Self-Realization in "Robinson Crusoe" and "Robinson der Jüngere"

Literature Review, 2016

20 Pages, Grade: A



1. Introduction

2. Self-Realization In Two Robinsonades
2.1 Effects Of Narrative On Self-Realization
2.2 Distinctions Of Plots And Robinson’s Characteristics
2.3 Different Aspects In The Self-Realization In Two Robinsonades

3. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Both Robinson Crusoe written by Daniel Defoe and Robinson der Jüngere by Joachim Heinrich Campe are published in the eighteenth-century, the so called age of Enlightenment. The Enlightenment thinkers turn their back on the traditional authority of the church and focus on the pursuit of human liberation, rights, natural equality and so on. Later with its root in the thoughts of Enlightenment Individualism developed. When it comes to literature, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe creates a new genre of literature: novel. The major difference between novel and previous middle ages’ prose fiction is its realism which focuses on individual and particulars while the earlier fiction is in favor of the universal. Self-realization is an essential aspect in understanding the individual realism in novel, because the novel primarily concentrates on individual and self-realization, which is an individual development from a personal inchoate state of being to a state of maturity. Self-realization are "conceptions of selfhood, self-making and self-expression" according to Ryle. It is a process where "fulfillment will be a matter of realizing or giving expression to potentialities pr aspirations that at the same time remain the object of continuous interest, monitoring and readjustment" (24). That is to say that self­realization is not a simple process through which an individual knows himself. It is just the first step of self-realization. After knowing oneself, making changes and finally expressing oneself based on the new identity are crucial to self-realization. In my essay, I will argue that the self­realization of Robinson Crusoe in Defoe’s work is missing in Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere and it shifts to the self-realization of the children in the novel.

2. Self-Realization in two Robinsonades

From the name of Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe, the German author Johann Gottfried Schnabel, coined a literary term—Robinsonade — in his book Die Insel Felsenburg[1]. The genre Robinsonade describes the literary works which share a same or similar plot with Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe: an individual struggles on an island or in the wildness for his or her own survival, although the themes, the purposes or the motivations of Robinsonades vary from one to another. Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere is a Robinsonade. Based on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe with some changes of plot, narration and characters, Campe’s Robinsonade serves for his own purposes of writing: child education. In the preface of Robinson der Jüngere, he mentions and justifys the reasons why he makes changes to the original Robinsonade. He says that he rewrites Robinson Crusoe’s legend in an amusing way, which he believes that in any other different way of story telling children would never be so susceptible of useful knowledge. The most important aim in his book is to show the younger generation events and circumstances to awaken their consciousness of truth, their pious feeling, and understanding of their own hearts and desires by transcending important principles of God’s and his providence. He also discusses the social sensational problem at the time which he referrs as "Empfindsamkeitsfieber". He believes this plague is able to pass to the younger generation through the adults which will cause numbness, apathy, and dissatisfaction towards the world. He dedicates himself in this book in order to provide a remedy to the "Empfindsamkeitsfieber", which is able to eventually evoke people’s, especially the younger’s gratification and natural desire.

According to Hohendahl’s argument, literary works which can be marked as “empfindsam” are the works which “in merklicher Befreiung vom Klassizismus dem Einzelnen und seiner Innerlichkeit größere Aufmerksamkeit schenkt und dabei auf die Idividuation des Gefühls größeren Wert legt als auf die allgemein menschlichen Affekte”.[2] ’’Empfindsame Verhalten zum Gefühl", the sentimental behaviors towards feeling, defined by Campe as capable and inclined to find gentle and soft sentiment and proficiency of sympathetic emotional enjoyment. The enjoyment refers to "Gemütsbewegung", mind movement, not objective behaviors. An individual must inwardly experience the objects. The sentimentality, so called "Empfindsamkeit", generates the dialectic of feelings--the relationship between emotion and awareness. Pain is not sentimental but the awareness (1-2). The unrealistic emotion caused by objects is the "Empfindsamkeitsfieber" discussed by Campe. And he supposes that people should be careful in choosing books for children (Campe 397), since the fancy and exaggerated descriptions in books are capable for causing unrealistic emotion. In oder to overcome the "Empfindsamkeitsfieber", one must have the correct awareness. If an individual is not able to realize himself correctly, his awareness and self-expression is problematic. In Robinson Crusoe, Robinson's unawareness of his impetuosity and fanaticism towards voyages shows the necessity of Robinson’s self­realization. He later gains correct self-realization during his life on the island. To some degree, from the unawareness to awareness of certain things, it is the process of self-realization. The unawareness can be an recognition of a wrong value, incorrect awareness in other words, or it can be the lack of awareness. In the latter situation, it means that the subject’s awareness has not developed yet. In Robinson Crusoe, it is the first case. Robinson’s self-realization is the process from the incorrect awareness to the correct. And in Campe’s work, he focuses on the prevention of the incorrect self-realization of children towards God and morality and sets a strict frame to lead the younger generation to appropriate awareness by using Robinson Crusoe’s story. He wants children to have the correct awareness before any other negative effects have come to them.

2.1 Effects of narrative on self-realization

One of the most obvious differences between Robinson Crusoe and Robinson der Jüngere is their narrative form. In Robinson Crusoe Defoe uses first-person narrative in comparison with Campe’s third-person narrative. Narrative has considerable effects on realism in novel and thus affects the self-realization.

Watt in The Rise of the Novel argues that realism is "the defining characteristic that differentiates the work of early eighteenth-century novelists from previous fiction". Modern realism, unlike the classical and medieval heritage of universals, "begins from the position that truth can be discovered by the individual through his senses". The primary task of novelists is "to convey the impression of the fidelity to human experience", says Watt. Firstly, the arrangement of plot is more spontaneously from individual sense of what his protagonists might plausibly to the next. Secondly, the characteristic of figures in novels presents a rejection of universals and the emphasis on particulars, which can be seen from the name of characters, specific description of time and place of their personal experience. Lastly, at the language level, classical critical tradition in general has no use for the unadorned realistic description (9-34). Because of the realism shown in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, it is regarded as the beginning of the modern novel. What makes Robinson Crusoe’s story realistic is revealed from the three aspects discussed by Watt. From the perspective of plot arrangement, Defoe’s story naturally follows the time line of Robinson’s life, instead of the development of society or like medieval stories’ plot: segments jump from one hero to another. Secondly, Defoe focuses only on the particular life of Robinson, not a group of people, describing his story by using a specific time period and location. It presents its emphasis on individual. In the end, the natural language, like the close description of Robinson’s physical work, that Defoe uses makes readers believe that Robinson is a not an extraordinary or a fancy figure, but a common one among us with his particulars. Defoe uses first-person narrative to reveal Crusoe’s astonishing experience in his entire life. The narrative shortens the distance between the story teller and the readers. We read the book as if Crusoe himself is telling the story directly to us. The effect of himself telling the story is that it increases the credibility of the story itself and makes the story realistic. And it is crucial to Robinson's self­realization. Because self-realization is a gradual process happened inside of someone’s mind, and the information obtained directly from Robinson is the most plausible one in order to analyze his realization.

For instance, in Robinson Crusoe, the journal that he writes when he still has ink at the beginning of his life on the island is one of the most essential first-hand materials, because when Robinson writes himself a journal, especially when he is alone on the island, there is no reason for him to exaggerate what he has seen and done at the period of time when he has totally no idea if he is able to escape from the island or even make a long-term survival. Moreover, his inner monologues, especially when he is in the immediate danger, is another critical part of his self­realization. These monologues present us his most natural and unaffected thoughts. For example, when he had his first severe illness on the island, he was desperate and has no idea when death is going to approach him. He says:“not knowing what to do, all this while I had not the least serious religious thought, nothing but the common, Lord ha'mercy upon me, and when it was over, that went away to” (Defoe 65). Because of his critical situation, there is thus no reason to doubt that he is originally impious.

On the contrary, in Campe’s Robinson der Jüngere, he uses third-person narrative. Instead of Robinson himself narrating his story, the father gathers the children and tells what happened to Robinson. Because the father is not telling the story directly to the readers and with his specific educational goals aimed at his own kids, the distance between readers and Robinson is objectively extended by the form of the narration. Readers are not able to get Robinson’s original thoughts, ideas and views. In terms of plot arrangement, instead of continuously telling the story, Robinson’s adventure is cut into pieces by the father’s explanations, children’s questions and family activities. Therefore Robinson’s experience is not as real as it is in Defoe’s work. For instance, on page 49, the father explains the question raised by one of the childern, Johanns, from the aspect of teaching religious principles “Aber warum mogte Gott auch wohl den Robinson allein erretten, da er die andern Leute alle ertrinken ließ?”[3] (Campe 47), another child, Diederich, asks:“Dachte Robinson jezt auch so?”[4].The father answers:

Ja; jezt, da er aus so großer Lebensgefahr errettet war, und da er von allen Menschen sich nun verlassen sah: jezt fühlte er in dem Innersten seines Herzens, wie unrecht er gehandelt habe; jezt bat er auf seinen Knien Gott um Vergebung seiner Sünden; jezt sezte er sich fest vor, sich von ganzem Herzen zu bessern und nie wieder etwas zu thun, wovon er wüste, daß es nicht recht wäre.[5] (Campe 49)


[1] See the preface of Schnabel, Johann Gottfried, Die Insel Felsenburg. Nordhausen: Johann Heinrich Groß Buchhändlern, 1731. Print.

[2] In noticeable liberation from classicism, (the sentimental literature) gives greater attention to the individual and his inwardness, and greater emphasis on the feelings of individual than on the general human affects

[3] But why God preferred to save Robinson alone while he let the rest of them drown?

[4] Did Robinson think in the same way?

[5] Yes; now, because he was saved from grave life danger and saw that all the people had left: now, he felt from bottom of his heart how incorrectly that he has done; on his knees and asked for God’s forgiveness of his sins; made strong resolution that he would sincerely remedy his hart and would not do things which he found incorrect anymore.

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Self-Realization in "Robinson Crusoe" and "Robinson der Jüngere"
University of Missouri - Columbia
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self-realization, robinson, crusoe, jüngere, Campe, Defoe
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Chao Tang (Author), 2016, Self-Realization in "Robinson Crusoe" and "Robinson der Jüngere", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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