Robinson Crusoe By Daniel Defoe Summary and Analysis Chapters 16-18

Summary

For a year, Crusoe continued in the same mood and, for safekeeping, he moved his boat to a little cove under some high rocks so that no savages could discover it. Apart from his necessary duties, he no longer left his habitation because he still vividly remembered the footprint and the remains of a cannibal feast.

While contemplating God's direction of the universe, he was confused at times as to whether God directed the universe directly or, as Crusoe believed, by little hunches and hints. Since Crusoe was preoccupied with fear for his safety, he no longer invented things or contrived substitutes. He made no fires, lest the smoke give away his presence; he did not fire his gun, fearing that it might be heard, nor did he drive a nail or chop wood, for the same reason — that is, it might be heard. Because he feared to start a fire, he contrived to burn some wood at the mouth of a hollow until it became dry charcoal, which he carried home.

It was while he was cutting wood that he found a large cave, but to his distress, two eyes shined out of the darkness within. Recovering from his fright, he ventured in, with a fire brand only, to find a dying old he-goat. Unable to get him out, he decided to let him lie there, so as to frighten away any exploring savages. Going back to the cave, he found it to be a suitable storage room for guns and ammunitions because the floor was level and dry.

The he-goat suddenly died, and Crusoe buried him inside the cave since he was too heavy to drag out. Crusoe was now in his twenty-third year of residence on the island. He remembered how his dog died, how he taught his parrot to speak more fluently, and how the cats multiplied so fast that he had to start shooting them.

Since it was the month of December, Crusoe went out early to check his fields to see if it was time to harvest, but he was surprised by a fire on the shore. Running back to his habitation, he armed himself with guns for defense and prayed that God would deliver him from the barbarians. After waiting for several hours, he decided to go out and observe the proceedings. He found nine savages sitting around a fire. After a while, they got into two canoes and paddled away. Going down to their camp site, he again found the horrible remains of human bodies. Once again, murderous thoughts consumed his brains and he was perplexed. Luckily, he did not find a trace of them until May of his twenty-fourth year.

About the sixteenth of May, during a very great storm, Crusoe heard the noise of a gun fired, perhaps from out at sea. Almost immediately, he heard a second shot and decided that it must be a ship in distress. Not being able to help it, he hoped perhaps that it could help him, and so he set a large fire to attract attention. The storm, however, put the fire out. He tried again and left the fire burning all night. The next day, with his gun in hand, he went out to see the ship and saw the wreck of a ship "cast away in the night upon those concealed rocks which I found when I was out in my boat."

Thanking God that he had not met a similar fate, he looked upon the broken bodies and wished that at least one had escaped so that he could have a companion to talk with. A corpse floated up with money in the pocket of the drowned man but, much more important, the coat also contained a pipe. Driven both by a need for possessions and a need for companionship, Crusoe decided to venture out to the boat to see what it held and to see if anyone was alive. Once again, the violent currents were visible. Terrified of being driven out to sea, he hauled his boat into a little creek and sat on the sand with ambivalent feelings. Determined to get to the ship, he attempted the feat the next morning and, after two hours labor, he finally reached the wreck. From the wreck of the Spanish ship, a half-starved dog swam to Crusoe, which he fed.

Boarding the shipwreck, he found the bodies of drowned men and many ruined provisions. He maneuvered two chests onto his boat, some liquor, a powder horn, some brass kettles, and journeyed home, very fatigued. After spending the night in his boat, he awoke refreshed and endeavored to take his treasures to his new cave. Opening the chest, he found no things of great use to him — cordial waters, bottles ornamented with silver, sweetmeats, shirts, handkerchiefs, and three great bags of money and gold bars.

Having stored all these things away, he took his boat to his old harbor and went back to his habitation. He was more cautious than before but went about his business as usual.

For the next two years, Crusoe was preoccupied with schemes to escape from the island. During this time, his mind dwelt upon possible errors which he had committed earlier in his life. First, he realized that he should have followed his father's advice and never left his home in England. Then, if he had not desired greater wealth than was his lot in Brazil, he would never have been shipwrecked, and would now be living a happy and wealthy life in Brazil. Thus, he realized that his greatest sin or error was that he could never be satisfied with his "station in life."

It was obvious to Crusoe that he had created more wealth than he had ever had before, but it was all useless to him. One rainy night in March, being unable to sleep, he again reviewed his life and his present circumstances. Realizing that he was less anxious during his first years on the island before finding the footprint in the sand, he lamented that he had never been warned of the possible dangers that surrounded him, but thanked Providence for protecting him during all the years that he was naively unaware of the many dangers.

He spent some time trying to understand the habits of the savages that he had seen, and wondered if they were able to come from their land to his shore or if he might not be able to journey toward their land. His thoughts were occupied with traveling to their shore and, only later, did he realize that he never gave a thought to what might happen to him if he did reach the opposite shore — that is, how he would eat, would he be captured by savages, and would he be killed; these, and other dangers, never entered his mind.

Falling into a sound sleep, Crusoe had a strange dream. He dreamed that two canoes bringing eleven savages landed on his shore and that another savage, whom he believed they were going to kill, ran into Crusoe's fortification. Crusoe, smiling and encouraging him, made him his servant. He had the impression that the savage would serve him and guide him from the island. He awoke with such joy that he was disappointed to find that it was but a dream. He decided that the only way he might escape the island was to capture a savage, but he was greatly perplexed as to how to execute this plan.

Hoping the means to resolve this would come to him, he scouted the island every day. After a year and a half, he was surprised one morning by the sight of five canoes on shore. The entire crew of each boat had disembarked so that he had no idea how many savages there were. Climbing to his hill, fully armed, he discerned, by means of a perspective glass, that there were at least thirty men around the fire, upon which meat was cooking. Crusoe perceived that two men were at the mercy of the other savages, one of which was immediately cut open and made into edible portions. The other victim, seeing the savages thus engaged with the butchered prisoner, made a dash for liberty. Crusoe was terribly afraid as he saw the victim running toward him with the entire crew of savages following him. The victim ran so well that, finally, only three men were still pursuing him.

Hindered by a creek, the man swam across, followed by two of the pursuers. Crusoe believed that Providence had provided this opportunity for him, so he advanced upon the two pursuers and fired one shot, which killed both of them. Beckoning to the pursued savage, Crusoe attempted to encourage him to come closer. The savage, dreadfully afraid, advanced, kneeling every so often in gratitude for Crusoe's having saved his life. Crusoe tells us, "I smiled at him and looked pleasantly."

The savage knelt and kissed Crusoe's foot. Suddenly, they perceived that one of the pursuers was not killed but only stunned. Crusoe's savage grabbed Crusoe's sword and decapitated his opressor. By using sign language, Crusoe was able to convey to his savage that they should retreat to his fortifications. And also by means of signs, the savage was able to convey the idea that the dead men should be covered up with sand so that the others could not find them. This accomplished, they headed for Crusoe's habitation. Crusoe then fed him bread, water, and raisins, and the poor creature fell asleep.

Analysis

These chapters constitute a key element in Robinson Crusoe. In these chapters, the hero becomes a fearful recluse, regains his self-confidence, and begins to establish, after many years, a friendship with another man. Consider, for instance, how long Crusoe has been on this island: He has had no human contact; he has had no trust in any one. Crusoe has no radio, no stereo, nor T.V. He has only animals, the stars, the sun, and, what has become most important, if sometimes baffling to him, God. Defoe is showing us here that Crusoe is, as it were, a "prisoner" on the island. God has been Crusoe's only "friend" — and yet God — and His will — are elusive. Thus, for a year, Crusoe must live in almost continuous fear — hiding his boat, making no fires, afraid to fire his gun, fearing even to chop wood. He has become, in a sense, somewhat of an animal, constantly on guard for his life. By luck, he discovered a cave, another animal-like dimension of Defoe's narrative description, and lives with an old goat.

Remember, here, that Crusoe has been on this island for twenty-three years. He has had to create new values and new goals for himself and, most important, he has had to find a reason for living. It is human nature to struggle for life, but, after twenty-three years, Crusoe has had to slowly, gradually, and painfully find psychological and spiritual meaning in his life, and all this time he has been alone and deserted.

Again, as so often, Crusoe, despite his trust in God, is thwarted and confused. Finding savages on the beach, he cannot understand his feelings of wanting to murder them. He is, he ponders, no more than a savage himself. Later, after he has sought for answers within himself and has pondered the Almighty's will, he attempts to signal a passing ship. He fails. Again, he tries to reconcile his futility with his moral realities. Here, a storm — a natural phenomenon — an act of nature, or, conceivably, of God, puts out the fire that Crusoe ignites in order to attract help. Ironically, next morning, he discovers the wreck of the very ship he hoped to signal for help.

In this section, Defoe wants us to feel the panic and anxiety of a man who has been isolated from mankind and from civilization. When Crusoe goes out to the shipwreck, note that he stays overnight on the boat, despite the many soggy, dead corpses aboard. He grabs at small trinkets — many things that he cannot possibly use — gold and silver, l'eau de toilette, and bottles adorned with metal lacework. Crusoe is hungry and greedy, needing anything that will reestablish him as a human being and as a man — and not as a savage.

Note too that Crusoe's mind dwells on escape during these chapters. His courage and determination are remarkable, especially when one considers how long he has been on the island. Many people might have given up or perished, but Crusoe has had the physical strength to sustain his life and the moral stamina to accept — even if he questions the justice of — his isolation. And, most of all, he has the hope of freeing himself from his solitary, fearful existence.

Defoe's insertion of the dream sequence may seem a bit contrived by today's literary standards, but when Defoe was writing, works of fiction were relatively new and it was often the custom of alerting the reader to possible later events in a novel by having the main character have a hunch, a premonition, or a significant dream. Now the device has become somewhat trite, but then it sparked a sense of suspense in the reader. Yet even today, when we read about Crusoe's dream of the escaping native and of his flight, we respond to the anxiety within Crusoe. Then, when the dream becomes reality, should Crusoe try to save a savage? Should he hide and avoid being captured and devoured? Defoe takes this opportunity to define his hero as a humanitarian — a wary one, of course, because, realistically, how could he be otherwise? But, most important, Crusoe has, until now, considered his own safety; now he must decide the fate of someone else. He does not make, by conscious choice, but by instinct, what is his Christian duty. He rescues what might be a cannibal, feeds him, and lets him sleep in his fortification. Crusoe has sacrificed his safety in order to save, not by definition, a "civilized" man, but, simply, another human being.

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