In Daniel Defoe’s famous novel, Robinson Crusoe, the concept of belief appears throughout. The word believe isn’t very often used by Defoe in his work, however, we understand when Robinson Crusoe experiences concerns with his beliefs. During troubling situations in life we may not directly be able to pinpoint the occurrence of our frustrations but we can understand when we are involved in one. This is what I have confidence in, that although words such as faith and belief may not directly show up on the pages of Defoe’s work they permeate the novel as a whole and we are left with a better understanding of ourselves because of this.
My ideas regarding Robinson Crusoe and the idea of belief began very early on when I started the novel. A few years prior I was skeptical to begin reading. My Mother recommended it; a teacher herself thought the idea of a young man rebelling against his parents was an issue I could relate to. I began reading and was interested in the belief that Crusoe showed in himself to purse his dreams. However this short essay will not focus on the initial belief that Crusoe had in himself, but his struggles with his faith and belief in God further on into the novel. An individual can believe in and idea but when this belief is put under duress this is when their true character shows. The difficulties we face tell us more about ourselves than when situations are easy for us. Robinson Crusoe exemplifies this as Crusoe’s belief in himself and God are tested throughout the novel.
Crusoe is raised Protestant by his father but quickly looses belief in God when he first arrives on shore following the shipwreck. However, after long periods in difficult situations individuals usually turn to God and for spiritual help to find a solution. This is what Crusoe experiences and finds his faith is not only restored but also strengthened because of his ordeal. Crusoe begins to repent and ask forgiveness for his past sins against both his father and society. By doing so this he also rediscovers a belief that he quickly abandoned. When Crusoe is at his lowest point he begins to question why God kept him alive on a deserted island. By asking why he was chosen above all others creates the belief that he must have been saved for a reason. Simply put there are two ways Crusoe could view being stranded on an island. He could forsake God for putting him in the situation or he could praise God for saving him. It is at this point in the novel that we begin to see Crusoe’s beliefs and actions change in a positive way.
The form of a novel allows Defoe to explore different dimensions of belief that aren’t necessarily found within Diderot’s Encyclopedie entries. By writing a novel Defoe is able to expand on his idea of belief but in a more free flowing way. When reading his text we don’t immediately acknowledge that it contains belief but we are slowly drawn to these ideas over the course of the narrative development. Defoe’s ideas are layered and transition from situation to situation seamlessly like every great novel should. Diderot’s Encyclopedie entries on the other hand are much more precise and informative in terms of specific pieces of information he attempts to give the reader. Diderot is much more structured in terms of what he I trying to inform the reader of.
The way in which Crusoe is able to understand his situation is relatable to Diderot’s theory contained in the word believe in his Encyclopedie entry. He writes “We can therefore feel convinced in any given case or on any given subject only if we listen to the voice of our conscience and our reason” here Diderot is explaining that in any situation an individual should simply listen to what’s within them to help deal with situations and this is what Crusoe attempts. He looks within and hears the words of God. Instead of forsaking God he listens to his conscience and reason that are now shaped by a higher power. Not only during this point in the novel are Crusoe’s actions changed his belief system continues to be altered.
Belief is also found in less prominent areas of the novel. By writing down his thoughts and feelings in a journal Crusoe isn’t creating evidence that he was actually shipwrecked on the island for skeptical individuals to view. Instead, he is writing down his thoughts so he has less of them affecting his newly formed belief systems. This also has ties to religion, as Crusoe understands that if he writes down his fears and concerns his mind will instead focus on other factors to be thankful for. This will then allow him to further praise God. Crusoe has the belief that this will work and he doesn’t begin to achieve this belief until he rediscovers his faith. Early on Crusoe’s belief came from his confidence and now his belief is growing from his understanding of faith and God’s purpose for him.
We can relate to the main principles of the word believe and apply them to Defoe’s text. “These principles cannot be contested without destroying reason and throwing mankind into all manner of confusion,” this relates to the theory of how an individual believes. Diderot’s entry states that to believe is to be convinced that a fact or proposition is true because of three factors, the first being that an individual has not bothered to examine it, the second, that an individual has examined it but poorly, and the third, that the individual has examined it well. It’s clear that throughout his rediscovery of God Crusoe experiences these three factors; he understands that he hasn’t bothered to be in a relationship with God, that he previously was in a relationship with God but he didn’t appreciate this relationship and treated it poorly and third he examines his relationship clearly and begins a new one.
Crusoe’s new found beliefs have helped towards him leading a more positive life, however, there are also instances in which he uses his faith to defend sinful acts. We are then caused to question whether Crusoe is an actual believer or whether he is maintaining the image of a believer in Christ to justify his acts of sin. Crusoe’s conversion back to Christianity is a difficult one. He doesn’t simply accept Christ back into his life, there are struggles that he deals with. His beliefs are tested and at certain moments he resists the conversion process. Initially when he discovers the barley and rice it gives him inspiration, as he believes God has placed them there to help him survive. However, he then begins to think of other reasons why they could be there and he once again looses his faith. We are left with a better understanding of ourselves following incidents such as this in the novel, we don’t see direct examples from our lives but we can certainly relate to the actions of Crusoe. Struggling with our belief and being hesitant to fully accept religion is what many individuals can relate to. Robinson Crusoe helps to highlight issues we face and shows us that there’s hope for us even in the direst of situations.
Crusoe begins to fully believe only when God threatens him in a dream. I along with many others can relate to this, our faith is strongest when we are forced into difficult situations. It can be argued that the aggressive dream wasn’t a message from God but a product of a hallucination or sickness. Nevertheless Crusoe understands the dream to be a sign from God to change his ways. This dream helps to spark many questions by Crusoe. To confirm many of these questions he turns towards the Bible, which strengthens his beliefs. He finds answers and understanding in the text and he continues to change and strengthen his belief system. The changing point for Crusoe is when he prays and asks to be free from his sins. This is significant because prior to this act he had only prayed to be free from the hell that is the island. However, there is once again the question of whether he is a true believer. It seems as though Crusoe’s religious belief system is based on situations that are beneficial to him. It could be argued that his faith is formed out of convenience and fear. Crusoe, like many individuals fears the unknown. For most of the novel he believes he’s alone. It’s possible that his relationship with God is being used as an alternative to human interaction.
This is relatable to Diderot’s Encyclopedie entry. Diderot writes “It would be as wrong to believe something without examining it, as it would be not to believe an obvious or clearly proven truth.” Following his dream was the beginning of Crusoe’s conversion but what fully converted him back to Christianity was the further reading of the Bible he did following the dream. By examining his Bible his knowledge and understanding of God was strengthened. The following step is to ask God to forgive him for his past sins "Jesus, Thou Son of David, Jesus, Thou exalted Prince and Saviour, give me repentance!” Diderot wasn’t a believer but his words match the process behind Crusoe’s reacceptance of religion. Diderot believed it was wrong to accept things without examining them first and this is exactly what Crusoe does.
I believe that Robinson Crusoe has a profound impact on its readers because of its underlying message concerning belief. Crusoe constantly struggles with his faith and the person he wants to ultimately be. Crusoe shows his human nature by lapsing between good and evil. It’s these lapses that show an individual’s belief isn’t quickly changed. It’s slowly changed over time. Crusoe isn’t changed following initial prayers; it takes real life experiences to give weight to his beliefs. Newfound belief doesn’t mean that an individual will never fail again; belief instead gives a person the strength to overcome problems in this world. By rediscovering his faith Crusoe rediscovers himself. He acknowledges he isn’t by himself though he is on a deserted island, he acknowledges that being saved spiritually is more important than being saved from his psychical torment and finally he understands that though he isn’t perfect God will continue to love him. We all fail to understand these facts in our own life and by reading Daniel Defoe’s famous novel we realize that the explorer Crusoe is much more like us than we realize.