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Alexander Pope’s An Essay On Man And Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

2855 words - 11 pages

Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

The theme of "man’s relationship to God and the universe" presented in Epistle 1 of Alexander Pope’s "An Essay on Man" complements Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Crusoe is an inconsistent character who turns to God whenever he is in need, yet fails to maintain respect for nature and for his fellow man. In the first year of Robinson Crusoe’s solitary life on the island, he falls ill and has a terrifying dream that alters his awareness of his place in the universe and God’s control of it. This experience leads him to contemplate his past ingratitude and to embark on a life of piety, reading the Bible daily, though without a drastic or permanent change in his character. Throughout his adventures in the novel, Crusoe has moments of awareness and appreciation of God, yet each moment of faith fades as he regains control over his situation. The ideals presented in the last three sections of Epistle 1 — that life exists in a "chain of being" and is interdependent, that the spirit of God exists in all things, and that man should accept existence as good — speak directly to the understanding that Crusoe comes to as a result of his illness and the life he leads throughout the novel.

Crusoe wakes up from the nightmare that he has during his illness and realizes that surviving each of his adventures has been in the hands of God, and that he has been ungrateful and unaware of this power. Section 8 of Epistle 1 in the "Essay on Man" states that all things in the chain of being are interdependent and that man in his pride should not strive to break this order. Robinson Crusoe is a very independent character and has traveled for eight years without "having the least sense, either of the Fear of God in Danger, or of Thankfulness to God in Deliverances" (65). It is not until his sickness, when Crusoe dreams of God, that he considers his soul to be in the hands of his Creator. In the climax of his fearful dream, Crusoe hears a voice threaten him, "Seeing all these things have not brought thee to Repentance, now thou shalt die," and he awakens with a tremendous "Impression" on his mind (65). This is a point of change for the sailor, and he meditates on his life and the unacknowledged influence of God. Pope’s essay speaks to this awareness, for his focus is on the presence of God in nature and humanity. In Section 8 he exclaims, "Vast Chain of Being! which from God began, / Natures ethereal, human, Angel, Man, / Beast, Bird, Fish, Insect!" (237-39). According to Pope, the existence of all things emanates from a God who created all things to be united. This message also speaks to Crusoe, when he first becomes aware of the link between God and himself. As soon as Crusoe becomes open to God, he begins thinking, "Such as we are all made by some secret Power, who form’d the Earth and Sea, the Air and Sky; and who is that? . . . It is God" (68). Robinson Crusoe comes to see God as the creator that...

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