Robinson Crusoe turns out to be a great, brisk text. It involves risk, enterprise, failure, fear, more hazard and enterprise, and then comfort, all in vivid cycles. The hero hurls himself into the sand after each shipwreck, wishing he’d been content with his previous lot as a survivor, vowing to settle down and serve God if only He will grant one more chance.
Each time the protagonist gets a break, he’s gripped by a fresh ambition. The first great realistic novel is about one of fiction’s biggest-ever workaholics. In a way that Defoe never formally admits amid all the god-fearing rhetoric about hubris and greed, work is his hero’s true Grail, his salvation.
Ayn Rand would agree. She never bothered with religion, though she was a big-time moralist.
In the present context, Robinson Crusoe also addresses the anguish of loneliness, isolation, the possibility of dying unfulfilled, even unnoticed. In a pandemic, all men may wish they were islands, but there’s a downside to solitude.
Imagine being the only survivor of H5N1, or at least the only person you ever see again. For decades, Crusoe could see only himself—in a watery reflection, at best.