Sunday, May 1, 2016

Spotlight on the Classics: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

[Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead]
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Goodreads Summary:

Robinson Crusoe, set ashore on an island after a terrible storm at sea, is forced to make do with only a knife, some tobacco, and a pipe. He learns how to build a canoe, make bread, and endure endless solitude. That is, until, twenty-four years later, when he confronts another human being.

Classics have a certain stigma in our day. As Mark Twain once said, "'Classic'--a book which people praise and don't read." Nowadays, most people view classic novels only as unpleasant homework assignments and not beautiful stories that can be enjoyed just as much as the hottest new publication. My mission is to change that stigma by reviewing classics that I enjoyed exactly as I would any other novel.


Robinson Crusoe is the original "stuck alone in the wilderness" story, first published in 1719 and leading to a genre that includes such novels as Hatchet and Swiss Family Robinson and such films as Castaway and even The Martian. As such, I greatly admire and respect this work and the different approach to fiction that Defoe introduced in his plot. Also, Defoe puts a great deal of effort into making sure that Robinson Crusoe's experience stuck on a desert island is realistic. He describes Crusoe's endeavors in great detail, from the building of various crude residences on the island to the taming of wild goats and other activities as well. In this respect the book reminded me a lot of the Little House series where Laura Ingalls Wilder describes how Pa constructs their cabins, etc. It makes the whole story of Robinson Crusoe seem extremely plausible, especially since it was inspired by the true story of a man who was stuck on a desert island. By the end of the story, I felt prepared to survive in a similar situation (though I'd prefer to avoid such a fate).


Unfortunately Robinson Crusoe is not exactly exciting and dramatic. Though the detailed descriptions of construction techniques are interesting, they make up the bulk of the book, and it was very easy for me to put the book down and turn to another activity instead. The book could have been condensed into half of its length and would likely have become more exciting since the reader would not have to slog through dense and unimportant passages to arrive at the key plot twists. 

Furthermore, since Crusoe lives alone on the island for most of his time there, there is very little dialogue and other characters are portrayed simplistically and with little personality. The language is dense and often grammatically incorrect. Some of the sentences are constructed quite strangely and can even be hard to comprehend. I never felt attached to Crusoe and would not have felt particularly sad if he had died. (It probably would have made the book better, to be honest, since it would have thrown me for a loop unlike the other plot twists.)

Overall, Robinson Crusoe has too many flaws for me to say I loved it, but I did enjoy it intellectually as a study on survival techniques.

Now I'm going to do a breakdown of each element of the book, judging it on different criteria. I'll rate each element on a scale of 1-5, 1 being bad, and 5 being amazing.

Plot: 3

Complexity: 2
Creativity: 4
Believability: 5
Surprise: 2

Characters: 2

Depth: 2
Personality: 1
Believability: 2

Writing Style: 2

Description: 4
Tension: 1
Vocabulary: 1

Overall Score: 3

Happy Reading!


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