At first look, Robinson Crusoe seems to be what we all know is true: it’s an journey story, plain and easy. Like Swiss Household Robinson. Like Kidnapped. Like all of these late nineteenth-century journey tales by Robert Louis Stevenson. Even like Gulliver’s Travels, one other eighteenth-century novel. However Gulliver’s Travels is about greater than a man being tied up by little folks. There is a floating island and lots of philosophers to make enjoyable of, too. And we won’t overlook the clever horses and the silly human Yahoos.
Daniel Defoe’s novel does not have all of the loopy episodic stuff like Gulliver’s Travels, however it’s greater than a man stranded on an island. And it is not all inside stuff like Tom Hanks in Castaway. This guide is about politics, too. And we’re speaking 1719 politics right here.
Ann Van Sant’s essay “Crusoe’s Fingers” from the scholarly journal Eighteenth-Century Life presents an intriguing approach to learn Robinson Crusoe that’s each profound and comparatively easy to understand. First, Van Sant units the novel in the historical past of concepts about work by taking a look at the distinction between the head and arms. The top represents mental exercise, whereas arms characterize guide exercise or guide work, what we might usually name labor:
“The hierarchy of head and hand is a part of an extended custom supported by authority from each Greek and Latin antiquity. The custom extends and reworks Aristotle’s view that theoretical information is superior to productive information and that the guide laborer works with out realizing why he works. Such labor is servile…The bias in opposition to guide labor was by no means both easy or monolithic, however regardless of varied sorts of modifications, it may be seen as a recurring cultural prejudice.” (121)
This distinction between the head and the hand, between mental and guide labor was mirrored in the distinction between courses, as gents had been prized over the decrease courses: “the separation of the gentleman from the non-gentleman was stated to relaxation on the distinction between those that did, and those that didn’t, need to work with their arms” (121). The one place the place this hierarchy fell aside was in science, particularly in the Royal Society, which was a gentleman’s membership that met to debate science and additionally revealed proceedings about science. Like all good science, the Royal Society valued experiment and commentary, however such experiments concerned the work of arms, had been, in actual fact, similar to guide labor. Dissections, notations, tabulations, contraptions for experiments all required the sort of guide labor carried out by arms. So the Royal Society was a gentleman’s membership that did some work of the decrease courses and did welcome some decrease class members.
Now that the eighteenth-century stage is about, we will discuss Defoe’s novel. Crusoe himself has to do lots of work along with his arms. He’s stranded on a abandoned island for a lot of the guide and has to construct every little thing he has: that is guide labor if there ever was such. His descriptions of climate, his surveying of the island, his data of every little thing he does are much like the publications of the Royal Society, as effectively: “Defoe’s makes use of of the hand are a exceptional instance of what early novel fictions seldom included: detailed consideration to work” (129). For Van Sant, the creator of this essay, Defoe was writing in a different way, combining many parts or modes that make the novel stand out:
“In Defoe’s novels, particularly Robinson Crusoe, in the equally new style of the scientific report, and in the georgic supplies of the interval, we will see an rising curiosity in course of and technique. That curiosity brings the work of arms into view in a brand new method, regardless of the countertendencies of the cultural custom that locations such work beneath the work of the head…As a remnant persisting over an extended interval, the hierarchy of head and hand maybe served the pursuits of change each by persevering with to emphasize social rank, and by being an indication of an outdated stability. What Defoe is ready to think about in Robinson Crusoe, by separating the character from social buildings, is a world during which this conventional idea quickly has no software. The work of arms is each obligatory and fascinating in itself.” (132)
So Defoe creates a spot, the abandoned island, the place isn’t any distinction between hand and head, between mental and guide labor. And that is a novel approach to learn.
Van Sant, Ann. “Crusoe’s Fingers.” Eighteenth-Century Life. 32.2(Spring 2008): 120-137.