This WSJ article about "Robinson Crusoe" got me thinking about a conversation I had last summer at a conference. The gentleman I was talking to was thinking about creating a course he called "Men on Islands" or something like that - essentially looking at ship wreck stories like Defoe's "Crusoe" from different ages and cultures. The WSJ sums up "Crusoe":
The centerpiece of the novel is the journal that Crusoe keeps during his exile, an attempt to shape the confusion of castaway existence into a coherent story.Consider Crusoe's response to being shipwrecked compared to Tom Hank's character Noland in "Castaway". Defoe is a creature of the enlightenment - and Crusoe sets about taming nature and the island. Noland on the other hand must ultimately leave the island or die. There are similarities, but the subtle differences give us insight into our respective ages. Noland cannot stay on the island alone - he is much more a creature of society.
"I, poor, miserable Robinson Crusoe, being shipwrecked, during a dreadful storm, in the offing, came on shore on this dismal, unfortunate island, which I called the Island of Despair, all the rest of the ship's company being drowned, and myself almost dead," Crusoe writes in his first entry.
But Crusoe's journal is not only a record of despair, but an answer to it. His pen, as much as his ax or his musket, becomes a tool of survival. He is, like the voice behind any masterpiece, writing for his life.