Robinson Crusoe and the Middle Station of Life

Carmen D. Lade

The final state of Crusoe’s plantation and the island can be reconciled to what Crusoe has learned about religion and value during his stay on the island. Some of the lessons Crusoe learns are the wisdom of his father in admonishing Crusoe to be content with the “middle State”, the importance of trade to the value of a product, the sinfulness of wastefulness, and the acknowledgement of God’s providence and design for all things on earth. Crusoe applies these lessons learned on the island after his return to Europe.

The first of these lessons Crusoe learns, which his father tried to teach him, is the security and contentment that comes from being in the middle state of life. Crusoe’s father insists that this state is the “most suited to human happiness” in that people neither have the “labour and sufferings” of the lower class, nor the “pride, luxury, ambition, and envy” of the upper classes (Defoe 5). This station of life, his father tells him, is not “subjected to so many Distempers and Uneasiness either of Body or Mind” as the lower and upper classes are prone to suffer from (Defoe 5).

Crusoe discovers this admonition to be true when he is stranded on the island and must engage in hard, physical labor in order to survive and provide him with the items that he needs and wants. As his father warned him, Crusoe falls gravely ill as a result of his extreme physical exertions, and his “spirits began to sink under the burthen of a strong Distemper” (Defoe 66).

After Crusoe returns to Europe, he is confronted with the opposite end of the scale when he learns the riches of his plantation. Even though Crusoe has not participated directly in increasing the value and production of the plantation, he still reaps the rewards issuing from it. This sudden wealth, which necessarily puts great responsibility onto Crusoe, causes him to “turn pale and [grow] sick” (Defoe 205). Thus, Crusoe recognizes the wisdom of his father’s advice, which after leaving the island, he is content to live in that middle state for many years.

On the island, Crusoe learns that trade is vital to establishing the value of a product, e.g. gold and silver. When Crusoe finds the gold and silver on the ship, he realizes that it has no use for him upon the island, because he cannot use it to trade the money for something he does have use for. His first inclination is to let the gold and silver sink to the bottom of the ocean, but on second thought, he does take it with him. But since Crusoe cannot trade the money, it lies “in a drawer” and grows “mouldy with the damp of the cave” (Defoe 95).

After Crusoe leaves the island and returns to Europe, he begins converting the value of all his goods into gold, silver, and “bills of exchange” (Defoe 207). Likewise, Crusoe decides to liquidate his plantation in Brazil because he has doubts about Catholicism being the appropriate religion for himself. He sells it to the children of his trustees, who “fully understand the value of it” (Defoe 218). Thus does Crusoe realize that products have no value until trade is involved.

Another lesson Crusoe learns on the island is the sinfulness of wastefulness. He realizes that the island offers abundant opportunities for food, fuel, etc. But Crusoe begins to see that :all the good things of this earth are no farther good to us than they are for our own use” (Defoe 94). Therefore, if Crusoe kills more than he can eat, or plants more than he can store for later consumption, or cuts more trees than he can find use for, they will all just go to waste, as he cannot use them in time before they spoil or rot away.

When Crusoe learns the state of his Brazilian plantation, he does not know at first what to do with his sudden riches. But remembering the lesson that wastefulness is sinfulness, he immediately turns philanthropist. Crusoe cancels the debt that the old Captain owes him, and furthermore settles an annuity on him for a “100 moidores” and “50 moidores a year” upon the Captain’s son (Defoe 206). Likewise, Crusoe sends a hundred pounds apiece to his sisters, and to the widow of Crusoe’s first benefactor, with a promise of more money to come.

Crusoe also bestows 500 moidores on the monastery in Brazil and 372 moidores to be used to benefit the poor, “as the Prior should direct” (Defoe 207). It’s very important to note that Crusoe does not send any money or presents to the trustees of his plantation because they “were far above having any occasion of it” (Defoe 207).

Since now Crusoe has more money than he has immediate use for, he distributes much on his family, friends, and religious institutions. After his return to England, he adopts two of his nephews and provides a home for them, setting them up in employment when they come of age. In this manner, Crusoe turns much of his wealth to benefit others who have need of it.

In the same way, Crusoe applies the lesson he learned while on the island about God’s providence for all living things upon his return to civilization. Crusoe reconciles himself to the knowledge that God put him on the island, but comes to see that the banishment is not so much a punishment as it is a blessing, since Crusoe could have perished with the rest of the ship’s crew. Crusoe comes to the conclusion that God put him on the island because he “rejected the voice of providence” that had designed Crusoe for the middle state of life where he could have been “happy and easy” (Crusoe 67).

When Crusoe leaves the island, he ensures that it remains inhabited by the mutineers and the shipwrecked Spaniards. In regards to the island, Crusoe takes on a role much like God, in that he provides the men with arms, tools, seed, and instructions on how to survive and prosper on the island. Later, Crusoe returns to check their progress and bring them more goods to help them on the island. Crusoe also brings them a carpenter and a smith, who could have been of great use to Crusoe when he was on the island. Crusoe sails to Brazil after engaging the men “not to leave the place” (Defoe 220). From Brazil, he sends more supplies to the island and women to marry the men. Crusoe’s obvious purpose here is to populate and improve the island according to God’s admonition to Adam and Eve to be productive and multiply.

Crusoe did learn valuable lessons on the island and he did change his attitudes. He became more religious, which is evident in his unwillingness to return to Brazil; before confessing himself a papist did not bother him, but later, when he was more religious, he could not submit to Catholicism. Crusoe also learned the value of hard work, and strove to make conditions easier for the men left on the island. These lessons he learned were not forgotten as soon as he stepped on the ship to sail away from his solitary existence on the island.

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