Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe is a book I did not enjoy very much. It really annoyed me to read about this spoilt, naive and unworldly young fella. You see, he basically is a privileged, white male who likes the idea about going to sea. He soon learns though that the reality of a life as a sailor is very much different from his romantic idea about adventure. But because he has money and considers himself a gentleman it is way beneath him to do any actual work on the ship. Which becomes a problem when he is suddenly left to his own devices when the ship is wrecked in a storm. Poor Robinson is whining a lot about his terrible misfortune — hey, this is just too much of an adventure, he didn’t sign up for this, could someone please come to his rescue right now?!?

What is even more annoying than the protagonist is the narration of the story. Robinson is boring the reader with all the details of his sorrows and is tediously keeping track of every single breath he is taking. It is – simply put – veeeery tiresome, especially the part pre-Friday.

The story becomes slightly more interesting (and does not resemble an endless rant so much anymore) as soon as he meets the man that he is colonising and missionising immediately. He decides the persons name is Friday, he teaches him about Christian religion and Western civilization, and thus has an obedient and loyal servant for life.

However, there are actually a few parts that I enjoyed. One example is when Robinson starts to reflect on his narrow white, Euro-centric, Christian perspective towards indegenous people (who are represented as “savages” and “cannibals” in a true colonial manner) and acknowledges that there might be the possibility that the Western civilizations are not so much different from the “cannibals” since they are slaughtering thousands of people in their wars.
I also liked the mentioning of the city of Bremen on the first page – becaus that is where I come from and it is weird and nice at the same time to read about one’s hometown in a classic. But that is a minor thing which most people wouldn’t even notice.

I am fully aware that this book is considered a masterpiece but I have to admit that I don’t share this opinion. A classic, yes, but not necessarily a masterpiece. It is poorly written, the story is in parts inconsistent. Defoe wrote it in a hurry, as far as I know, and what we are reading in Robinson Crusoe is basically merely a draft that was published.

I would not say that this book is a must-read or that you cannot look into a mirror anymore if you haven’t read this. It is just as sufficient enough to watch a film version of it, or read the summary somewhere on the internet. You won’t miss much but it will save you some time and nerves. I am not going to read it again, and would not recommend it to anyone who just wants to read an enjoyable book and feels like they have to read it only because it is a classic. So, unless you need to read it as an assignment (as in my case), and/or are interested in religious theory, post-colonial studies et cetera, you might not find it very useful or enjoyable.

Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
Penguin Classics (2003)
Paperback, 241 pages
Originally published in 1719

I just realised that this was my first book review not only in this year, but also on this blog. Let me know what you think about Robinson Crusoe, I would love to hear from people who actually enjoyed it, as well as from people who have had a similar reading experience to mine. Also, are there any other “classics” or “masterpieces” you were disappointed of?


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