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Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe

From the Introduction

The story of Robinson Crusoe was inspired by a real-life castaway. In 1705, Alexander Selkirk, a Scotsman, argued angrily with the captain of his ship over whether their boat was too leaky to sail. After the boat stopped to get fresh water at an island in the Pacific Ocean, Selkirk refused to go back on board. So the captain left him there alone with a Bible, a gun, a kettle, and a few tools and supplies. Four-and-a-half years later another English ship visiting the island saw a signal fire and found Selkirk still alive. Today, the island is named for him.

Selkirk lived off goat meat and what he called “cabbages that grow on trees.” He slept in a hut made of branches and wore goatskin clothes, though for a while he went naked. He was very fit and could catch goats to eat even though he was running barefoot. The sailors who found him said he looked wild. He had mostly forgotten how to speak and at first could say only parts of words.

Selkirk came home to England and Daniel Defoe read about him in newspapers. Selkirk’s adventure had Defoe’s favorite story ingredients: danger, escape, and survival – plus an ordinary person for its hero. Many more merchants and workers were learning to read and write around the time Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe. To appeal to these new readers, Defoe presented his story as if it was told by an ordinary man who had been rescued from a desert island. He also wrote it in a plain, informative style with a lot of realistic details. This made it easier for many readers to feel they understood Crusoe. One reason Robinson Crusoe is still well-liked is that Defoe makes ordinary things seem beautiful and ordinary actions seem noble.

Besides travel adventures, books about personal religious experiences were also very popular in Defoe’s day. Robinson Crusoe is also like those. Defoe’s story tells how Crusoe disobeyed his father by running away to sea, how he survived a shipwreck on a wild island, and how he must work and wait alone, hoping for rescue. Defoe’s readers would have seen the similarity to the Biblical story of how Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating forbidden fruit, how they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden as punishment, and made to work and suffer in hopes that one day they would be forgiven and saved.

In our world of television and radio we seldom have to feel all alone or live in silence. This makes Robinson Crusoe’s story thrilling for us. Could you civilize a wilderness like he did, or would it turn you wild, as it did Alexander Selkirk?

E.D. Hirsch Jr.
Charlottesville, Virginia

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ISBN: 978-1-890517-02-1

© 2001

Weight 1.00 lbs
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