Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe is credited with writing the first long fiction novel in literary history. Drawing from established literary genres such as the guide and providence traditions and the spiritual biography, Defoe endeavored to illustrate the life of a man who tempted Providence to his ruine (Defoe 13) and the consequences of such actions. While stranded alone on an island the character of Robinson Crusoe seems to have a religious epiphany about the role of Providence in his life and resolves to live in accordance with God’s will. However, Crusoe’s internal reflections throughout his narrative and his actions do not correlate, causing the reader to question the validity of this conversion. By examining the plot and the process of psychological change Crusoe undergoes, it becomes apparent that he experiences and accepts divine control but that control can only be realized in the free context he has himself created (359). When push comes to shove, Crusoe reverts to human instinct and his own impulses rather than what he perceives to be the will of Providence.
Crusoe uses his newfound religion only when convenient and as a means to justify his actions and an acceptable reason for everything unfortunate that happens. When he finally does leave the island and returns to society, Crusoe’s faith is tested and fails miserably, with practically no mention of Providence towards the end of the story. At the beginning of the novel, Crusoe introduces himself and establishes that his narrative is a memoir of sorts, and is told while looking through more experienced, wise eyes than when he originally experienced his story. This is important to note, because his discourse is shaded with hindsight and interpreted through a mind that has come to accept Providence’s hand in his life. For example, when the Turks capture Crusoe and he is enslaved, he reflects by saying, now the Hand of Heaven had overtaken me, and I was undone without Redemption. But alas! This was but a Taste of the Misery I was to go thro’ (15).
Because Crusoe is recalling the events from memory, as well as the lack of input from any other characters, his reliability can be questioned as a narrator. An unreliable narrator is one who may be in error in his or her understanding or report of things and who thus leaves readers without the guides needed for making judgements. For this reason, the reality of Crusoe’s religious conversion later in the novel can be questioned as well as his interpretation of events. Crusoe begins by telling about his defiance of his father’s wishes and advice. Crusoe’s father advises him not to go to sea and suffer the same fate as his brother, now dead, and pursue a life in the Middle of two Extremes, between the Mean and the Greatto have neither poverty or riches (5). This ideal is reminiscent of Puritanism and its doctrine that discouraged the pursuit of wealth and power.
Crusoe was sincerely affected with this Discourse, which was truly Prophetick (6), but its effects wore all off of him and he goes to sea anyway, seeking fortune and adventure. This action proves later to be very consistent with Crusoe’s character, as he repeatedly is affected by the great, life-changing events in a spiritual sense, but with time these effects seem to wear off. This event is also colored as Crusoe’s original sin, as none of the terrible events that happen later would have occurred if he had followed his father’s advice. After an interesting chain of events, Crusoe finds himself shipwrecked upon an island while making a voyage to buy slaves. While trying to make sense of his condition, he falls very ill and cries out to God, Lord look upon me, Lord pity on me, Lord have Mercy upon me (64). Crusoe makes this first attempt at a relationship with God while in a very dire situation, not during his everyday life, making his religion that of convenience.
Crusoe has a dream while ill and after experiencing an earthquake, seeing a terrible man descend from the heavens, declaring, Seeing all these Things have not brought thee to Repentance, now thou shalt die (65). This passage sounds quite like a Puritan sermon, with its ministers preaching fire and brimstone. The vision spurs a mortal fear of damnation within Crusoe and causes him to search for an explanation with Providence. He reflects upon his previous years by saying: In relating what is already past of my Story, this will be more easily believ’d, when I shall add, that thro’ all the Variety of Miseries that had to this Day befallen me, I had never had so much as one Thought of it being the Hand of God, or that it was a just Punishment for my Sin; my rebellious behavior against my Father, or my present Sins which were greatI was meerly thoughtless of a God, or a Providence; acted like a meer Brute from the Principles of Nature, and by the Dictates of common sense only, and indeed hardly that (65). The phrase this will be more easily believ’d is interesting, as if Crusoe consciously knows that his audience would question the reliability of his story. Ironically enough, it seems his descriptive passages are much more trustworthy than his reflections.
Crusoe now perceives his actions as a cause and effect relationship with his sins causing Providence to punish him and damn him to the island. His disobedience becomes his original sin and the misfortunes that follow stem from it. Crusoe states that he acted out of common sense rather than from the will of Providence. This statement, however, holds true for the rest of the novel, with this vision wearing off when he is faced with the external world. Crusoe continues his life on the island and endeavors to practice the will of Providence after his epiphany during his illness. He asserts this by saying, It was now that I began sensibly to feel how much more happy this Life I now led wa …