Exploration of Values in Robinson Crusoe, The Odyssey, The Tempest and Gulliver’s Travels
In the novels and epics of Robinson Crusoe, The Odyssey, The Tempest and Gulliver’s Travels the reader encounters an adventurer who ends up on an island for many years and then returns back home. These four stories have another point in common: they are all unusually popular. There is something very appealing to the popular imagination about such narratives. In this essay I will explore the vision of life (or at least some aspects of it) which this novel holds out to us and which is significantly different from the others, no matter how apparently similar the narrative form might be.
Very simply put, these four stories have a similar general narrative structure which goes something like this: (a) a member of a sophisticated European society is accidentally cast adrift into the wilderness, where everything is unfamiliar and there are no apparent aids of normal society; (b) the hero must adjust to this strange environment, find some means of coping with the physical and the psychological dislocation; (c) the hero must find a way off the island, and (d) the hero must reintegrate himself into the society from which he unwillingly was alienated.
The casting adrift can happen in any number of ways. Typically it is the result of a shipwreck, a mutiny, or a misadventure of some kind. Adapting to the new environment may or may not involve adjusting to the people who live there. It almost always will require the hero to cope with a very different vision of nature, and he will be forced to confront the fact that in this place things run very differently from what he is used to. This, in turn, may produce all sorts of reflections or changes in the normal routine of the hero.
This reintegration may reveal a number of things, for example, his vision of society which he arrived on the island with has been confirmed in some way (e.g., perhaps Odysseus), so that he has discovered the value of customary civilization in a new way, or alternatively he has significantly changed in some way and is now prepared to enter society with a more mature attitude towards what is really important in life (e.g., Prospero), or perhaps he has great difficulty now accepting the society he left because he has for better or worse fundamentally altered his understanding of what really matters and is now, to a greater or lesser extent, a stranger in his own land (e.g., the person returning from the cave or Gulliver, who has developed a strong critical sense to things which before the experience he endorsed unreflectingly). In some cases he may be so transformed in the wilderness that he does not want to return (e.g., Gulliver) and remains permanently estranged from the society he left or else has to be dragged protesting back to civilization.
One major source of interest is the way in which the hero copes with the very...