Tradition and theme in Robinson Crusoe
Hunter, J. Paul, 1934-
Doctor of Philosophy
Although it bears superficial resemblances to the tradition: of travel literature, Robinson Crusoe in its total form differs greatly from that tradition, and the characteristics which set it apart (particularly the thematic structure) suggest that its real affinities lie with the traditions of Puritan religious literature. Robinson Crusoe embodies many of the concerns of conduct books and the providence literature tradition, and structurally it resembles closely spiritual biography and pilgrim allegory. Robinson Crusoe is structured on the basis of a disobedience—punishment—repentance—deliverance pattern, and all of the novel's events are interpreted retrospectively according to this pattern. Defoe often allows pointed Biblical allusion to carry the weight of meaning, especially during Crusoe's early flight from responsibility, during his illness and conversion, and in the novel's final major section--the episode of the wolves. Ultimately, Crusoe's struggle to gain a proper relationship with his world takes on a spiritual dimension, and Crusoe's physical activities often parallel his spiritual aspirations. Viewed against the background of Puritan religious traditions, Robinson Crusoe evidences a profound debt to Puritan idea and metaphoric conception. Defoe uses fundamental Puritan metaphors of existence and spiritual alienation to create a world in which man's basic conflicts take place in a cosmical, yet personal setting. In utter distress, desolation and loneliness, Crusoe finds in God's grace power to overcome a hostile world of hunger and sickness, animal and human brutality, even power to overcome his most dangerous adversary—himself. An Everyman, Crusoe begins as a wanderer, aimless on a sea he does not understand; he ends as a pilgrim crossing a final mountain to enter the promised land.