Crusoe makes another shocking discovery and sets himself on a course of action that leads him to one of the book’s most interesting passages. It is here, in Crusoe’s struggle with his own outrage and his ideas about what makes for civilized behavior, that Defoe begins to turn the novel in a new direction. He is examining the underpinnings of Western civilization. What makes a person civilized? What does the right of self defense really mean? This kind of thinking and questioning is perhaps somewhat lacking in certain countries today. Notice also how religion, for Crusoe, seems to have a moderating, calming influence. He resists using it to justify himself or his actions.
Our lone character, Robinson Crusoe, succeeds in raising his herd of goats and learns to use them for meat, milk and cheese. But his shocking discovery on a beach shakes his foundation and fills him with dread.
Let’s get on with our story, shall we? It’s a good story and reading it is a lot of fun. Difficult, but fun. Defoe’s language is up and down and backward and forward. It makes you think fast. Try picking up the book and reading any part of it out loud and fast. It’s tricky. But it’s a very good way to learn more about how Defoe’s mind worked. Amazing. Are you starting to wonder why Crusoe constantly reminds us of things and says things like: ‘As I told you before,’ or ‘As I said earlier?’
He almost insists that you follow the correct sequence of events, but he skips ahead in order to achieve a much more important goal. He wants you to follow along with his state of mind. That’s why his story-telling language is so twisty and folds back on itself so often. This is certainly one of the most fantastic things about Defoe’s novel. Its obsessive focus on the man’s state of mind sets a precedent that influences almost all of literature following Defoe. It is really this that makes the book so modern.
Robinson Crusoe struggles to harvest his corn, make bread, build a boat and sew some clothes. The efforts he makes are constantly set back by mistakes and errors in judgment. He deals with his lack of expertise in the various arts that he must call upon with a certain amount of humor. Pay attention to how Crusoe constantly monitors his state of mind and is ever willing to discuss his mistakes and to poke fun at himself.
Crusoe details how he learns to grow crops that will help sustain him when his ammunition runs out. He journeys to the far side of the island, finding better land and more plentiful game there. He describes the difficulties overcome in learning to weave baskets and cut lumber from a tree. He also writes about his religious thinking and how he begins to come to terms with his solitary condition.
Crusoe continues to offer the reader his journal entries, describing how he brought supplies from off the shipwreck. He battles sickness and finds a way to speed his recovery. He begins to read a copy of the Bible that he finds in one of his chests. This causes him to ponder the nature of his deliverance and he begins to read the book regularly for the first time in his life. Defoe is here beginning his fascinating analysis of a human being’s place in the world and how hardship can lead a person to question the very nature of existence.
As Crusoe recovers from his sickness, he begins to venture farther abroad on the island, discovering things that will assist his survival efforts.