Everyman Crusoe

Each summer my rising 8th grade students are given a reading assignment and accompanying projects for their literature class.  Ah yes, I remember those days when countless hours of the carefree summer months were robbed from innocent children by relentless schoolwork.  Errr…wait…  As a schoolteacher I still have this ‘homework’ only now instead of choosing one book from the list I get to read ALL the books.  (That’s why teachers get paid the big bucks!)

So one of the books my students may opt to read is Robinson Crusoe, the introspective survival tale of a shipwrecked man who lives in solitude on a remote island.  Personally, I think this book is a bore.  Three stars out of five.  It is difficult to read because Daniel Defoe writes almost entirely with run-on sentences, there are few characters, simplistic conflicts, and seemingly impossible situations.  Perhaps the literature teacher should not be advertising these things; I am not selling the book very well.

But what is remarkable about Robinson Crusoe – and I suspect what makes it a classic in the realm of English literature – are the themes that run throughout the book.  Robinson Crusoe wrestles with ethical questions of how to treat his fellow man, struggles with materialism, develops an attitude of repentance, and tries to understand what is “home.”

Just when Crusoe begins to feel comfortable on his island, an earthquake nearly kills him.  It shakes the foundation of his cellar but spares any destruction of property.  Immediately afterward, a hurricane blows on shore and sends torrential rain.  Crusoe is forced to move out of his makeshift home to build at a new location.

WHAT?!?!  Sound familiar?!!  In the course of just a few days, we Americans on the East coast have been shaken up by an powerful earthquake, followed by a hurricane that made landfall.

We all are Robinson Crusoes.  If you are reading this, I trust that you are not stranded on a desert island, yet our experiences might be similar to this fictional character and the themes certainly hold constant.  Our foundation has been shaken, physically speaking, and many are being reminded that our life on this earth is not as secure as we had once thought.  People are actuated to consider their spiritual condition and consequently ask themselves, “Where is my permanent home?”  This theme runs through much of Western literature and not accidentally.  We are all wanderers.  We are all Robinson Crusoes.  So as we go about our day-by-day affairs, we cannot escape the question of our ultimate end, with the hope that our regular activity leads us closer to home.