Are we all modern Robinsons?

Seminar Paper, 2004

13 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Robinson ’ s discovery of the footprint and following conse- quences

3. Our discovery of “ footprints ” and possible consequences

4. Are we all modern Robinsons?

5. Literature Summary

1. Introduction

The “foot” is a leading theme in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe 1. The father of a friendly seaman told Robinson that he would “not set [his] foot in the same ship with [him] again for a thousand pounds”2. There were “no footsteps of any human creature in that part of the country”3 where Robinson first landed with his boy Xury. In addition the shoes of his fellow seaman that drowned after the shipwreck have no feet in them. So there was no life and there were no fellows. But when Robinson Crusoe discovered a fresh footprint in the wet sand, he knew that there was another living creature on the island al- though he had not seen anybody. Probably he had to face contact with someone. Probably this footprint could change his life.

Such footprints cross today’s peoples’ lives, too. Men of our times often see “signs” of other creatures without knowing who they are or if they are still here. These signs need not to be real foot- prints; they also can be figurative ones: crop circles, reports of UFO observations or vestiges of water on Mars. We are afraid of these “footprints”, we are afraid of “the other”. Those footprints are able to change our lives. No one knows if there are other living creatures in the universe. We only can assume that -- if there is for example water -- living is possible. We picture the others to be green men; but we only can assume.

The footprint in the sand is for Robinson absolute proof of the existence of another human being. Religious people have the imagina- tion of a special “Other”, they see “footprints” of God, covering the whole world, and declare them as proof of the existence of a Master.

But whose footprint was pressed in the sand on Robinson’s is- land? Which consequences had Robinson to face? Is there a relation between the discovery of the footprint and the discovery of extra- terrestrial beings? In this term paper I try to answer these ques- tions. The sources of literature adequate for my topic are rare. Therefore I have three main sources: For the first part: the essays by Peter Hulme and Wolfgang Mackiewicz; and for the second part: Wiralle sind Kinder der Götter, Wenn Gräber reden könnten by Erich von Däniken.

2. Robinson’s discovery of the footprint and following con- sequences

“It happen’d one day about noon going towards my boat, I was exceedingly surpris’d with the print of a man’s naked foot on the shore […].”4

Robinson Crusoe, the only survivor of a shipwreck, ran ashore a deserted island. When he discovered the footprint he has been living there for nearly 15 years. On that day he went to a boat which he built before to discover the other side of the island. There he saw the print of a naked foot in the sand.

Robinson actually sad “a man’s naked foot”5. According to Anderson6 Robinson “was not able to think about an individual”. At that very moment he could only assign the footprint to some human being.

Robinson is surprised by the sight of that footprint as if he had seen an “apparition”7. He has a look-around and tries to find the person who left behind the trace but soon he finds out that he is “all one”8. Therefore Robinson is terrified to the last degree. As he goes back to his fort he feels persecuted, puzzled, and has a kind of black-out9. “[M]any wild ideas”10 whir in his head and he is afraid of any kind of moving thing, as he thinks it could be a man. Before he discovered the footprint he drew the balance about his adaption, how well his crop grew and how satisfying he benefited from his flock. Afterwards he sees his life in danger. He has ar- rived on the starting point of his life on the island -- his fear of surviving is overwhelming him in a negative way11: He cannot sleep, feels terror, and although he gets “farther […] from the occasion of [his] fright” his “apprehensions become greater”12. With the episode of the footprint the tension of the action increases, the period of Robinson’s greatest fear begins13. Robinson hardly remembers how he fled into his “castle” as he calls his fort till now. He is trans- formed into a man “beside himself”14. The image of the footprint is pressed into is mind like the real footprint, pressed in the sand.

Mackiewicz believes that the discovery of the footprint is like God’s punishment. Robinson Crusoe is in the role of a “protes- tant saint”15. God condemns him because he had sinned in being too self confident. He calls himself “King”16 and “reign[s]”17 his island -- this is quite overconfident for a man, cast away on an island far away from his home country and property. He normally would not be in the position to take over the land and its living creatures for his purposes. God’s condemnation should lead this overconfident Robinson back to be “His lamb”. But precisely because Robinson is in the po- sition of God’s “victim” he can get desperate and that shows his ab- sent trust in God18. This desperateness could be seen in Robinson’s first confusion after the discovery of the foot print.

After he had calmed down a bit and as he had seen only one footprint in the sand, Robinson tries to find out what kind of crea- ture could have left that print in the sand. He realizes that it is only a single print and no more, but he has not had a clue why. We as a reader can interpret that single print as a symbol for “other- ness”19. Hulme does not go into detail with his idea of “otherness“ but he suggests that not the fact of a realistic human footprint is important for the story but the mere presence of something that is “not Robinson”. Robinson questions his apparent protected existence: Before that incident he was sure to be the only human being on the island. After discovering the footprint Robinson’s coziness has dis- appeared; now there was something different to him moving on the island: “the other”. But he has left all “others” behind as he came into isolation. That is why he has difficulties to cope with his situation. After his first confusion Robinson does not react out of his shape: He still is down-to-earth and responds pragmatic. He gives three proposals for the creature that could have left the footprint behind: the Devil, a savage, or he himself.

Robinson asks himself several questions to verify his idea of the Devil’s footprint. He is sure that it could not be a print of a civilized man’s foot because then there must be a “vessel” and “other footsteps”20. He had not seen a ship and as there was only one footprint it could be possible that the Devil took human shape. But Robinson is not sure about the Devil’s purpose. He believes that the Devil would have found a better possibility to terrify him. This notion also shows his pragmatic way of thinking -- so it is not his trust in God, like Mackiewicz believes, that leads him away from his desperateness at first.

His second notion is that the footprint belongs to a “more dangerous creature”21 than the Devil -- a savage or a cannibal who came from the mainland to the isle but was already gone again. The adjective “dangerous” shows that he is more afraid of realistic things than of religious phenomena. That demonstrates his pragmatic way of thinking. Robinson is quite happy that this savage had not found him but he is at the same time afraid that they could come in greater numbers, destroy his crops and housing, and kill him in the end. He imagines what would have happened if the savage had found his boat and his fort. Now also Mackiewicz remarks that Robinson’s religious hope is averted and that his trust in God is away. Now the castaway starts to think totally pragmatic again and plans a new strategy to sow his corn. In the case of an invasion of savages who probably could destroy his harvest he still would have had another source of nutrition.

With the sentence: “[…] to day we desire what to morrow we fear; nay even tremble at the apprehension of […]”22 Robinson Crusoe deems of his desires as something fitting special circumstances.


1 Wiemann, 2003/04

2 Defoe, 2001:14

3 ibid.:23

4 ibid.:122

5 ibid.

6 Anderson, 2004

7 Defoe, 2001:122

8 ibid.

9 Mackiewicz, 1981

10 Defoe, 2001:122

11 cp. Mackiewicz, 1981

12 Defoe, 2001:122

13 Hulme, 1999:112f.

14 cp. Brautlinger, 1990:1

15 cp. Mackiewicz, 1981

16 Defoe, 2001:118

17 ibid.:109

18 cp. Mackiewicz, 1981

19 Hulme, 1999:113

20 Defoe, 2001:123

21 ibid.

22 Defoe, 2001:124

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Are we all modern Robinsons?
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg  (Institut für fremdsprachliche Philologien)
Alternative and Parallel Englands: Swift’s Gulliver and Defoe’s Robinson in Historical Context
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
442 KB
Robinsons, Alternative, Parallel, Englands, Swift’s, Gulliver, Defoe’s, Robinson, Historical, Context, The other, footprints
Quote paper
Juliane Schicker (Author), 2004, Are we all modern Robinsons?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Are we all modern Robinsons?

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free