Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Carl Kerschner Student Blog Post

Throughout the narrative, Crusoe demonstrates a strong tendency towards seeking domination or mastery of his own life, of his environment or property, and of servants and native peoples. At the same time, he seems compelled to certain acts of compassion or consideration, such as his relationship with his neighboring plantation owner before going to sea once again.

How can we reconcile these dissonant traits of the need to control and the impulse to give to or act kindly towards those he perceives as his social inferiors?

Is Crusoe just an imperialistic self-styled lord of all he surveys, or a severely traumatized, insecure refugee filling a psychological need to have control over his unpredictable circumstances?

Is that to fine a distinction to make?


  1. I feel like someone could argue that the idea to control one another is created by society. These thoughts are seldom in Robinson Crusoe's head when he is lonesome on the island. It is not until after he saves and protects these people that he then tries to exert some control over them. It is true that Robinson wants to protect people and control them, and these are clashing traits, but he helps people before he exerts the control. Control always comes second, and therefore might not be as much of a natural human trait.

  2. I feel that this is an interesting observation and I agree that Robinson does have a dominant trait, but also a kind one. His need for control of his own life is immediately seen in this novel when Robinson disobeys his parents and goes to sea because of the need to control his own destiny. This trait is mirrored in the middle of the novel when Robinson steals his "owner's" boat, he needs to be in constant control. Once again when Robinson is at his island he needs to be the leader and dictator of that island. I agree with Nathan in that Robinson is nice to individuals, we see this with Xury and Friday. Although he is nice to them, he still feels the need to be in control of them. He wants to protect them and also have them obey his dictation.

  3. I believe he is neither. I would like to think that spending almost 30 years on an island, mainly alone might've humbled him. I don't think he is so kind and forgiving to his old friends and partners because of his new found wealth and status, more that he is appreciative of everything they've done for him over the past 30 or so years. His partner in the plantation, the widow, etc.; none of them had to keep the plantation going, or hold on to his money, but they did. Instead of assuming him for dead and squandering the money only to find out that he's back, they kept their word.

    Perhaps he feels pity on them and that could be part of the reason, but I think more than anything he feels compassion. After being alone for so long, he appreciates how good of people they've been, even if he's never met them before (his extended family). I think the entire time on the island he was yearning for familial, human contact and now he's flooded with it.

  4. I agree with Nathan and Gina. I think Crusoe's need to control stems from his position as a man of civilization. He wants to dominate and control those who are of a lower class than him yet the religious side of him treats others with kindness. He follows his station in life by exerting his control over people of a lower position. But, Crusoe still attempts to treat people with kindness as God has treated him with kindness. I think Defoe writes Crusoe this way to appeal to both the religious nature of his readers and to their existing beliefs towards control of people of superior classes.

  5. Anyone notice the place on pp. 198 - 199 (upon seeing the bewildered English sailors on his shore) where Crusoe implicitly compares himself to a providential God? What (if any) bearing does that moment have on the question/choice Carl has set up here?

  6. I might be stretching this, but in the beginning of the novel, there is that portion on the "middle class." And as we see Crusoe set off to sea because he doesn't want to settle for the comfortable middle class, I think it's safe to assume that he wants to be larger than life. His relationship with Friday shows that he has that need to create a hierarchy. He treats people well and shows a lot of compassion, but he doesn't like losing control. I think he is wary of people, so having the upperhand gives him security.

  7. The text of this novel centers around religious growth and discovery. As pointed out on page 198-199, Crusoe states how close these three desolate men were to “deliverance and supply” (Defoe, 198)-the Deliverer, being not Providence, but Crusoe himself. We see Crusoe as a selfish and rather reckless young man who does not consider his parents’ feelings and advise. When his life is saved during the terrible storm, he does not thank Providence. When he is cast ashore on the island, he uses his own abilities to make the most out of what God has given him. Upon this island, his little kingdom, he began to realize his relationship with God. Providence provides, and Crusoe must act. In this way, one might even see God as the backdrop, giving Crusoe the abilities to save himself and others. Crusoe is the active participant in his relationship with God. Had he not decided to take away important goods from the ship, he would not have utilized the ship miraculously appearing close to shore. He would not have used the gifts God had given him.

    Crusoe’s desire for control, I believe, has much to do with this relationship with God in which he is the one who primarily acts. Most importantly, I think that it is also important to note the time period that we are reading this novel. We may think that his desire to dominate racial others may be seen as his desire to control, but it may also be seen as indicative of the type of audience this text was meant to address. At the time, the “natural and good” relationship between a native and a European Christian would have been the type of relationship seen between the generous master, Crusoe, and his devoted an converted servant, Friday…. Or is this truly the case? During class, Professor Wilcox reminded us that Crusoe ended up stranded on an island (everyone having died except for himself) while on his venture to procure slaves from Africa for his fellow plantation owners. Do you guys think that “Robinson Crusoe” has elements that point out flaws in imperialism? Do you think that there are any ideas that challenge the preconceived notions of racial others as inferior? I’m interested to hear what others think!!

  8. This is a great question because it centers around our modern conception of selfishness and how people behave towards one another within society. His behavior seems alternately altruistic and domineering but he is behaving according to the code of an English gentleman. It is helpful to constantly remember that this is an English novel and that class consciousness is so high in this social world that it may become invisible to those within it.
    Crusoe’s desire to dominate the land is at first a survival technique. However it becomes more than survival when he builds a second home “so that I fancy’d now I had my country-house and my sea-coast-house” (pp 82). Also once he has added built a new house he sees it as an expansion of his territory like a feudal lord might: “to think that this was all my own, that I was king and lord of all this country indefeasibly” (pp 82).
    His generous behavior may seem to us like a contradiction to his conquering spirit because we all think like American capitalists. It is, however in accord with the more European concept of noblesse oblige. Within such a highly structured class system, gentlemen are expected to behave benevolently to those under them. It demonstrates a reciprocal if uneven relationship between the classes. Also, behaving benevolently underscores one’s superiority. Crusoe is not a born gentleman, but he is obviously not happy to be in what his father calls the middle station of life. I think his behavior can be understood well within this framework.