Robinson Crusoe

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The Footprint Symbol Analysis

The Footprint Symbol Icon
The first sign Robinson sees of anyone else on his island is a footprint in the sand, which sends him running terrified to his dwelling. Through Robinson's reaction to the footprint, we see his ambivalence toward society. Instead of rejoicing at the possibility of rescue or of a companion, Robinson has grown to like his individual, solitary life so much that he reacts only with fear. Moreover, it is significant that the potential presence of other humans is symbolized by a footprint, a human's literal impression on the landscape. Over the course of the novel, Robinson and the Spaniards he leaves behind on the island leave a very different kind of "footprint" on the wild natural environment by cutting down trees, building dwellings, taming animals, and growing crops. The footprint can also be seen as a symbol of the human "footprint" that society and colonization leave on the untouched nature of the island—and the "New World" generally.

The Footprint Quotes in Robinson Crusoe

The Robinson Crusoe quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Footprint. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Christianity and Divine Providence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Robinson Crusoe published in 2003.
Chapter 14 Quotes

It happened one day, about noon, going towards my boat, I was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man's naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen on the sand. I stood like one thunderstruck, or as if I had seen an apparition. ...I went to it again to see if there were any more, and to observe if it might not be my fancy; but there was no room for that, for there was exactly the print of a foot - toes, heel, and every part of a foot. How it came thither I knew not, nor could I in the least imagine; but after innumerable fluttering thoughts, like a man perfectly confused and out of myself, I came home to my fortification, not feeling, as we say, the ground I went on, but terrified to the last degree, looking behind me at every two or three steps, mistaking every bush and tree, and fancying every stump at a distance to be a man.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Footprint
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

For the past several chapters, Robinson has described to the reader in acute detail how he has developed a pleasant, sustainable life for himself on the island. He has learned to be content with what he has, and he hardly misses the excitement and companionship of society, having learned to exchange it for God's companionship. Suddenly, this mode of peaceful satisfaction is blown open. At first Robinson thinks the footprint must be an "apparition," a sign of the supernatural - he cannot bring himself to believe that it is truly another person.

Soon, though, Robinson recognizes the concrete reality of the footprint, and with it the undeniable fact of the presence of another person on the island, where he had previously thought himself not only alone, but indeed king and ruler of the entire place. Robinson has learned to move throughout the island easily and confidently, knowing that no one will disturb him. Now he believes he sees another human at every moment, and he cannot relax. This passage thus marks a turning point in Robinson's story. While he has spent the first part re-learning what it takes to survive, and coming to embrace isolation as a definitively positive trait in individual development, now he must also re-create basic social processes of competition and defense, though against an unknown other.

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How strange a chequer-work of Providence is the life of man! and by what secret different springs are the affections hurried about, as different circumstances present! To-day we love what to-morrow we hate; to-day we seek what to-morrow we shun; to-day we desire what to-morrow we fear, nay, even tremble at the apprehensions of. This was exemplified in me, at this time, in the most lively manner imaginable; for I, whose only affliction was that I seemed banished from human society, that I was alone, circumscribed by the boundless ocean, cut off from mankind, and condemned to what I call silent life; that I was as one whom Heaven thought not worthy to be numbered among the living, or to appear among the rest of His creatures; that to have seen one of my own species would have seemed to me a raising me from death to life, and the greatest blessing that Heaven itself, next to the supreme blessing of salvation, could bestow; I say, that I should now tremble at the very apprehensions of seeing a man, and was ready to sink into the ground at but the shadow or silent appearance of a man having set his foot in the island.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Footprint
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is largely an intrusion by the Robinson Crusoe who is narrating the story, and who knows all that has happened and that will come to take place: he is therefore equipped with much greater knowledge and the ability to draw out greater meaning than the Robinson who is muddling his way through. With the self-awareness that comes from time, the narrator points out a central contradiction in his own reaction of fear and despair towards the footprint, evidence of the presence of at least one other human on the island. The only thing that has been difficult for Robinson on the island thus far has been the sense that he is "banished" from society and unable to interact with other human beings. This is why he taught Polly to talk, and it is why it has taken him so long to finally feel content with what he has, learning to see isolation as a virtue rather than as a curse.

It is ironic, then, that the possibility of what Robinson has hoped for for so long - other people with whom to talk and to live - is now the occasion for feelings of such terror. Part of the reason, of course, is that Robinson thinks that a "savage" must have come here, and he does not consider savages as equals. But also, Robinson is clearly still learning to come to terms with the winding realities of fate through the guiding structure of Christian Providence. 

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The Footprint Symbol Timeline in Robinson Crusoe

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Footprint appears in Robinson Crusoe. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 14
Society, Individuality, and Isolation Theme Icon
Strangers, Savages, and the Unknown Theme Icon
Robinson was shocked and frightened one day when he saw a man's footprint in the sand along the shore. He ran to his home (which he now called... (full context)
Society, Individuality, and Isolation Theme Icon
Strangers, Savages, and the Unknown Theme Icon
...days within his "castle," Robinson ventured out into the island again. He reasoned that the footprint could have been an old one of his, and convinced himself that there was nothing... (full context)
Chapter 15
Christianity and Divine Providence Theme Icon
Advice, Mistakes, and Hindsight Theme Icon
Strangers, Savages, and the Unknown Theme Icon
All because of his fear at seeing a single footprint, Robinson worked tirelessly in constructing his new goat pen, building a strong fence around it.... (full context)