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Robinson Crusoe | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


How does Crusoe build his tame herd of goats in Chapter 10 of Robinson Crusoe, and what does this advance represent for him?

As he did when learning to farm, Robinson Crusoe goes through a trial-and-error period as he traps goats for his personal flock. He uses a pit to trap a he-goat so hostile that Crusoe lets it go rather than approach the animal. He later notes that hunger is the best way to tame a wild creature, and he does tame the other goats he catches rather quickly by starving them for a few days and then providing them with food. He realizes he has to isolate his goats from the wild ones, though, and builds pens to contain them so they don't revert to a wild state. Crusoe's advance into domesticating animals shows how much of human progress is really about humans learning to bend the state of nature to their will and desires, through whatever means are available.

In Chapter 11 of Robinson Crusoe, how do the names Crusoe gives to his settlements on the island reflect his connection to the civilization he left behind?

Robinson Crusoe refers to his two settlements as his "plantations" and calls his home at the cave his "castle." The bower in the valley is his "country seat." All this language echoes the terms an English gentleman might use to describe his own estates, and it would be very typical for such a man to have both a primary residence and a country home. Crusoe did have a plantation in Brazil, so this term speaks to a desire to make similar circumstances for himself on the island. The use of the word castle inflates the importance of this cave dwelling and also reflects Crusoe's view of himself as the king of the island. In trying to bring structure to his life on the island and maintain a connection to his home, he has deliberately chosen the same language a man of a high station in Europe might use to describe his dwellings.

How does Crusoe's description of his appearance in Chapter 11 of Robinson Crusoe reflect his connection to and rejection of civilization?

When he describes the clothes he wears and the state of his hair, Robinson Crusoe expresses amusement at how different he looks when compared with his old self or other gentlemen back home in York. By this time, most of his clothing is purely functional and made almost entirely of goat skin. He is not a great tailor by his own admission, but he has fashioned a jacket and open-kneed pants from these skins and has made himself a high cap with a flap in the back to keep sun and rain off his neck. None of his descriptions indicate he has the slightest interest in being fashionable, and he has no need to be because he is not around people. So with respect to his clothing, he has no connection to civilization. Still, he has not wholly rejected the standards of Europe, being careful to observe that his skin is not so tanned as one might expect given his location and exposure to the sun. This description indicates he still places a value on European-style whiteness. He trims his hair and beard in the style of the Turks he met at Sallee, so he is conforming to a civilization's standards in this respect, if not to his civilization's standards. He acknowledges that the English would find his haircut "frightful," but by acknowledging this reality, he also reveals that his civilization's standards matter to him on some level.

What language does Crusoe use in Chapter 11 of Robinson Crusoe to describe his place on the island, and why is it significant?

Robinson Crusoe describes his feelings of absolute authority on the island. He says of himself: "There was my majesty the prince and lord of the whole island; I had the lives of all my subjects at my absolute command; I could hang, draw, give liberty, and take it away, and no rebels among all my subjects." Of course his subjects are animals, and this reads as a humorous spin on Crusoe's place on the island. Still, his language reveals how he feels about his power over the place where he has landed and his control over this little civilization he has built. He uses the same terms to describe his home civilization as he uses to describe rulers and their roles. Furthermore, he could not have hoped to have the same kind of control in the civilized world, and his description indicates he enjoys the power he has, even if it means very little in absolute terms. He is isolated from the civilized world but is determined to make this island his own.

In Chapter 12 of Robinson Crusoe, how is Crusoe's criticism of Spanish settlers and explorers in the New World an example of dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony occurs in a text when the audience knows something that the characters don't know. In deciding not to attack the African natives, Robinson Crusoe rationalizes that he does not want to kill people who have done him no harm and who don't know their actions toward others are sinful. The idea of attacking others based on a disagreement with their practices was the justification the Spanish used to excuse "all their barbarities practiced in America." He is clearly alluding to the Spanish conquistadors who wiped out entire civilizations in Central and South America. Their practices were, admittedly, bloody and horrible but didn't harm the Spanish in any direct way. He goes on to observe that, as a result of these actions, the Spanish are harshly judged by "all other Christian nations of Europe." The irony readers can perceive is that even civilized nations can do uncivilized things, and nations commonly considered civilized often believe themselves to be more civilized than their civilized neighbors, which reveals how subjective the term itself actually is.

In Chapter 12 of Robinson Crusoe, how does Crusoe's tirade against Spanish colonial practices reflect his biases as an Englishman?

Robinson Crusoe is an Englishman, and through the 1500s and 1600s, England and Spain were engaged in fierce competition for control of the New World. Twice during that period, their rivalry erupted into full-fledged war. The first war between the Spanish and the English took place under Elizabeth I, from 1885 to 1603. This conflict was partially based on the Spanish Inquisition's persecution of Protestants and the Catholic threat to Elizabeth's rule. Even though this took place before Crusoe was born, he would have known about the war, and his status as a Protestant Christian would deepen his bias against the Spanish. A second war with Spain began in 1654 under Oliver Cromwell, and if the timeline Crusoe provides in his history is accurate, this war began at roughly the same time that he departed from England for the first time, so Spanish ships would have been a real danger in his travels. This bias against the Spanish may, therefore, originate as much in national loyalty as true indignation at the Spaniards' actions toward native peoples.

What does Crusoe find most alarming about his encounter with the natives in Chapter 13 of Robinson Crusoe, and why does it alarm him?

After 23 years on the island and roughly 8 years after learning that the natives come to the island, Robinson Crusoe sees them in the flesh. Still, he maintains his live-and-let-live attitude despite his consuming fear of them. When the natives leave the island, he investigates their activities. Until that moment, Crusoe has assumed the natives were cannibals based on stories he heard back in civilization, but now he has actual proof. His reaction is the difference between abstract belief and firsthand knowledge. He sees the bones and the blood left behind and remembers the merriment of the natives' party. This gruesome image fills him with rage and indignation because it makes the natives' cannibalism real to him, and he understands exactly what will become of him if they find him.

What does Crusoe mean when he says in Chapter 13 of Robinson Crusoe that "the expectation of evil is more bitter than the suffering"?

Robinson Crusoe says this as he anticipates another visit from the natives, whom he has not confirmed are using his island to kill and cook their captives. At this point, he has lived roughly eight years with the anticipation of meeting these natives, and this has taken its toll on his mental state. He swings from murderous rage to cowering fear as he contemplates the best way to deal with them. His dread is compounded by not knowing when or where the cannibals may appear again, so he lives in a state of constant, exhausting vigilance. He may feel compelled to attack them simply to end the suspense and feel some control over his own destiny.

How does Crusoe's reaction to the shipwreck in Chapter 13 of Robinson Crusoe contrast with his bias against the Spanish expressed in Chapter 12?

In Chapter 12, Robinson Crusoe roundly criticizes the Spaniards' behavior toward native peoples in the New World, calling his fellow Europeans barbaric. However, when the ship runs aground off his island's shore, Crusoe's personal objections and differences are replaced by basic concern for the lives of his fellow men. On a purely selfish level, he hopes to find survivors because they will give him company, as evidenced by the lamentation "Oh that it had been but one!" that he repeated, he says, "a thousand times." His loneliness, particularly loneliness for other Europeans, is so profound that it easily transcends his other biases.

How does Crusoe describe Friday when they meet in Chapter 14 of Robinson Crusoe, and how does this description reveal Crusoe's attitude toward Friday?

Robinson Crusoe describes Friday as "European in his countenance," which indicates his features are like those valued in Crusoe's own society. He describes Friday's skin tone as dark but "olive" in tone, and "bright," unlike the skin of other natives in the Americas, which he describes as "an ugly, yellow, nauseous tawny." This comparison establishes in Crusoe's mind Friday's superiority over the other natives. To further his point, Crusoe describes his hair as long and black, not curled like wool. This description is clearly meant to establish Friday's superiority over African natives in particular, which is extended by his description of Friday's small nose, "not flat, like the negroes," and thin lips. While Crusoe may consider himself superior to Friday, he also considers Friday superior to other natives in all parts of the world.

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