Study Guide

Robinson Crusoe Man and the Natural World

By Daniel Defoe

Man and the Natural World

By this time it blew a terrible Storm indeed, and now I began to see Terror and Amazement in the Faces even of the Seamen themselves. The master, tho' vigilant to the Business of preserving the Ship, yet as he went in and out of his Cabbin by men, I could hear him softly to himself say several times, <em>Lord be merciful to us, we shall be all lost, we shall be all undone;</em> and the like. (11)

Initially, the natural world is a terrifying place for Crusoe. The stormy sea sends him – and his shipmates – into a frenzy of fear and fright. The vicissitudes of nature often prompt Crusoe – and others – to turn to God for help. Here, the captain of the ship prays for assistance.

I bethought my self however, that perhaps the Skin of him might one way or other be of some Value to us; and I resolved to take off hers Skin if I could. So <em>Xury</em> and I went to work with him; but <em>Xury</em> was much the better Workman at it, for I knew very ill how to do it. Indeed it took us up both the whole Day, but at last we got off the Hide of him, and spreading it on the top of our Cabbin, the Sun effectually dried it in two Days time, and it afterwards serv'd me to lye upon. (26)

Crusoe sees the utility and thus value of the natural world – for example, the lion's hide is something that he can sleep on.

I found also that the Island I was in was barren, and, as I saw good Reason to believe, un-inhabited, except by wild Beasts, of whom however I saw none, yet I saw Abundance of Fowls, but knew not their Kinds, neither when I kill'd them could I tell what was fit for Food, and what not; (46)

The island is uninhabited by people. Crusoe is in complete isolation, save for the beasts around him, and thus is in a state of nature.

At the end of this March I came to an Opening, where the Country seem'd to descend to the West, and a little Spring of fresh Water which issued out of the Side of the Hill by me, run the other Way, that is due East; and the Country appear'd so fresh, so green, so flourishing, every thing being in a constant Verdure, or Flourish of <em>Spring,</em> that it looked like a planted Garden. (85)

Here, the lush island serves as a metaphor for the Biblical Garden of Eden.

Accordingly I dug up a Piece of Ground as well as I could with my wooden Spade, and diving it into two Parts, I sow'd my Grain; but as I was sowing, it casually occur'd to my Thoughts, That I would not sow it all at first, because I did not know when was the proper Time for it; so I sow'd about two Thirds of the Seed, leaving about a Handful of each. (88)

Crusoe's goal is to cultivate the land so it will yield crops for his survival. Again, the natural world is something to be developed and tended by humans.

I descended a little on the Side of that delicious Vale, surveying it with a secret Kind of Pleasure, (tho' mixt with my other afflicting Thoughts) to think that this was all my own, that I was King and Lord of all this Country indefeasibly, and had a Right of Possession; and if I could convey it, I might have it in Inheritance, as completely as any Lord of a Mannor in England. (85)

Though he's a (rather vulnerable, we'd say) castaway, Crusoe still sees himself as lord and proprietor of the island.

Those who understand such Enclosures will think I had very little Contrivance, when I pitch'd upon a place very proper for all these, being a plain open Piece of Meadow-Land, or <em>Savanna,</em> (as our People call it in the Western Collonies,) which had two or three little Drills of fresh Water in it, and at one end was very woody. I say they will smile at my Forecast, when I shall tell them I began my enclosing this Piece of Ground in such a manner, that my Hedge or Pale must have been at least two Mile about. (124)

Crusoe cultivates the land and encloses it. This is a sign of possessing or owning the land.

Then to see how like a King I din'd too all alone, attended by my Servants, <em>Poll</em>, as if he had been my Favourite, was the only Person permitted to talk to me. My Dog who was no grown very old and crazy, and had found no Species to multiply his Kind upon, sat always at my Right Hand, and two Cats, one on one Side the Table, and one on the other, expecting now and then a Bit from my Hand, as a Mark of Special Favour. (126)

Notice the hierarchy that Crusoe instills in his organization of the natural world.

You are to understand, that now I had, as I may call it, two Plantations in the Island; one my little Fortification or Tent, with the Wall about it under the Rock, with the Cave behind me, which by this Time I had enlarg'd into several Apartments or Caves, one within another. One of these, which was the driest, and largest, and had a Door out beyond my Wall or Fortification; that is to say, beyond where my Wall joyn'd to the Rock, was all fill'd up with the large Earthen Pots, of which I have given an Account, and with fourteen or fifteen great Baskets, which would hold five or six Bushels each, where I laid up my Stores of Provision, especially my Corn, some in the Ear cut off short from the Straw, and the other rubb'd out with my Hand. (128)

While money has no use on the island, Crusoe still accumulates things: two houses, supplies, and goods.

It happen'd one Day about Noon going towards my Boat, I was exceedingly surpriz'd with the Print of a Man's naked Foot on the Shore, which was very plain to be seen in the Sand: I stood like one Thunder-struck, or as if I had seen an Apparition; I listen'd, I look'd round me, I could hear nothing, nor see any Thing, I went up to a rising Ground to look farther, I went up the Shore and down the Shore, but it was all one, I could see no other Impression but that one, I went to it again to see if there were any more, and to obseve if it might not be my Fancy; but there was no Room for that, for there was exactly the very Print of a Foot, Toes, Hell, and every Part of a Foot; how it came thither, I knew not, nor could in the least imagine. But after innumberable fluttering Thoughts, like a Man perfectly confus'd and out of my self, I came Home to my Fortifcation, not feeling, as we say, the Ground I went on, but terrify'd to the last Degree, looking behind me at every two or three Steps, mistaking every Bush and Tree, and fancying every Stump at a Distance to be a Man; (130)

The footprint Crusoe encounters is the first sign that he is not alone on the island.

My Island was now peopled, and I thought my self very rich in Subjects; and it was a merry Reflection which I frequently made, How like a King I look'd. First of all, the whole Country was my own meer Property; so that I had an undoubted Right of Dominion. <em>2dly</em>, My people were perfectly subjected: I was absolute Lord and Law-giver; they all owed their Lives to me, and were ready to lay down their Lives, <em>if there had been Occasion of it,</em> for me. It was remarkable too, we had but three Subjects, and they were of three different Religions. My Man <em>Friday</em> was a Protestant, his Father was a <em>Pagan</em> and a <em>Cannibal,</em> and the Spaniard was a Papist: However, I allow'd Liberty of Conscience throughout my Dominions: But this is by the Way. (203)

Crusoe sees himself as the ruler of the natural order on the island.