In Daniel Defoe s adventure novel, Robinson Crusoe, the topic of violence

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1 In Daniel Defoe s adventure novel, Robinson Crusoe, the topic of violence plays an interesting role. Violence in this novel is used for action and suspense, and it also poses dilemmas for the protagonist, which allows for the exploration and development of his character. There are two significant episodes of violence in Robinson Crusoe which contribute to the development of Crusoe as a character. The first is the violence that is implied upon Crusoe s discovery of the Cannibal feast, to which he reacts with horror and outrage. The second episode is the attack that Crusoe and his companion Friday launch against the feasting Cannibals on the shore which brings into question Crusoe s own morality. Crusoe s discovery of the Cannibal feast, or at least what is left of it, on page 164 is an instance of violence being used primarily for suspense, but leads to some revelation about the protagonist s character. For the first time in the novel, there is actually evidence that there is some kind of threat to Crusoe s life since being shipwrecked on the island. None of the other things that Crusoe fears, such as being eaten by wild beasts or starving to death (70), ever materialize, nor do they ever create any kind of action or suspense. He is able to kill any wild beasts that he comes across; for example, on page 72, Crusoe writes in his journal that he went out during the day with [his] gun and [his] dog and kill a wild Cat. Starving to death is a threat that he quickly neutralizes as well when he finds goats on the island and begins to grow corn for himself. But the evidence of Cannibals is real, and Crusoe cannot do anything about it. Crusoe s fear is what makes this passage so suspenseful. Are the savages still there? Do they know he is there? Are they coming back? Crusoe s fear of the

2 answers to these questions drives him to keep close within [his] own Circle for almost two Years and to start plotting against the Cannibals, should they return to the island. Crusoe obsesses about destroying the Cannibals and devises different ways in which he could do it. He even goes so far as to find a place from which he can attack them from and returns to it daily to watch for their return (170). As Crusoe comes back to his hiding place each day, he begins to think about what he has decided to do and finally asks of himself, what Authority or Call I had, to pretend to be Judge and Executioner upon these Men as Criminals, whom Heaven had thought fit for so many ages to suffer unpunish d How far these People were Offenders against me (171). With this, he has decided that if they haven t hurt me, I m not going to hurt them, which says a good deal about Crusoe s character. This is the first time in the novel that he has demonstrated some kind of humanity. This is not to say Crusoe has made himself out to be a totally inhumane person throughout the story, it does however show that he has developed some kind of compassion for other human beings, which had not been demonstrated before. Violence in this episode was meant for suspense, which it does an excellent job of creating. But it also sets in motion a series of events which show a new side of Crusoe, one that has likely emerged as a result of being stranded on the island with little to do but contemplate why he was spared. Perhaps Crusoe has now developed some respect for someone other than himself; after all, he has not really showed much towards anyone, considering that to this point he has ignored his father s words warning him not to go to sea

3 (4), and sold someone he considered his friend as a slave with barely a second thought (33). The second episode of violence is significant as because the superiority of Crusoe s Christianity emerges and the strength of his morality is questioned. In this event, Crusoe and his companion Friday launch an attack against a group of Cannibals which have come to the island in order to feast on the bodies of their prisoners ( ). This passage is interesting because it completely conflicts with Crusoe s earlier decision to not to attack any of the Cannibals unless his life was being threatened by them (171). He considers this decision as he leads Friday down to a hiding place near the feast, and even decides that he is going to stick with that resolution, until he sees that they are going to feast on a white man, or in other words, a fellow Christian (232). This says a lot about Crusoe s character. He figures that as long as the Cannibals are eating their own people, it is not his problem, but as soon as they have someone that he considers an equal to him, he makes it his mission to save them. He really believes in his own (and that of white man s) superiority over the Cannibals. It could be argued that Crusoe had chosen to attack them as a sign of his loyalty to Friday, showing that he is a true and honest friend to someone different to him, but this is after Friday has converted to Christianity and agreed to call Crusoe Master. This episode of violence is important because it adds a new dimension to Crusoe s character in that he may not be as moral as he would like the reader to believe. It gives the impression that perhaps he had a stronger desire to attack the Cannibals all along and was merely looking for an excuse to do so. How strongly can he

4 believe in what he says if he is so willing to go back on it? This is a novel that is marked throughout by the theme of the superiority of Christianity, and this, like the selling of Xury as a slave (33) and Friday s conversion to Christianity ( ), is another example of it. It should be noted though that the violence in this episode does do something else for the story. It is the first real action sequence in the novel and it is the most exciting part. There is suspense in it: will he be able to rescue the prisoner in time? Are Crusoe and Friday able to defend themselves against a large number of Cannibals? The whole passage moves along far faster than the majority of the novel and really takes the reader by surprise. The primary objective of this episode had to be to create some excitement that would continue to build as Crusoe draws nearer and nearer to leaving the island. It sets in motion all the events necessary for his rescue and gets the story moving at a much faster pace than before. It is necessary for the story that this event takes place. Without it, it would probably have been more of a pure convenience or luck that Crusoe actually ends up getting off the island and that would not be as satisfying for the reader. It is more heroic for Crusoe to fight his way to his escape, as he does with the rescue of the Spaniard in this passage, and the later rescue of the English captain (254), than it would be for him to just happen to signal a passing ship or escape of some hand made boat. This passage is an example of how violence in Robinson Crusoe plays a dual role of creating action and suspense while exploring Crusoe s character.

5 The same can be said for much of the violence in this novel. Each time violence is evident in this novel it has two sides. But often it is a matter of opinion as to which side is stronger. I feel that violence is more important in the story in terms of developing Crusoe s character. The action and suspense is always short-lived and requires little thinking, but the exploration of Crusoe is much deeper. It is almost as if he becomes vulnerable and opens up, even though he is merely relating the events that occurred. His responses to the episodes become his person. When he is frightened, the reader feels his fear; when he becomes angry, the reader feels his anger. Crusoe reflects on himself in relation to his decisions as well. When he first decides to destroy the Cannibals, he asks himself if he is sure it is his place to make the judgement of God in harming them. That is not unlike something any real person in a similar situation of their life or mine would ask. The only time that details about Crusoe such as this are revealed is in response to some violent occurrence. Violence is therefore crucial to making Crusoe a more believable character. Without it, there would be no extreme emotion evident in Crusoe. He would never have anything to make him that afraid or that angry. The whole story would consist of him being happy that he had another crop of corn, or him building another living place somewhere on the island and being pleased about that. His reaction to violence shows passion, instinct, and a different sort of energy that cannot be shown by his regular day-today activities. It is as if violence jumpstarts him, either to recognize his place in the world, or to have some kind of compassion for someone. That is what is significant about violence in Robinson Crusoe; it happens so infrequently over

6 the course of the story, but it plays a large part in developing the man alongside the story.

7 Works Cited Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. New York: Oxford UP, 1998.

8 Violence in Robinson Crusoe ENG 112: Pop Lit Professor David Copeland Final Essay Ryland Titley Student #

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