Narrative Experience In Defoe's Robinson Crusoe

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Critics such as Martin J. Greif have read Robinson Crusoe (1719) as a traditional conversion narrative, positing that Crusoe follows the conventional pattern of demonstrating “knowledge of sin, a sense of divine wrath, agony of conscience, humiliation before God, and sincere confession and hatred of sin” (553). However, I argue that while Defoe borrows the tropes of conversion narratives, with the processes of “rebellion, punishment, repentance and conversion common to Puritan spiritual histories” (Egan 451) as described by J Paul Hunter, he ultimately subverts those tropes to present a more sophisticated experience of a man asserting his will in God’s universe. Crusoe does not follow a simple path of sin, repentance and spiritual rebirth, but vacillates between humble deference to God and hubristic arrogance, divine dependence and human independence, spirituality and materialism. As such, Defoe rejects the overly-simplistic conversion narrative and presents a more realistic account of a man’s wrestle with God.
Crusoe’s fevered dream sequence seems to be the climactic conversion scene where one turns from sin to new-found faith in God. However, deeper analysis reveals that the fevered dream is not truly a conversion since Crusoe continues to vacillate after the episode, even returning to his “original sin” at the end of the novel. More importantly, the dream itself of being nearly slain by God is less a prophetic vision and more a reflection of Crusoe’s unconscious with his
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