Sunday, 9 December 2012

Defoe's Inspiration: Alexander Selkirk

The life of Alexander Selkirk, an English sailor who was stranded on an island for over four years, provided the background story for Defoe’s own castaway novel, Robinson Crusoe. Many elements of Crusoe’s time on the island, such as the illness and the taming of goats are taken from Selkirk’s story. At 7:22 in the video, it is mentioned that Selkirk began building shelter because keeping busy was the best way to prevent the depressions that accompanies loneliness in that situation. It is possible that the same applies to Crusoe. While there is much stress on the security of each of his shelters within the book, each of Crusoe’s walls was tedious in construction; in fact the first wall had taken nearly a whole year.

“The piles or stakes, which were as heavy as I could well lift, were a long time in cutting and preparing in the woods… I spent sometimes two days in cutting and bringing home one of those posts and a third day in driving it into the ground.”

From this it can be gathered that while the pales physically secured Crusoe from harm’s way, the productivity generated by the construction also helped to secure Crusoe’s mental well-being just as building a shelter did for Selkirk. 
             The video also shows a large contrast between Crusoe's life on the island and Selkirk's. While Defoe borrows elements from Selkirk's adventures to help construct the world of Robinson Crusoe, Defoe creates Crusoe to be a much more idealized character than Selkirk; which may be attributed to Defoe's view on the creation of a civilization as a Puritan. For instance, Selkirk dedicates his time almost entirely to the construction of shelter and the gathering of food whereas Crusoe goes beyond the necessities and takes time to write a journal and read the bible.

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