Answer: Apart from being an exciting account of a man’s adventures on an uninhabited island, the book, “Robinson Crusoe” has been found to possess a profound allegorical significance. For many, Crusoe’s many references to God, to Providence, to sin are extraneous to the real interest of the novel. Readers through the 19th century read “Robinson Crusoe” in the light of religion. For example, a reviewer for the Dublin University Magazine called the book a great religious poem, showing that God is found where men are absent. In deciding whether or to what extent Robinson Crusoe is a spiritual autobiography and a great religious poem, one might consider the following:
In the “Preface,” Defoe announces that his intention is to justify and honour the wisdom of Providence in all the variety of our circumstances.
Moreover, Robinson Crusoe can be viewed from theological and practical levels. If we see from the theological level, we will find that man’s extreme aspiration is the cause of sin. As we see in “Paradise Lost” by John Milton that Adam and Eve are banished from the Heaven because of their aspirations and disobedience to God, here in the same was Crusoe is thrown on an uninhabited island because of disobedience towards his father.
Crusoe receives warnings against the rashness of going to sea from his father and from the captain of the first ship he sails on. Both are figures of authority and can be seen as proxies for God. In ignoring their warnings, he is also denying God’s providential social order in the world. God’s providential social order in the world means that God arranged the world hierarchically, endowing the king with authority in the political realm and the father with authority in the family.
Crusoe’s conversation with his father about leaving home can be interpreted from a religious perspective. Crusoe repeatedly refers to leaving home without his father’s permission as his “original sin“; he not only associates God and his father but regards his sin against his father as a sin against God also remembering his first voyage.
“…my conscience, which was not yet come to the pitch of hardness to which it has been since, reproached me with the contempt of advice and the breach of my duty to God and my Father”.
In the Puritan family structure, the father was regarded as God’s deputy; in rejecting his father’s advice, Crusoe is committing Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience. For Crusoe, as for Adam, and Eve, disobedience grows out of restlessness and discontent with the station God assigned.
When Crusoe is cast ashore on a deserted island, he sees his situation as the fulfillment of his father’s prediction that if Crusoe disregarded his advice, Crusoe would find himself alone with no source of help. As his father said with a little sigh,
“That boy might be happy if he would stay at home; but if he goes abroad,
he will be the most miserable wretch that ever was born”.Alone on the island, Crusoe is Everyman, alienated from God because of sin.
One way of reading Robinson Crusoe is as a spiritual autobiography. The spiritual autobiography portrays the Puritan drama of the soul. Concerned about being saved, having a profound sense of God’s presence, seeing His will manifest everywhere and aware of the unceasing conflict between good and evil, Puritans constantly scrutinized their lives to determine the state of their souls and looked for signs of the nature of their relationship with God. The spiritual autobiography usually follows a common pattern: the narrator sins, ignores God’s warnings, hardens his heart to God, repents as a result of God’s grace and mercy, experiences a soul-wrenching conversion, and achieves salvation. The writer emphasizes his former sinfulness as a way of glorifying God; the deeper his sinfulness, the greater God’s grace and mercy in electing to save him. He reviews his life from the new perspective his conversion has given him and writes of the present and the future with a deep sense of God’s presence in his life and in the world. Here we also find the touch of spiritual autobiography.
Crusoe throughout uses religious language, imagery, and Biblical references. Crusoe narrates his life story long afterward, and from the beginning of his tale, Crusoe presents events not only from his point of view as a youth but also from a Christian perspective; he looks at his past through the eyes of the convert who now constantly sees the working of Providence. He tells of his first shipwreck and of his then ignoring what he now perceives as God’s warning, “… Providence, as in such cases generally it does, resolved to leave me entirely without excuse. For if I would not take this for a deliverance, the next was to be such a one as the worst and most hardened wretch among us would confess both the danger and the mercy”. And he found “the secret hints and notices of danger”.
After his dream and the beginning of his regeneration, Defoe reviews his life and his understanding and sense of God deepen. But reason alone is not sufficient to result in conversion and Crusoe turns to the Bible; studying it reveals God’s word and will to him, and he finds comfort, guidance, and instruction in it. For the first time in many years he prays, and he prays, not for rescue from the island, but for God’s help:-
“Lord be my help, for I am in great distress”.
After thinking about his life, he kneels to God for the first time in his life and prays to God to fulfill his promise “that if I called upon Him in the day of trouble, He would deliver me”. His next step toward conversion is asking for God’s grace, “Jesus, Thou Son of David, Jesus, Thou exalted Prince and Saviour, give me repentance!”. He comes to realize that spiritual deliverance from sin is more important than physical deliverance from the island. A little later, when he is about to thank God for bringing him to the island and so saving him, he stops, shocked at himself and the hypocrisy of such a statement. Then he “sincerely gave thanks to God for opening my eyes, by whatever afflicting Providences, to see the former condition of my life, and to mourn for my wickedness, and repent”. This incident indicates that Crusoe’s faith is fervent and honest.
In short we can say that Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” is a great religious allegory. This shows the inner conflict of Crusoe and portrays the Puritan drama of the soul. This follows the pattern of “Sin → Punishment → Realization → Redeem → Salvation”.