Temperatures have soared, bringing the crispy season. Driven indoors, I finished a book I had put down in 1966, if memory serves me right.
It is “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe. I had read chapters from it as a boy, but not the whole book.
It is a famous novel, the tale of a man shipwrecked alone on an island, who after some years encounters other people, rescues a man he calls Friday, and eventually, after vanquishing natives and Europeans, escapes the island to tell his story. It’s a great yarn.
Just a few pages in, Defoe hooks the reader by putting Crusoe into fear of imminent death. There are adventures before and after the desert island chapters.
Crusoe is captured by Moorish pirates and enslaved for years. One day, when his master had stocked a small boat boat for a fishing trip, Crusoe took flight in it, accompanied by a boy.
After adventures on the African coast, they came upon a European ship. The captain treated him kindly, purchasing the stolen boat and its contents for good money.
He also wanted to buy the boy. Crusoe, troubled about selling his companion, gave him to the captain in return for 10 years service and the boy’s conversion to Christianity.
The cash let him establish a plantation with partners in Brazil. It prospered.
Eventually Crusoe set to sea again, and is shipwrecked on an uninhabited island somewhere near the mouth of the Orinoco River.
He is able to return to the beached ship a dozen times, taking off tools and much else, including more guns than he could carry.
Most of the book details his efforts to provide for himself. He describes his fortress-storehouse and his “country estate” where he can go in hot weather.
He only got seriously sick once. He cured himself by soaking tobacco in rum and drinking the concoction.
He unloaded several casks of rum from the wreck. Thirty years later, he still had some left. Self control was, obviously, one of his virtues.
Many chapters are devoted to the ways he worked to provide for himself. His life was marked by diligent striving for security, comfort, and self-improvement, the Protestant work ethic in action. Unsupervised, he labors six days a week.
Crusoe learned carpentry and made a small boat. He taught himself to make pottery and baskets. Eventually he set himself up to live as the lord of his domain. The fantasy of being lord of one’s own little place has tantalized many readers since 1719.
In midbook, Crusoe recognized that he has been ungrateful to God for the blessings bestowed on him. He undergoes repentance and conversion.
He earnestly pondered attacking the cannibals who use the island as a picnic ground. He decided it would be morally wrong because they had done nothing to him.
When he rescued a native from the cannibals, he interprets the man’s expressions of gratitude to mean, “I will be your servant forever.‘” He unquestioningly assumed his supremacy.
Eventually an English ship anchored, afflicted by mutiny. Crusoe aided the rightful captain, who agreed to follow his orders while ashore and to take him home.
On returning, he found that his Brazilian partners had been dutifully putting his share of the profits into an escrow account. He was rich.
Oh, the reason Crusoe made his famous voyage? To pick up slaves in Africa for use on his plantations.
When you reread something many years later, you notice things you overlooked. You have changed; the book itself is different.
You can’t step twice into the same text.