Robinson Crusoe

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Themes and Colors
Christianity and Divine Providence Theme Icon
Society, Individuality, and Isolation Theme Icon
Advice, Mistakes, and Hindsight Theme Icon
Contentment vs. Desire and Ambition Theme Icon
Strangers, Savages, and the Unknown Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Robinson Crusoe, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Advice, Mistakes, and Hindsight Theme Icon

Robinson Crusoe is constantly disregarding prudent advice. He begins the novel by discounting his parents' advice not to go to sea, disregards the shipmaster's advice to go home after the storm on the way to London, and goes against his own better judgment in trying to voyage from Brazil to Africa. Even at the end of the novel, he disregards the widow's advice in setting out on yet another sea voyage. Each time, Robinson later realizes that he should have listened to the advice he ignored—most especially that of his parents, who were right about the dangers of a seafaring life. Robinson's double-position as both protagonist and narrator of his story means that he is often in this position of looking back on his life. With this hindsight, Robinson's retrospective narration often foreshadows the misfortunes that will befall him. However, this hindsight is only gained by making mistakes and learning from them. As Robinson's experiences on his island exemplify, knowledge in the novel is gained through experience: Robinson learns how to tame goats, cure grapes, build walls, and do all sorts of other things by trying to do these things and learning along the way (rather than following someone else's instructions). Similarly, throughout the entire novel Robinson must learn from his own experiences rather than relying on other characters' warnings. Somewhat paradoxically, Robinson must discount good advice in order to learn from his experiences and realize his mistakes; only then is he in a position to see how good such advice was. With the benefit of hindsight, Robinson often draws lessons from his own experiences for the reader and gives the reader advice—about obeying God or trusting in providence, for example. This may be precisely what the anonymous editor who introduces the novel in the preface has in mind, when he says that Robinson's story is more than just entertaining; it's educational. But, it is unclear whether we readers should really follow Robinson's advice to the letter or whether, much like Robinson himself might do, we must make our own mistakes.

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Advice, Mistakes, and Hindsight ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Advice, Mistakes, and Hindsight appears in each chapter of Robinson Crusoe. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Advice, Mistakes, and Hindsight Quotes in Robinson Crusoe

Below you will find the important quotes in Robinson Crusoe related to the theme of Advice, Mistakes, and Hindsight.
Preface Quotes

The story is told with modesty, with seriousness, and with a religious application of events to the uses to which wise men always apply them (viz.) to the instruction of others by this example, and to justify and honor the wisdom of Providence in all the variety of our circumstances, let them happen how they will.

Related Characters: Editor (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

It was common for 18th-century novels in Britain to begin with a preface claiming that they were entirely true stories - often a manuscript abandoned and then found, or else a story written by or told to an editor who then presents it to the reader. Here, the anonymous editor seems to insist on the story's veracity (its claim to being true) in the interest of making the various morals more likely to be understood and followed by the book's readers. 

In particular, the editor draws out one major lesson from the book that follows: the workings of divine Providence. We will see the main character of the book struggle himself with such questions of fate, coincidence, and divine will, and as readers we are meant to plunge into the book already thinking about what we might learn from Robinson Crusoe. This is, obviously, an idea of what literature can do that has little to do with entertainment or even worldly knowledge: instead, the notion is that novels should provide a moral grounding.


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Chapter 1 Quotes

My father, who was very ancient, had given me a competent share of learning, as far as house-education and a country free school generally go, and designed me for the law; but I would be satisfied with nothing but going to sea; and my inclination to this led me so strongly against the will, nay, the commands of my father, and against all the entreaties and persuasions of my mother and other friends, that there seemed to be something fatal in that propensity of nature, tending directly to the life of misery which was to befall me.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker), Crusoe's Parents
Related Symbols: The Sea
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson Crusoe is narrating the story of his own life with the privileged view of hindsight. In this passage, as throughout the book, he compares his past self to what he knows now, and laments how ignorant and naïve he once was. With the benefit of having lived long enough, he only now recognizes that his great hunger for life on the sea, for experiences more exciting and stimulating than those involved in the law, was almost certain to lead to his "misery." 

However, at the same time, Robinson seems to acknowledge that there was little he could have done about this fatal flaw. His desire to go to sea, like his refusal to content himself with what he already saw and had, is in his very nature. Even his father's commands, of course, could do nothing to prevent him, and so even as he expresses regret for the decisions of his stubborn younger self, he accepts that he probably couldn't have done anything differently. Later in the book, this sense of inevitability will come to make sense to Robinson through the frame of divine Providence. Here, however, he still seems to be puzzling out what it means for his life to have seemed so inevitable.

He asked me what reasons, more than a mere wandering inclination, I had for leaving father's house and my native country, where I might be well introduced, and had a prospect of raising my fortune by application and industry, with a life of ease and pleasure. He told me... that mine was the middle state, or what might be called the upper station of low life, which he had found, by long experience, was the best state in the world, the most suited to human happiness, not exposed to the miseries and hardships, the labour and sufferings of the mechanic part of mankind, and not embarrassed with the pride, luxury, ambition, and envy of the upper part of mankind.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker), Crusoe's Parents
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson's father finds it difficult to understand why Robinson should want to leave everything he has - everything his father has worked so hard to achieve for his family - and seek a life of uncertain adventure on the sea. This novel was published around the time of the expansion of capitalism, when what we now call the "middle class" was exploding in England: a group of people lacking the luxuries of the royal family or of nobles but also living much more comfortable lives than the peasants of centuries past. The uncertain definition of this group is evident in the way Robinson's father talks about his station, using various terms like the "middle state" or "upper station of low life."

Middle-class stability is a relatively new good at this moment, and to Robinson's father it is something to be content with, something to embrace, rather than something to run away from. Robinson pays little heed to his father's house. Only with the passage of time will the advantages of his father's position grow clear to him; nonetheless, even at this point in the book, Robinson's desire to run away to gain his own fortune does have some things in common with his father's emphasis on the importance of attaining financial stability.

Chapter 2 Quotes

The ship was no sooner out of the Humber than the wind began to blow and the sea to rise in a most frightful manner; and, as I had never been at sea before, I was most inexpressibly sick in body and terrified in mind. I began now seriously to reflect upon what I had done, and how justly I was overtaken by the judgment of Heaven for my wicked leaving my father's house, and abandoning my duty. All the good counsels of my parents, my father's tears and my mother's entreaties, came now fresh into my mind; and my conscience, which was not yet come to the pitch of hardness to which it has since, reproached me with the contempt of advice, and the breach of my duty to God and my father.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker), Crusoe's Parents
Related Symbols: The Sea
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the first ordeal that Robinson has to face after leaving his home and family, and he doesn't exactly react well to it. It suddenly becomes clear to him just how young and inexperienced he is, having never spent time on the sea. Even the fact that Robinson is terrified of the storm, while his shipmates around him pay him little heed, underlines how little he knows about what is normal and not on a ship. Still, this frightening period gives Robinson his first reminder that he was overly stubborn in refusing his father's advice. He also recognizes that the storm may well be a sign from God that he is on the wrong path. As we will see, however, it will take more than a storm for these thoughts, racing through Robinson's head in a panic, to truly sink in.

That evil influence which carried me first away from my father's house—which hurried me into the wild and indigested notion of raising my fortune, and that impressed those conceits so forcibly upon me as to make me deaf to all good advice, and to the entreaties and even the commands of my father—I say, the same influence, whatever it was, presented the most unfortunate of all enterprises to my view; and I went on board a vessel bound to the coast of Africa; or, as our sailors vulgarly called it, a voyage to Guinea.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker), Crusoe's Parents
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson has finally made it back to England, and yet scarcely is he back on his home soil than he boards yet another ship, this time to the coast of Africa. The way Robinson describes his actions seems to take away any sense of agency, of responsibility for his actions. It is as if Robinson was picked up and thrown onto the ship against his will rather than walking onto it of his own accord. Nonetheless, this is really the way that Robinson finds he can best describe his state of mind. He believes that his father and even God would prefer he stay at home and accept his duty, but he is somehow unable to heed those desires. 

Of course, one of the book's main paradoxes is that its very existence is only made possible by the fact that Robinson did flout his father's wishes, that he did act sinfully and against divine will. His mistakes, then - his burning desire to see and experience more - are to be judged by readers even as we accept that we are now enjoying the fruit of these very mistakes.

Chapter 3 Quotes

At this surprising change of my circumstances, from a merchant to a miserable slave, I was perfectly overwhelmed; and now I looked back upon my father's prophetic discourse to me, that I should be miserable and have none to relieve me, which I thought was now so effectually brought to pass that I could not be worse; for now the hand of Heaven had overtaken me, and I was undone without redemption; but, alas! this was but a taste of the misery I was to go through, as will appear in the sequel of this story.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker), Crusoe's Parents
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson's ship is captured by pirates and he becomes the slave of the ship's captain at the port of Sallee. Looking back on these events now, Robinson notes that he thought things could really get no worse from here. He had been enthralled by the thought of gaining his riches after having so easily made money on the trip to Africa, and had once again brushed away his father's concerns. Now, though, Robinson reminds us that his father's worries were "prophetic," and he should have known that something would go awry. Robinson alternately locates the source of his woes in God's judgment and in his own mistakes: he doesn't exactly have a well-thought-out understanding of the relationship between his choices and the consequences, except to stress that he was mistaken about his ability to embrace danger without falling into trouble.

Chapter 4 Quotes

In this manner I used to look upon my condition with the utmost regret. I had nobody to converse with, but now and then this neighbour; no work to be done, but by the labour of my hands; and I used to say, I lived just like a man cast away upon some desolate island, that had nobody there but himself. But how just has it been—and how should all men reflect, that when they compare their present conditions with others that are worse, Heaven may oblige them to make the exchange, and be convinced of their former felicity by their experience—I say, how just has it been, that the truly solitary life I reflected on, in an island of mere desolation, should be my lot, who had so often unjustly compared it with the life which I then led, in which, had I continued, I had in all probability been exceeding prosperous and rich.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson has settled into the life of a middle-class sugar farmer in Brazil, and while he is relatively successful, he begins to become lonely. Robinson had never feared being alone before - indeed, he had left England largely with the express desire of being alone in the world. However, now that he is no longer on the sea, he finds himself in a place where society exists around him - but it is a society that is foreign to him, in which he doesn't truly belong.

At the time, Robinson compares his life to that on a "desolate island." Robinson the narrator, looking back on this moment, takes the opportunity - with the wisdom gained from the passage of time - to emphasize to the reader how dangerous it is to constantly be comparing one's experience to other, worse conditions. Looking back on his time in Brazil, Robinson recognizes that it was a good life, and could easily have made him rich: he should have been content with his time rather than constantly remaining unsatisfied with what he had. This dissatisfaction, indeed, would almost ensure that his feelings would be equated by reality later on.

Chapter 7 Quotes

"Now," said I, aloud, "my dear father's words are come to pass; God's justice has overtaken me, and I have none to help or hear me. I rejected the voice of Providence, which had mercifully put me in a posture or station of life wherein I might have been happy and easy; but I would neither see it myself nor learn to know the blessing of it from my parents. ...Lord, be my help, for I am in great distress." This was the first prayer, if I may call it so, that I had made for many years.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker), Crusoe's Parents
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson has grown seriously ill as a result of eating turtle meat, and he finds himself in both physical and spiritual torment. He begins to think about the fact that it has been many years since he's prayed - a lapse of time that, for him, signifies just how much he has discounted the will of God in favor of his own individual desires and ambitions. Our narrator - Robinson at a later stage in his life - has been reminding us all along the story how Providence has played a role in his life, but the Robinson of the past was still largely unconscious of this role. 

This passage is this first moment in the book where Robinson finds himself not only in danger but truly at a crossroads between life and death. It is this acute peril that gives him the opportunity for an epiphany about the way he should live his life. Asking God for help requires the humility of knowing that one is not entirely isolated and self-sufficient, and may not be able to overcome struggles alone.

Now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the load of guilt that bore down all my comfort. As for my solitary life, it was nothing. I did not so much as pray to be delivered from it or think of it; it was all of no consideration in comparison to this. And I add this part here, to hint to whoever shall read it, that whenever they come to a true sense of things, they will find deliverance from sin a much greater blessing than deliverance from affliction.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson has begun to reflect seriously on his life up until now, and has begun to recognize just how wrong he has been and how many mistakes he has made in pursuing his own desires and ambitions above all else. Even in the past, when he has acknowledged the power of God in his affairs, it has been mainly as a source of fear - or even as power that could potentially influence his life for the better. Now Robinson recognizes that even to pray for his own safety is selfish, and what he should be doing is praying for God to help him come to terms with the reality he is living. This is what Robinson means by "deliverance from sin" rather than from "affliction," and here he tries to share with his reader the lesson that it took so long for him to learn. 

Chapter 22 Quotes

So little do we see before us in the world, and so much reason have we to depend cheerfully upon the great Maker of the world, that He does not leave His creatures so absolutely destitute, but that in the worst circumstances they have always something to be thankful for, and sometimes are nearer deliverance than they imagine; nay, are even brought to their deliverance by the means by which they seem to be brought to their destruction.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

As Robinson looks at the English prisoners, he is reminded of how he himself felt when he first arrived on the island, as a prisoner not of a single person or group of men but of his own circumstances. This remembrance causes him to remind himself once again that even when he believed he was absolutely desperate, God's will was behind everything that was happening to him.

Indeed, Robinson can now comfort himself - with the benefit of hindsight - that he was never truly alone. Indeed, he has come to believe that everything he thought was a sign of his impending doom, such as his shipwreck and the lack of other humans on the island, was actually crucial in allowing him to survive, and thus was contributing to his "deliverance." Of course, it seems that this is a lesson that can only be learned little by little, according to a person's own experience, so it is doubtful whether or not Robinson's lessons are entirely relevant to the prisoners that now find themselves in a different desperate situation.