Friday, September 7, 2012

Robinson Crusoe: Thankfulness and Discipline


In the last few months, I've pared down my commitments considerably. One of the first side effects I observed was the desire, now that I had the time and energy, to, literally, put my house in order. That is now nearly completed - the interior has been restored to order and all that remains is the yard (although that is no small task).

I've also begun to notice old interests resurfacing - things I'd forgotten I enjoyed. The most recent of these is my interest in abstract thinking, pursued via reading and discourse. I've amassed a decent collection of literature over the last decade or so and much of it, particularly the non-fiction, sits as yet unread. In light of my recent revelation, I decided I would pick a starting point and work my way through the unread volumes. I am easily paralyzed by decision making so I asked my brother, who lives with me, to pick the starting point (or rather, starting bookcase). He suggested I try 'spin the bottle', so I grabbed a bottle from the fridge, spun it, and found my starting 'case. He then flipped a coin for me and, as it landed on tales, I began with the first unread book on the bottom shelf - Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.

I was nearing the end this morning and, reflecting on my penchant for moving from tale to tale so quickly that I allow myself no time for digestion, I decided I should make myself write little 'book reports' as I finished each book. (NOTE: Assuming I stick with this practice, I probably will skip over or amend it in the case of collections of poems & short stories.) Also, since what is a blog but a place for oft-ignored, self-indulgent ramblings, I thought this the proper place for 'sharing' them.


Robinson Crusoe was written in a time when it was unsavory to write fiction unless it had some clear moral application (ie Aesops fables), so authors took to pitching their tales as authentic adventures.

Crusoe has a wandering streak that will not be denied and it leads him into one disaster after another until, at last, he finds himself on a deserted island. From my vague notions about Robinson Crusoe I thought he had his 'man Friday' with him this whole time. No, he lived twenty-some years in isolation with nothing but a few domestic animals for company and no one to talk with but his parrot, Poll.

Early in his stay on the island he comes to repentance and faith and it changes his perspective dramatically from one of misery to one of thankfulness. I enjoyed his musings on how foolishly discontent we are when Providence has provided us with so much - both materially and, greater still, spiritually.

A couple favorite quotes:
"...whenever they come to a true sense of things, they will find deliverance from sin a much greater blessing than deliverance from affliction"
"All our discontents about what we want appeared to me to spring from the want of thankfulness for what we have."

Much of the book is taken up with his descriptions of how he ordered his days on the island and how he, slowly & persistently, worked out various problems - how to make bread, how to tame livestock, how to raise crops, how to fortify his residence. Reading this account, I concluded that, were I myself similarly stranded, aside from the worry which my want of skill should give me, I believe I would die simply as a result of my laziness. I lose focus so quickly when I set myself to a difficult task - I am so slow to undertake it and so quick to set it aside - that I doubt I could ever provide myself sufficient shelter or food before the want of such proved fatal to me. Thankfully, I do not have to settle for my current lazy state but can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, battle it. Realizing this, I was rather excited to have something of Robinson Crusoe's that I could practice - since I'm not likely to try my hand at domesticating wild goats or carving trees into canoes anytime soon.

The book ends, after Crusoe's inevitable rescue, rather abruptly. I actually flipped back and forth a couple times in disbelief. Aside from the awkward ending, I enjoyed the book & wonder at myself for putting off anything heavier than what I call 'airplane fiction' for so long.

Praying to keep Crusoe's lessons of thankfulness & discipline,