Oct 13 2010

Defoe’s Psychoanalysis (or Lack Thereof) of Robinson Crusoe

Published by at 3:27 am under Uncategorized

“The function of Crusoe’s diary, it seems, is not to anatomize the self, but rather to keep track of it in the modern fashion that Riesman [David Riesman, author of The Lonely Crowd] describes: “The diary-keeping that is so significant a symptom of the new type of character may be viewed as an inner time-and-motion study by which the individual records and judges his output day by day. It is evidence of the separation between the behaving and observing self.”

–Leopold Damrosch, Jr., “Myth and Fiction in Robinson Crusoe”

While reading Crusoe, the highly specialized and refined tension spelled out in the above quote from Damrosch was continuously on my mind. I could not help but wonder at the severe discrepancy between the world that Robinson Crusoe allows us to see, and that which I was convinced was going on inside of his head. From a psychoanalytic perspective, this discrepancy evidences a severe disconnect. The structure of Robinson Crusoe lends itself to an outpouring of thought and emotion, or to what Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalytic theory, would call free-association. What better forum to bare your soul than in a diary? However, Crusoe leaves his emotional experiences a mystery throughout the novel, thereby creating a strangely cold, out-of-body sensation for the reader to experience as s/he reads.

When it comes to keeping the reader informed of Crusoe’s centrality in his own tale, Defoe leaves little to the imagination. The novel is fraught with phrases like, “in a word” (e.g. 193), and with Crusoe’s deliberations about what passages and/or anecdotes from which he thinks the reader would benefit most and which he should therefore include in his tale. For example, in determining which of his adventures to transmit, Crusoe writes:

“As I have troubled you with none of my Sea-Journals, so I shall trouble  you now with none of my Land-Journal: But some Adventures that happen’d to us in this tedious and difficult Journey, I must not omit.” (208)

These elements afford the reader a clear window into Crusoe’s thoughts. He is utterly aware of the story he is telling, and of the fact that he is telling over a story.

However, the impression Defoe gives the reader of Crusoe’s feelings is conveyed in a highly catalogic, sterile, and disconnected way. For example, near the end of the novel, Crusoe describes his realization that he’s been saved with a very external perspective:

“I was at first ready to sink down with Surprize. For I saw my Deliverance indeed visibly put into my hands, all things easy, and a large ship just ready to carry me away whither I pleased to go. At first, for some time, I was not able to answer him one Word; but as he had taken me in his Arms, I held fast by him, or I should have fallen to the Ground.” (196)

This paragraph, which describes what is perhaps the most significant and potentially emotional moment in the entire novel, is told in a way that makes the reader feel like he was watching, not feeling, the dawning of the realization take place in Crusoe.

Defoe provides a narrative that would function as a top-rate template for a playwright; it would be no difficult task to cast and direct a play about the events of Crusoe’s life. However, the novel grants little to no evidence for a psychological understanding or analysis of Crusoe. He merely “records and judges his output” (Damrosch), and he leaves the reader to wonder whether he even feels it at all.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalytic theory.

Come on, Robinson, pour your heart out! That’s what a diary is for!

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Defoe’s Psychoanalysis (or Lack Thereof) of Robinson Crusoe”

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