So today I am here to tell you about pp. 56-90 (in the Modern Library Edition) of Robinson Crusoe. These pages are a little on the churchy side. By now, young Bob Crusoe (who has no one around to call him ‘Bob,’ which is one of several reasons that this section of the novel is somewhat less compelling than the first 55 pages) has built himself a shelter (and repaired it after several unfortunate incidents) and salvaged every last stick of wood and scrap of tin from the wrecked ship. He has successfully ambushed some goats, killing a mother goat that was in the process of nursing her kid, after which Bob feels guilty for a few minutes before deciding to kill the kid as well. He has constructed a pro/con chart (which he calls a ‘good/evil’ chart) about his situation on the island. In some ways, he relives several millennia of human history in his first year on the island, progressing from a hunter/gatherer at the mercy of the elements to – well – to an organized hunter/gatherer slightly less at the mercy of the elements, and then he starts figuring out how to make tools. He does a bit of farming, which is accidental at first, but more on that in a moment. He gives two thumbs up to the meat of turtles and baby pigeons. He survives an earthquake and a hurricane. Then he falls ill. To my well-trained eye (I’ve watched every single episode of House), he seems to have either malaria or some kind of nasty food poisoning that comes from eating tainted turtle meat. He tends to be totally wracked with fever and delirium for a few days, then has a respite in which he feels better for a couple of days but is very weak, then falls victim to the fever again.
A quick aside before I tell you what happens next: there is an odd farming moment that has got to be the result of DeFoe’s ignorance, Bob’s ignorance, my ignorance, or some combination thereof. Here’s what happens. Crusoe salvages a bag of corn from the ship, but the corn itself is gone and all that remains is “Husks and Dust” (72). Always the environmentalist, Crusoe wants to reuse the bag by filling it with gunpowder, so he tosses the corn husks outside of his shelter, Jack-and-the-Beanstalk style. I know what you’re thinking, right: corn grows there where he tossed the husks, right? That’s what I thought too. But no – barley does. Now – I am no farmer, but I was under the impression that if you plant some part of a corn plant, corn comes up. But maybe not. Maybe barley grains are – I don’t know – corn fetuses? To make the situation even odder, a bit later some “Stalks of Ryce” (73) appear. Does rice grow on stalks? I thought rice grew in swampy paddies and was harvested by people in triangular hats? Crusoe specifically states that he “had seen it grow in Africa when [he] was ashore there” (73), so I suppose he is more of an expert than I.
But moving on – it is the illness that finally prompts Crusoe to find religion. While recovering from his fever dreams, he becomes aware of the fact that he has never thanked God for his blessings in good times and has never allowed suffering to humble him. He has felt self-pity, but not humility. The series of dreams and self-flagellating monologues Bob treats us to here are all very Calvinist, and he seems never to have been introduced to the idea that God is in the natural world and is a benevolent force. He also feels deeply guilty for the fact that his parents will likely never know what has happened to him.
So that’s it for now – I’ll be reading this book at a quick clip this weekend and will let you know what happens.