoe is saved from the island and secondly that this will occur in the twenty – eighth year.
The omission of Defoe’s name as the author and the statement reading ‘written by himself’ is baffling as it insinuates that the author was Crusoe himself. Is the reader supposed to believe that Crusoe entirely wrote this, or is the novel autobiographical hinting at Defoe’s own personal experience, or is it just Defoe emphasising that Crusoe is telling the events, albeit fictional events, of the story as he experienced it, in first person retrospective form? In my opinion it’s the latter, but I think the ambiguity that Defoe implores through the use of this statement is evident.
The Preface – Defoe is clearly trying to set up the novel as a factual account of a man’s solitary existence on a deserted island through his opening statement; ‘If ever the story of any private man’s adventures in the world were worth making public…this accounts thinks this will be so. ’ Similarly Defoe makes a point of stating ‘The editor believes the thing to be a just history of fact; neither is there any appearance of fiction in it. ’ This unequivocal attempt to submit the novel as purely factual displays the created response from a reader at the startling nature of this being a factual account.
Defoe is correct in thinking that to let the story unfold with the reader believing it is factual will thus create a more realistic and dramatic response to the novel. The reader will be better situated to evaluate their own identity as it comes under question and will be more able to decided what they would do if they were in Crusoe’s position. Personal Pronouns – The use of ‘I’ peppers the early parts of the novel emphasising the autobiographical nature of the account. Defoe immediately tries to influence his reader by gaining a personal relationship and understanding of Crusoe and his initial voyages.
Later on in the novel the arrival of Friday sees the ‘I’ change to ‘we’ which in turn marks a distinct shift in the novel and Crusoe’s identity as he goes from sole provider to sole overseer and teacher. The Journal – clearly the inclusion of a journal adds another dimension to the novel and in some respect makes the novel unique and realistic. The realism created by that of a diary of events which is primarily used to keep the sanity of a lonely shipwrecked survivor is believable.
However when placed within a narrative of events this stylistic device certainly becomes more unusual. The unexpectedness of the diary entries are both a welcomed change to the previous narrative but creates a heightening of the grave situation that Crusoe now faces. Indeed the very first entry to this journal is stricken with melancholy; ‘I, poor, miserable Robinson Crusoe, being shipwrecked… came on shore… “the Island of Despair”… ship’s company being drowned, and myself almost dead. ’ The severity of Crusoe’s situation is also ombined and to some extent measured against his inability to continue with his journal; ‘…my ink began to fail me, and so I contented myself to use it more sparingly, and to write down only the most remarkable events of my life, without continuing a daily memorandum of other things’. The ink in this quote can be seen to be representative of Crusoe’s basic amenities, because if he does not act his food supply will also run out. Post Colonialism – interestingly throughout the novel Crusoe is seen to be morally sound as he gives money away to those that have helped him in the past and also turns upon the savages by saving their hostages.
Despite this though there is an evident post colonial stance to the novel. The voyage, which resulted in Crusoe being marooned on the island, was for the purpose of acquiring slaves to work in the Brazilian plantations. These overtones of slavery and the apparent white European dominance over the African race are carried throughout the novel. Even with the introduction of Friday, Crusoe adopts the role of leader and Friday becomes subservient to him.
The ‘other’ are described as savages and appear to the reader as wild and untrustworthy through Defoe’s depiction. I found this interesting as Defoe ultimately sought the reader to evaluate their own morals and identity in society. This prejudice against Africans seems to reinforce the preconceptions that eighteenth century society had of the ‘other’. These issues outlined above are those which I believe make the novel uncomfortable to read at times or that are unusual or interesting to a reader whether they are in the eighteenth or twenty – first centuries.