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Monday, January 31, 2011

Apolitical Robinson Crusoe

Much like Shakespeare's King Lear, which uses the absence of Christian religion in order to demonstrate its importance in English society, Robinson Crusoe uses the absence of explicit political commentary to make political commentary.

The events of Crusoe's life correspond with certain political events occurring in England during this period of time. Crusoe is born in 1632, close to when religious disagreements prompted political problems between King Charles I and Parliament began. Charles I set much of the backdrop for the coming revolution as his government struggled with financial problems and the depletion of the treasury through incompetence. In perhaps a reference to the problems of such monarchs, Crusoe's father warns him of the misery the excesses of Kings can cause. The first stage of Crusoe's life, or the adventurous stage, lasts 27 years (1632-1659) and very nearly matches the dates of the adventurous political atmosphere in England. Unrest between Parliament and the crown that began in the 1630s came to a head around 1649 with the imprisonment and beheading of King Charles I. For the first time in its history, England experiemented with new government, establishing a republican commonwealth under a Lord Protector.

Corresponding with the end of Crusoe's adventure period, England's politically adventurous republic came to an end in 1660 with the invited return of Charles II. At this time in the novel, after suffering shipwreck, Crusoe is stranded on an island and begins the isolation period of his life, which also lasts 27 years (1659-1686). Robinson's seclusion period corresponds with a period when Protestantism was absent from the English monarchy, ending around the time of the expulsion of James II (1688), the Catholic monarch who succeeded Charles II. Unhappy with the Catholic influence of its king and wary of the loss of supremacy of the Church of England, Parliament deposed James II and invited the Protestant William and Mary to rule. This began the Glorious Revolution, or the Jacobite Rebellions, which sought to restore the House of Stuart to the English throne. Crusoe's two shipwrecks (1651, 1659) match closely with the death of Charles I and the return of Charles II, and this parallel between Crusoe's history and England suggest that Defoe's novel is not as apolitical as it might seem.


  1. Cool post! I didn't know anything about the English History then so it was neat to see how the two aligned. What do you think Defoe's political views were? Was he pro an english throne or a commonwealth?

  2. It's hard to say. If the second sinking was the return of Charles the second and the repeat of past mistakes then I would say no, but then again after the second sinking Crusoe finds God and feels the happiest he's ever been. It could be that most people thought Charles II was a bad idea, like most people would think being on a sinking ship is bad, but maybe Defoe realized it was really a good thing.