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Chapter 12

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 12 of Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe.

Robinson Crusoe | Chapter 12 | Summary

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Summary

Still anxious that the natives might discover him and his settlements, Robinson Crusoe divides up his goat herd and places them in two or three hidden pens around the island. This way, if one herd is found he might lose part of the flock but not all of it. He finds and builds one enclosure where he places some young goats. Then he sets about searching for another isolated location for a third enclosure. His search takes him to a part of the island that he had never visited. It is here that he makes a horrible discovery: coming down to the beach he sees the "shore spread with skulls, hands, feet, and other bones of human bodies." He likewise finds a fire pit and concludes that the natives are indeed cannibals, and that they come often to this part of his small island.

Horrified and unnerved by his discovery, Crusoe changes his habits, acting more to conceal himself than ever. He also makes numerous excursions to the natives' beach, though he never sees anyone or even a canoe out at sea. The reality of the cannibals being so close by occupies much of Crusoe's thoughts, and he finally decides to launch an offensive against the visitors to wipe out their wicked ways. He keeps watch from a hill and prepares traps. But after some time, he realizes it is not his place to judge these people or their activities because they don't understand they are doing anything wrong. He realizes they have done him no harm, so it would be wrong of him to harm them. Judgment and punishment are for God to perform, not him. He also wonders if an attack would be impractical because the natives could outnumber and overpower him. Instead, he continues to focus on preparing his defense and concealing himself as much as possible.

One day he finds a cave tucked away in a remote place. He realizes it is the perfect hideout if one should be needed, and takes a large stock of guns and ammunition to this cave where they will be safe from discovery.

Analysis

Prior to this chapter, Robinson Crusoe had not seen concrete proof that the natives who visit his island and that occupy the mainland are cannibals. He made this assumption based on hearsay from his time in England and Brazil, which reveals a deep cultural bias. Now he has proof, or at least strong circumstantial evidence, that his fears were justified. So he makes plans to eliminate the natives. This plan, too, reflects his European cultural bias and stems from the attitude many European cultures had toward the people occupying lands where they wanted to settle. The response was often to kill those people one way or another. This tradition makes Crusoe's ultimate decision not to judge the natives and not to attack them without provocation a very progressive attitude.

When he mentions his doubts about being able to overpower the natives should he engage them in battle, he also reveals how his decision is not entirely based in Christian morality. Certainly, such morality plays a part because a good person, Christian or not, should hesitate to murder, yet his hesitation goes deeper. Even though he is heavily armed, he doesn't want to engage in a fight he isn't sure he can win. Crusoe's unusual position impacts both his logic and his actions. Because he cannot immediately carry out his first, rash plan to attack the cannibals, he has time to reconsider whether that is indeed the most ethical and moral path. Furthermore, this caution raises the question of whether his talk of letting God be the judge of these natives is less about tolerance and more of a cover for his reluctance to make war on a large number of people who could overpower, kill, and eat him.

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