The Impact of Robinson Crusoe
The Appeal of Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe: Myth and Archetype
        Definitions of Myth and Archetype
Defoe Syllabus


Robinson Crusoe has made a profound impression on readers as well as on whole cultures. Samuel Johnson, a demanding critic, gave it the highest praise, "Was there ever yet any thing written by mere man that was wished longer by its readers, excepting Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and the Pilgrim's Progress?" (1776). Jean-Jacques Rousseau regarded it as "the one book that teaches all that books can teach." In Emilius and Sophia: or, A New System of Education (1762), he wanted Emilius to read only Robinson Crusoe during his formative years, because it would "guide his development to a state of reason" and teach him to judge everything by its usefulness. According to John Robert Moore, Crusoe created not only a new literary form (the novel), but also a new reading public. Crusoe can also be appreciated by unsophisticated or novice readers and has even been memorialized in children's culture by a nursery rhyme:
Poor old Robinson Crusoe!
Poor old Robinson Crusoe!
      They made him a coat
      Of an old nanny goat;
I wonder how they could do so!
      With a ring a ting tang,
      And a ring a ting tang,
Poor old Robinson Crusoe!


What explains the almost universal appeal of Crusoe? Why do so many people, regardless of age, social class, intellectual level, and culture, admire Crusoe? Even a partial list of the explanations offered is lengthy:

In writing Crusoe, Defoe created a character who speaks to something deep in the human psyche and essential to the human condition. This is the reason, I suggest, that Crusoe can be assimilated into diverse cultures, that the meanings assigned him change to reflect changes in a society, that he can be given conflicting meanings, and that he reaches into the private souls of individuals. It is these qualities that make Crusoe a mythic or an archetypal figure.

          Myth originates in the effort of primitive people to explain some practice, belief, institution, or natural happening. Myths are anonymous and accepted as true. "Broadly speaking myths and mythologies seek to rationalize and explain the universe and all that is in it. Thus, they have a similar function to science, theology, religion and history in modern societies" (Bernard Doyle, Encyclopedia Mythica). Common types of myth are creation myths or stories which explain how the gods, the world or a phenomenon came about. A mythic figure is a heroic figure involved in events which have a significant effect on the universe or society.

          Other kinds of myths and uses for myth developed as society became more sophisticated. Plato, for instance, created myths or narratives of supernatural beings to speculate about open-ended subjects, that is, topics for which absolute certainty is impossible. William Blake created a private mythology in his poetry, saying "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's." A myth may be a false belief, e.g., the myth of progress. Or it may be a fictional, fully developed setting for a literary work, like Thomas Hardy's myth of Wessex or Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

          (1) An archetype is the original or prototype who sets the pattern for similar beings, for example, Frankenstein (monster) or Hercules (hero).

          (2) A basic concept in Jungian psychology, the archetype is a pattern of thought or an image which is passed down from one generation to the other, a process which Jung called the "psychic residua of numberless experiences of the same type." The collective unconscious thus holds the same images as humanity's primitive ancestors, like the good mother, the wise man, the magician, the vampire, and the monster

         Archetypes appear in the myths, religion, literature, art, and fairy tales of most, perhaps all societies. Common archetypes are the death-rebirth motif, going to the sea, the fatal woman, Cinderella-stories, and the sacrificial hero or god.


Day 1 (W, Sept. 4) Introduction
Day 2 (M, Sept. 9) Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, “Preface” - "I Build My Fortress"
    Overview of Daniel Defoe
    Overview of Robinson Crusoe
    The Sources of Robinson Crusoe
    Alexander Selkirk
Day 3 (W, Sept. 11) Defoe, Robinson Crusoe,  "The Journal" - "I am Very Seldom Idle"
    Increase Mather, Remarkable Providences
Day 4 (T, Sept. 17)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "I Make Myself a Canoe" - "I See the Wreck..."

Day 5 (W, Sept. 18)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe,  "I Hear the First Sound..." - "We Quell..."
Religion in Robinson Crusoe
Web paper due (1-2 pages)

Day 6 (M, Sept. 23)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "We Seize the Ship" - "I Revisit My Island"

Robinson Crusoe as Economic Man

Revised: January 26, 2013