"Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe
Against the wishes of his parents, Robinson Crusoe took to a life at sea. However, his beginnings were rough, ending up shipwrecked in a storm. He set out again on another ship and was overtaken by pirates and enslaved. He managed to escape onto another ship headed to Brazil where he bought himself a plantation.
He set sail again a few years later to bring slaves from Africa to Brazil but once again was shipwrecked. Only this time, he ended up on a deserted island somewhere in the Americas. The only one to survive the shipwreck and he is fortunately able to procure supplies from the ship before it sinks, supplies that allow him to begin a new life on the island, where he spends the next twenty eight years of his life learning to survive and finding faith in God.
After many years alone, he discovered that the island was not as uninhabited as he thought. Cannibals from nearby islands use it as a place to kill and eat their prisoners. One day, he helps an escaping prisoner, whom he renames Friday, teaches English and converts to Christianity. Another circumstance occurs where he was able to rescue two more prisoners and set about a plan to escape from the island. But while this was happening, an English ship arrives at the island, taken over by a mutiny. The sailors had planned to leave their captain behind on the island but Cruose managed to strike a deal with him, and after 28 years he is finally able to leave the island and return home.
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe was published in 1719 and became one of the most published novels of all time in Western literature and one of the greatest English language novels. Its classic adventure style has gone on to influence literature, television, and film over the years.
So, how does one critique a novel written hundreds of years ago without letting their 21st Century perspective getting in the way? Well, you accept the fact that the language is dated, the style drags on, and at times, it's pretty racially insensitive. And then you get to the heart of the book, the human experience. Crusoe spends twenty eight year of his life removed from society, most of it completely cut off from human contact. For a species that craves contact with each other, his solitude is almost unthinkable. And yet, while he could give up or despair over his miserable condition, he finds contentment. Someone who formerly didn't care for religion at all turns to God and finds in the deepest, darkest moments what to be thankful for. When he finally returns to the world, he returns with contentment. At a time when people are sailing the world, enslaving other people to create an economic system for their benefit only, when colonial desires were the motivation behind horrendous atrocities, this book makes an impact and that is why it is still important to read today.
This is my first time reading Robinson Crusoe and though I knew the premise of the book, there was much that surprised me. For instance, I never knew there was any bit of religion to the book. But so much of it is about faith and trust in God, about peace during trials, about the saving grace of God. It was a pleasant surprise for me to find this in the book.
Sure, the journal format was pretty boring and I'll admit to skimming through those parts. The mundane details of fashioning a life on an island didn't feel necessary. But this is a world that watches people being shipwrecked on television for fun and money. I can only imagine how unbearable and poignant this book seemed to people at the time of its publication.