Religion Vs. Self Interest In Robinson Crusoe

2629 words - 11 pages

This paper is an attempt to examine the seeming opposition of religion vs. self-interest with respect to the character of Robinson Crusoe. I will venture to demonstrate that in the novel, Defoe illustrates the contradictions with which Crusoe must contend as he strives to please God while ensuring his own survival in the world. In part, I will endeavor to show that a distorted sense of Puritanism as well as the existing colonial mindset exacerbated this opposition, and resulted in what I propose to be Defoe's (possibly retroactive) imposition of a religious justification for Crusoe's actions.

Crusoe's journey in the canoe exemplifies the reality of his life in that, although he longs to please and obey God, he must also contend with his instincts for self-preservation, looking to himself as his own savior. When Crusoe finally reaches land after a tumultuous experience at sea in his canoe, he states ."..I fell to my knees and gave God thanks for my deliverance, resolving to lay aside all thoughts of my deliverance by my boat,..." (112). Crusoe strives for the Christian ideal, an ideal that leads him to look to God for assistance and not to man/himself because God holds the only power to give and take life. When Crusoe drops to his knees in gratitude to God for his safe return, he appears to have achieved this ideal. However, one must note the use of the word "resolve" in this passage. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word "resolve" as used in the eighteenth century as follows: to decide, to determine, or to convince one of something. The fact that Crusoe had to convince himself and come to a determination in order to lay aside his thoughts of his boat saving him rather than God, reveals to the reader that Crusoe's first instinct is to look to himself as his savior - only after deliberation does he determine to credit providence for his survival. In this instance, therefore, it is shown that the ideal relationship with God contradicts his instinct.

In a way, the journey in the canoe in itself contradicts the idea of providence. The purpose of the journey for Crusoe was to obtain more knowledge. Prior to this journey, however, he states "Thus I liv'd mighty comfortably, my mind being entirely composed by resigning to the will of God, and throwing myself wholly upon the disposal of his Providence." (108) Very shortly after this declaration of his submission to Providence, when referring to his exploration of the island on foot, Crusoe says that "the discoveries I made in that little journey, made me very eager to see other parts of the coast; and now I had a boat, I thought of nothing but sailing round the island." (109) As illustrated by the canoe journey, Defoe shows us that Crusoe's longing for knowledge, and for more than what God's Providence has provided him, almost costs him his life.

Crusoe's island, like the Garden of Eden, provides for all his needs. He has complete dominion over this island and all...

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