Prospero and Robinson Crusoe: Alienation and Revenge vs. Separation and Introspection.

Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe contain, in my opinion, two big dissimilarities.  The main characters in each story have personal battles or afflictions that they must, in plain words, deal with.  Here is where the differences lie.  While Prospero is alienated from the rest of the world on his island; Robinson Crusoe is more separated from humanity.  Prospero was forced to stay there with his daughter after attempts were made on his life. (Act I, Scene 2) And somehow or another, he decided to remain on the island for a period of twelve years while hatching his plot of revenge.  Perhaps this was a little more feasible for him, being only in partial isolation.  This is completely opposite from Robinson Crusoe’s plight:  he is stranded on an island in complete isolation due to circumstances beyond his control, and has absolutely no way of getting back to civilization whether he wants to or not.  The circumstances which brought Prospero to a state of alienation were contrived, political motives.   Robinson Crusoe’s state of separation was brought about by an accidental act of nature—a storm (p. 40).

Another big dissimilarity is that while they are on the island, both men spend their time in vastly different enterprises.  Prospero harbors bitter feelings and waits patiently to hatch a grandiose revenge scheme.  He uses his only daughter as a key element in the plot, which shows that he is clearly thinking about his agenda and himself only.  Robinson Crusoe, however, spends his time of isolation in deep thought.  Pensive about his life and his relationship with God, he contemplates that “God’s justice has overtaken [him] . . . and [he] has rejected the voice of Providence.” (p. 83).  He goes on into a period of deep introspection and questions “why has God done this to me?”  What have I done to be thus used?”  (p. 85).  In the entire story, he develops his relationship with God and tries to better himself in every task he undertakes—viewing it as a personal or spiritual challenge to constantly improve himself.  In this way he maintains his sanity.



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2 responses to “Prospero and Robinson Crusoe: Alienation and Revenge vs. Separation and Introspection.

  1. Samantha Cooke

    Truly, the attitudes both men have for their situations are incredibly different. Prospero sees an end, sees that with just a little careful planning and effort, he will make it off the island – but not only that, he will also regain his prior social standing, make his enemies realize the error of their ways, and earn his daughter a very favorable match. His goals keep him focused and from falling too much into despondency. Crusoe, on the other hand, has no long-term goals, only a deep and overwhelming desire to get off the island. Yet he also never thinks of what he will do once he has gotten off the island. In fact, when he does manage to escape, he spends a fair amount of time drifting about, delaying any sort of major life decisions. For Crusoe, what saves him from depression is, as you said, his introspection and religion.

  2. I agree with Sam in her description of Robinson as a drifter. Once off the island, he does nothing. Is it possible that we could read his being on the island gave Robinson purpose, whereas once he’s off the island, he’s lost his purpose?

    Another question that came to mind when I read your post is that both Prospero and Robinson actually DO use people in order to bring them happiness (or, in the case of Prospero, revenge). Prospero uses Miranda (as well as Caliban and Ariel) as does Robinson Crusoe use Friday. What is different between these Prospero and Robinson’s use of people?

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