Robinson Crusoe is considered by many to be the first novel in the English language. The term 'Robinsonade' has even been coined to describe the various spin-offs of Robinson Crusoe. It is astonishing how much of the book has become part of the language; the very term 'Robinson Crusoe' has become synonymous with the concept of a castaway.
Likewise, 'Man Friday', Crusoe's servant on the island, has become a name commonly used to describe an indispensable assistant who will turn his or her hand to anything. The idea of being marooned is one that grabs all of us, from the thought of the effects of isolation on the human mind to what records we'd take.
Although there were many true tales of castaways in Defoe's time (his inspiration for Crusoe was probably a Scottish sailor named Alexander Selkirk, who was rescued in 1709 after four years on the uninhabited island of Más a Tierra in the Juan Fernández Islands off the Chilean coast), the attraction of Defoe's work is that it departs from the dryly factual and explores instead the thoughts, feelings and occupations of the castaway, and hence the story achieves its everyman status.
The theme behind Crusoe's adventures is open to a wide range of interpretations. James Joyce saw him as a symbol of British colonialism; JP Hunter saw him as a pilgrim progressing through adversity and experience towards a closer relationship with God.
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- Sarah R. Jacobs