Robinson Crusoe’s Struggle to Survive
Robinson Crusoe has been republished hundreds of times in almost every major language over the past three hundred years, and is frequently on lists of the top books to read.
There is sometimes a human urge to respond to the call of unforeseen temptation and explore remote and unknown places.
Given a second chance, presumably the young Robinson, hero in Robinson Crusoe, would still defy his father’s will, despise his prearranged, so-called middle-class life, forget about rationality and respond to his dreams by fleeing from his hometown.
A compelling adventure and a pen led to a novel. Since its first publication, Robinson Crusoe has been republished hundreds of times in almost all major languages of the world over the past three hundred years or so, and is frequently on book lists. It is said only the Bible is republished more than Robinson Crusoe. Robinson’s appearance on stage and the screen has resonated with several generations and their desire to explore with courage to press on.
A Miraculous Story and an Amazing Book
When Daniel Defoe was born in 1660, Great Britain was taken back by the House of Stuart on behalf of feudal power. Defoe’s family was against the reign of the House of Stuart and this political stance influenced Defoe’s entire life. Before the age of 59, he was an active politician and wrote many political books. As a result of the
seemingly unreasonable ideas in his books and speeches, Defoe was jailed at times, which made him even more convinced of the power of the pen.
Robinson Crusoe was Defoe’s first novel. After he heard of an Alexander Selkirk’s story, he began to write the book. Selkirk was a sailor on a British vessel. He was dropped onto a deserted island in Latin America one day after a quarrel with the captain. He hunted wild goats for food, built two huts using wood and goatskin, used nails as needles, got thread from worn socks, befriended goats and cats and prayed to God. After four years and four months on the island, he was saved by a British voyager on February 12, 1709.
Defoe augmented Selkirk’s amazing story of survival with his own experiences at sea and his imagination. In 1719, Defoe finished Robinson Crusoe. In the novel, Robinson was from Great Britain in the 18th century. He went to sea looking to build his wealth and eventually drifted onto a deserted island where he was lucky to leave it alive like Alexander Selkirk. He toiled against nature with physical labour, overcame hardships using his wisdom and conquered an aboriginal he called “Friday” with his gun and doctrine.
Defoe demonstrated survival skills in the book. Robinson survived storms at sea and used courage and wisdom just like the real-life Alexander Selkirk to survive on the island. Readers learned about things like how to make an oil lamp with linen used to mend sails and fat from a slaughtered goat, rig up a tent, repack gunpowder safely, expand a house or burrow, make a table and chairs and hunt goats for food. Robinson kept his emotion under control using reason and devoted himself to his survival work. Readers could experience the hope that Robinson maintained when they read the book.
The book was a sensation in Great Britain when it was published. The enterprising spirit and the consciousness of enlightenment of the bourgeoisie and even an avaricious colonial awareness of expansion conveyed in the book resonated with sailors, soldiers, vendors, craftsmen and other petty bourgeois. In those days, the pursuit of adventure and individual struggle were well regarded in Great Britain; Robinson appeared and became a hero of the rising bourgeoisie. People favoured this ideal, heroic figure in western literature who represented them, and the novel was widely known as “the first realistic full-length British novel.” Defoe was later known as the “Father of British Novels and Newspapers,” which, to a large extent, should be attributed to this novel.
After Robinson Crusoe, Defoe wrote many other popular novels by following a similar approach to writing, such as Captain Singleton, Moll Flanders, Colonel Jack, Roxana, A Journal of the Plague Year and Memoirs of a Cavalier, but none of them was comparable to Robinson Crusoe, which was characterised by its originality, was Defoe’s first book and was written in the form of a diary. However, since then, books depicting individuals’ efforts to adapt to the environment and survive have become increasingly popular with readers. For instance, American poet and novelist May Sarton wrote Journal of a Solitude, which recorded her frustrating and reclusive life from 1970 to 1971 in Nelson, New Hampshire, in the United States; American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden, which described his lonely life in the hut he built in the woods on the bank of Walden Lake, Concord, Massachusetts. Similar content has appeared in movies like The Martian, Castaway on the Moon and even Gone with the Wind. People may need someone like Robinson to draw encouragement and inspiration from, which is probably one of the reasons why Robinson Crusoe has been so popular.
Reader‘s understanding of a novel is influenced by both content and style. Defoe wrote the novel in a concise manner and mostly used common expressions. The story is told in first person, the narrative is smooth and natural and the wording is lucid. The detailed depiction of Robinson’s thinking attracts readers as if they had landed on the island, building tents, raising livestock, planting crops, meeting Friday and eventually going back to Great Britain with him. It feels like a diary that someone really kept on the island.
Defoe inserted numerous “life guidelines” in the narrative to reveal what occupied British thought at that time.
Robinson’s father once told him that a good life was measured by whether all people desired it. Robinson once had a chance to live an enviable life, but “when men compare their present conditions with others that are worse, heaven may oblige them to make the exchange, and be convinced of their former felicity by their experience.” After escaping from the Moors at Sallee, he got himself a residence permit and spent everything he had buying some undeveloped land. Then Robinson made a plantation. After operating the plantation for awhile, his
business and wealth increased rapidly. He made an unreasonable comparison between life as a plantation owner and his life on the island, which led to his seemingly destined encounter with the bitter life on the island.
The novel introduces Robinson’s “apparent obstinate adhering to his foolish inclination of wandering abroad” and his pursuit of that inclination, which is “in contradiction to the clearest views of doing himself good in a fair and plain pursuit of those prospects, and those measures of life, which nature and Providence concurred to present him with.” “But, alas! For him to do wrong that never did right, was no great wonder. He hails no remedy but to go on.” Robinson had a good reason for regretting giving up Xury to another man during the first few years after he was thrown on the island and lived as a drifter, which he gradually realised. To even survive requires ability. He understood “it was in vain to sit still and wish for what was not to be had.”
When he first landed on the desolate island, he pointed to the sea and told himself, “all evils are to be considered with the good that is in them, and with what worse attends them,” and, “I had a tolerable view of subsisting, without any want, as long as I lived; for I considered from the beginning how I would provide for the accidents that might happen, and for the time that was to come, even not only after my ammunition should be spent, but even after my health and strength should decay. ”
On the island, Robinson was seldom idle. He kept trying to solve all kinds of problems and focused his attention on how he could protect himself. After seven months on the island, he found himself becoming less and less discouraged by things. He underwent rainfall, earthquakes, hurricanes, sickness and encountered wild men and beasts. He would drink a cup of sugar cane juice as a sort of wine to boost his morale. He processed grapes into raisins, sowed seeds of barley and rice, divided seasons on the island, fired pottery jars, made stone mills, sifters and canoes, and travelled to other islands. He kept encouraging himself to get his life back on track.
Robinson’s eyes and footprints froze a piece of British land in the 18th century as well as a picture of British life, and retained the life planning made nearly 300 years ago.
“Robinson” is thought to be a name only adventurers deserve, which has to be attributed to translators. This world-famous book was already introduced to China as Juedao piaoliu ji (“life on a deserted island”) three years before Lin Shu (1852–1924), the renowned translator of the late Qing
Dynasty (1644–1911), translated it into classical Chinese in 1905. That was its debut in China. By the late 1940s, other Chinese translators, including Li Lei, Gao Xisheng, Peng Zhaoliang, Gu Junzheng, Tang Xiguang, Yang Jinsen, Zhang Baoxiang, Xu Xiacun and Fan Quan, did some abridged translation and abbreviation and the fruits were incorporated in such Chinese literary collections as Shuobu congshu (“series of novels and writings about anecdotes”), Linyi xiaoshuo congshu (“collection of Lin’s translated novels”) and Wanyou wenku (“a repertory of books”).
Very favourable among readers, publishers and translators, Robinson Crusoe is incomparable in republication frequency and circulation to any other western literary works introduced to China. The translated version by Gu Junzheng and Tang Xiguang was published 11 times from 1934 to 1948, and the abridged version by Fan Quan was published three times in 1948. After 1949, it has been published by major Chinese publishing houses including People’s Literature Publishing House, Yilin Press and Shanghai Translation Publishing House. New translated versions still come out occasionally. It is fun for readers to compare the differences among different versions.
Robinson’s story also shows up in other forms of media. In 2016, the animated version of Robinson Crusoe, directed by Vincent Kesteloot and Ben Stassen, was released. The movie tells a story on an isolated island. Many animals live a peaceful life on the island and don’t know what other parts of the world are like, and Mac, a parrot, is the only one among them that is eager to see the unknown world. One day, a storm brings a wrecked merchant vessel onto the island and they meet Robinson, surviving the storm on the vessel. Mac regards Robinson as his door to the rest of the world and accepts the name that Robinson gives him, Tuesday, with joy. Because of the language barrier the first meeting between the animals and Robinson is a little difficult. Thanks to Tuesday’s help translating, the animals and Robinson become friends. Their society gets put into danger, as a result of antagonists that came with Robinson. A cute story and exaggerated images turned Robinson’s originally arduous struggle into an intense journey. The Swiss Family Robinson: Flone of the Mysterious Island made in 1981 in Japan also tells a story of building a new world on an isolated island but it involves Robinson’s family.
In 1964, Robinson Crusoe was made into an impressive TV drama in France. In 2008, Michael Robinson together with Duane Clark and Alex Chapple directed a 13- episode TV serial with Robinson Crusoe as the hero. This TV drama combines the traditional element of adventure with computer special effects, action scenes, suspense and a fast pace. It not only has raptors, man- eaters, beasts, the threat of starvation and thunderstorms from the original work but also adds some new figures and situations. This image of Robinson is not exactly the same as the Robinson familiar to readers. The new Robinson uses science, makes various implements using what is available and turns crisis into opportunity. He lives a reclusive life on the barren island of the 17th century, which still captures of imagination of modern audiences.
At different stages in the history of cinema, directors like Luis Buñuel, Thierry Chabert, George Miller and Rod Hardy employed their own talents to shoot different film adaptions.
Robinson’s story has also been put on stage by students, community theatres and professional companies. He continues to attract the interest of new generations, and his will to live through hardships has inspired those in times of need.
Crusoe ( TV series) released in 2008
Robinsoncrusoe (or Thewildlife), a 3D animated film released in 2016
Portrait of Daniel Defoe