Robinson leaves home at the beginning of the novel because he is not content with a comfortable, middle-class existence. In England, his father can provide for him and help him establish a life. He tells Robinson that their middle station in life is the most comfortable: it is free from the anxieties of power or privilege and from the suffering of poverty. But Robinson cannot stay content with mere comfort. He has ambition and desire for a greater, more interesting life, which leads him to the sea. In fact, this rejection of comfort is a repeated pattern. The entire plot of the novel can be seen as an alternation between Robinson's contentment with what he has and his desire for something more. Not content at home, he goes to sea. Then, while happy in Brazil, he becomes overly ambitious and voyages to get slaves from Africa. Just when he is finally learning to enjoy life on his island by himself, he rescues Friday. He leads a rather comfortable life with Friday on the island, but then desires to escape. And, finally, when Robinson is at last re-established in England, he is once more not content to stay still, and joins another voyage.
While on the island, Robinson himself recognizes his inability to remain content with what he has and calls the inability to be pleased with one's station in life "the general plague of mankind." Looking past on his story as he tells it as narrator, Robinson often laments his overly ambitious desires and wishes that he would have simply stayed content and comfortable either at home in England or on his wealthy Brazil plantation. One can thus read Robinson Crusoe as showing the consequences of unrestrained ambition or desire. But, at the same time, Robinson's ambitions caused him to have a marvelous, adventure-filled life—one worth writing a novel about. Contentment might have led to a safer, quieter life in England, but would it have led to a better one?
Contentment vs. Desire and Ambition ThemeTracker
Contentment vs. Desire and Ambition Quotes in Robinson Crusoe
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
I could not tell what part of the world this might be, otherwise than that I knew it must be part of America, and, as I concluded by all my observations, must be near the Spanish dominions, and perhaps was all inhabited by savages, where, if I had landed, I had been in a worse condition than I was now; and therefore I acquiesced in the dispositions of Providence, which I began now to own and to believe ordered everything for the best; I say I quieted my mind with this, and left off afflicting myself with fruitless wishes of being there.
I gave humble and hearty thanks that God had been pleased to discover to me that it was possible I might be more happy in this solitary condition than I should have been in the liberty of society, and in all the pleasures of the world; that He could fully make up to me the deficiencies of my solitary state, and the want of human society, by His presence and the communications of His grace to my soul; supporting, comforting, and encouraging me to depend upon His providence here, and hope for His eternal presence hereafter.
In the first place, I was removed from all the wickedness of the world here; I had neither the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, nor the pride of life. I had nothing to covet, for I had all that I was now capable of enjoying; I was lord of the whole manor; or, if I pleased, I might call myself king or emperor over the whole country which I had possession of.