Answer: Two divergent views have been expressed by critics about the structure of the novel Robinson Crusoe, One view is that this novel is episodic, and lacks fundamental unity. This novel, according to this view, imitates life in its very shapelessness. According to the other view, this novel possesses a thematic unity and has a close-knit structure. In a painstaking analysis, an eminent critic successfully demonstrates that the novel Robinson Crusoe has been constructed with a closeness which Defoe’s other novels do not possess.
Events, Indipensable to the Novel’s Structure:
Robinson Crusoe indeed shows Defoe as a skilled craftsman in the manner in which he has constructed the plot of this novel. The critic, who expresses a high opinion about the structure of this novel, proves his case beyond any doubt. One test of the close structure of a novel is to remove some particular incident from the plot and then find out if the plot suffers any damage. Our critic shows that it is indeed not possible to remove any substantial event or incident from Robinson Crusoewithout damaging the novel as a whole. As an example he cites the incident of Crusoe and his fellow-travelers journeying from Lisbon to Toulouse and being attacked by wolves on the way. Now, just before the great battle with the wolves, Defoe lets us know through a sudden reference back to the beginning of the novel that he has his total impression of the story in mind.
Defoe makes Crusoe recall the dreadful animal noises which he had heard when escaping from slavery in a fishing-boat. On that occasion, as later when the wolves attack, Crusoe had become free from his captivity and on that occasion he had a companion called Xury. On the island, however, Crusoe was alone, with no wild beasts to fight against. On the island, the arena was cleared for his struggle with himself. But after having got away from the island, Crusoe once again faces wild beasts. The wolves join with the African lions in framing Crusoe’s island-life; the wolves cannot therefore be removed from the story without disturbing this frame. Furthermore, the wolves serve to prevent Crusoe’s final return to the safety and the comforts of English life from appearing to be too abrupt.
The Thematic Structure of “Robinson Crusoe”
Robinson Crusoe is more like contemporary adventure stories than like the travel books; information is subordinated to event, and the movement is dramatic. Chronology, simply a convenience in the travel books, becomes for Defoe (as for adventure stories) a conscious device to dramatize development. But even more important, Robinson Crusoe has a larger coherence than that produced by the narrative sequence —a coherence which ultimately separates Robinson Crusoe from both travel literature and adventure stories, for books in both the latter traditions lack an informing idea which gives a meaning to individual events or to the sequence as a whole. These books seem to lack ideological content, and no thematic meaning can be extracted &Om them. Some critics have insisted that Robinson Crusoe resembles them in this respect, that it is episodic and lacks fundamental unity. Professor Secord states as a truism that Robinson Crusoe imitates life in its very shapelessness. This view, however, ignores the thematic structure of the novel, a structure set up by the artistic (and ultimately philosophical) rationale for all of Crusoe’s wanderings.
Crusoe is never merely an adventurer who goes from place to place, participating in isolated events. Each of his experiences takes on meaning in relation to a pattern set in motion by his fatal “propension of Nature” – an irrational inclination to roam. His “rambling thoughts cause him to rebel against parental authority and against his divinely appointed “station” —a rebellion which he interprets as his “original sin”. Crusoe views each subsequent tragic event as punishment for his rebellion, and at last concludes that real deliverance from his plight (both physical and spiritual) is only possible when he resigns himself completely to the will of God. – J. Paul Hunter.
A Paratactic Structure
One of the critics regards the structure of this novel as “paratactic”. According to him, there is no single point to which the rising action rises and from which the falling action falls. And in so far as the climaxes are climaxes in Crusoe’s religious life, the paratactic structure reflects the inconclusiveness of his religious experiences. None results in his permanent regeneration, and none has a significant effect on his practical activity. There is a discontinuity between the religious aspects of the book and its action, or between the religious concerns of the hero and his actions. However, we do not agree with this approach to the novel. There is definitely a connection between the hero’s religious life and his actions, and his regeneration is not at all a fleeting affair. In fact any sustained activity would have been impossible for Crusoe without regeneration. It is his religious life which acts as the inspiration behind his actions.
A Unified Structure
The simplest way of looking at the structure of this novel is to regard it as the life-story of an individual man over a period of thirty-five years of which he spends twenty-eight years on an uninhabited island where he is able, by his ingenuity and skill, to provide himself with all sorts of amenities and comforts and where he is also able to enjoy a certain degree of peace of mind. Everything falls into place if we make this approach to the novel. While we are given all sorts of details of the physical existence of the man, we are also given an account of his mental and spiritual life. All episodes and situations are inter-connected because they all relate to the life of the same man. A unified structure is not necessarily one in which we find a number of sub-plots closely interwoven with the main plot and producing some sort of symmetrical pattern or design. A unified structure can also mean one in which events follow one another in a proper sequence producing an impression of continuity and cohesion. The whole of a life is presented to us in Robinson Crusoe, with special reference of the years spent in enforced solitude in a desolate place with only the mercy of God and the man’s own native sagacity and inventiveness to make existence bearable, and in some ways even enjoyable.