Study Guide

Robinson Crusoe Society and Class

By Daniel Defoe

Society and Class

He told me it was for men of desperate Fortunes on one Hand, or of aspiring, superior Fortunes on the other, who went abroad upon Adventures, to rise by Enterprize, and make themselves famous in Undertakings of a Nature out of the common Road; that these things were either too far above me, or too far below me; that mine was the middle state, or what might be called the upper Station of <em>Low Life</em>, which he had found by long Experience was the best State in the World, the most suited to human Happiness, not exposed to the Miseries and Hardships, the Labour and Sufferings of the mechanick Part of Mankind. (6)

Crusoe's father warns him against undertaking adventures upon the sea. Why? Well, because those Crusoes are staunchly middle-of-the-road kind of folks. They're not the crème de la crème of society, nor are they part of the down and dirty rabble. Rather, they're of the middling classes, what his father claims to be "the best State in the World."

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)

Crusoe establishes a little society of his own on the island. This consists of himself and his animal friends. Notice the hierarchy that Crusoe instills in his organization of the natural world. Crusoe is the king and the animals make up his court.

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 has company.  Human company.

I cannot explain by an possible Energy of Words, what a strange longing or hankering of Desires I felt in my Soul upon this Sight; breaking out sometimes thus; O that there had been but one or two; nay, or but one Soul sav'd out of this Ship, to have escap'd to me, that I might but have had one Companion, one Fellow-Creature to have spoken to me, and to have convers'd with! In all the Time of my solitary Life, I never felt so earnest, so strong a Desire after the Society of my Fellow-Creatures, or so deep a Regret at the want of it. (158)

Crusoe spends many years in complete and utter isolation. His lament here – in which he desires the company of another person – would seem to suggest that man is indeed a social creature by nature.

I have been in all my Circumstances a <em>Memento</em> to those who are touch'd with the general Plague of Mankind, whence, for ought I know, one half of their Miseries flow; I mean, that of not being satisfy'd with the Station wherein God and Nature has plac'd them; for not to look back upon my primitive Condition, and the excellent Advice of my Father, the Opposition to which, was, <em>as I may call it</em>, my ORIGINAL SIN; (164)

For Crusoe, aspiring above his station – the middle class – drives all of his misery and misadventures. He even calls his disobedience to his father's advice his "original sin" (and with some emphasis on that term, we'd sure say).

But I needed none of all this Precaution; for never Man had a more faithful, loving, sincere Servant, than <em>Friday</em> was to me; without Passions, Sullenness or Designs, perfectly oblig'd and engag'd; his very Affections were ty'd to me, like those of a Child to a Father; (176)

Relieved of his isolation, Crusoe extends his society to include Friday, a native that he rescues from the clutches of the cannibals. Crusoe establishes his relationship with Friday as a paternal one. Why?

This was the pleasantest Year of all the Life I led in this Place; <em>Friday</em> began to talk pretty well, and understand the Names of almost every Thing I had occasion to call for, and of ever Place I had to send him to, and talk'd a great deal to me; so that in short I began now to have some Use for my Tongue again, which indeed I had very little occasion for before; that is to say, <em>about Speech</em>; (180)

What is the importance of the dialogue between Friday and Crusoe? Why is it important that he has someone to talk to?

…I bad him go to the Tree, and bring me Word if he could see there plainly what they were doing; he did so, and came immediately back to me, and told me they might be plainly view'd there; that they were all about their Fire, eating the Flesh of one of their Prisoners; and that another lay bound upon the Sand, a little from them, which he said they would kill next, and which fir'd all the very Should within me; he told me it was not one of their Nation; but one of the bearded Men, who had told me of that came to their Country in the Boat: I was fill'd with Horror at the very naming the white-bearded Man, and going to the Tree, I saw plainly by my Glass, a white Man who lay upon the Beach of the Sea, with his Hands and his Feet ty'd , with Flags, or Things like rushes; and that he was an <em>European</em>, and had Cloaths on. (196)

Crusoe especially hates the fact that the cannibals are about to feast on a guy like him: a European (and in "Cloaths," no less). Why might that be?

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 small society on the island.

In this Voyage I visited my new Collony in the Island, saw my Successors the <em>Spaniards,</em> had the whole Story of their Lives, and of the Villains I left there; (257)

Crusoe eventually returns to the society of the island, where he attempts to improve the situation by leaving supplies and splitting the island into parts. He considers the island part of his dominion.