Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe demonstrates the punishment incurred on young men who disobey patriarchal authority: they find themselves exiled from society for over twenty-five years trapped on an uninhabited island. In the Foucoultian sense, the narrator functions as the panoptic eye, or disciplining entity, which punishes him from disobeying authority and rewards him for becoming subservient to it. Additionally, the narrative gaze also requires him to uphold certain Enlightenment ideals such as scientific productivity and “natural” classification. It’s interesting how Crusoe views his time on the island as claiming redemption. It is a penitentiary in which he can reform himself both spiritually and rationally.
In order survive, Crusoe must impose social stratifications familiar to him on the island, making the domestic boundaries of his “home” the center and everything outside of it its margins. He must appropriate and cultivate the land to become “lord” and “king” of his “manor.” Discovering an area that he eventually claims as his country house, he thinks:
I descended a little on the Side of that delicious Vale, surveying it with a secret Kind of Pleasure, (tho’ mixt with my other afflicting Thoughts) to think that this was all my own, that I was King and Lord of all this Country indefeasibly, and had a Right of Possession; and if I could convey it, I might have it in Inheritance, as compleatly as any Lord of a Manor in England (101).
The prospect of solitary ownership, or of appropriating the resources of the island fully to himself, puts a more positive light on his circumstances. Thus, he both revels and suffers in his seclusion as he cannot overcome the anxiety and fear he feels from feeling both helpless and alone but likes the fact that he has no one to compete with for resources and property. In order to protect himself from the unknown, he builds fortresses and fences that enclose him from territories he is unable to control/appropriate. Certain aspects of the island terrify him and even though the footprint he encounters gives him some form of solace about the possibility of encountering another human being, upon its discovery, fear forces him to enclose himself in his territory even further:
When I came to my Castle, for so I think I call’d it ever after this, I fled into it like one pursued; whether I went over by the Ladder as first contriv’d, or went in at the Hole in the Rock, which I call’d a Door, I cannot remember; no, nor could I remember the next Morning…I then reflect that God, who was not only Righteous but Omnipotent, as he had thought fit thus to punish and afflict me, so he was able to deliver me…
He then resolves that whatever God has determined for him, whether it is punishment in the form of becoming a prey to cannibals or to Satan, he will resign to fate. Thinking from the perspective of an imprisoned exile, such relinquishment of control and acceptance of penitence assuages his fears. It is interesting the way in which the narrator performs his role in the novel, allowing Crusoe to reflect long enough to admit the insignificance of his will in comparison to God’s.
After admitting defeat to that which he cannot control, he asks for deliverance and receives it. The narrative leads to Crusoe’s discovery of a tame and subservient native islander who he refers to as Friday. When the unknown becomes known, when order is reestablished with the introduction of Friday, Crusoe regains his stability. God has saved him from cannibals and has given him Friday, who seems to wholeheartedly serve and obey him.