Robinson Crusoe and Our Journey

This past weekend, I spent some time re-reading a large portion of Daniel Defoe’s classic novel Robinson Crusoe, which you can read in its entirety here.

Most of us are familiar with the basic outline of the story. Crusoe is shipwrecked on an island and, after overcoming his initial grief, he manages to build a home for himself using only what he has on hand. Most of the story revolves around Crusoe’s solitary life on this island, as he starts over with virtually nothing.

During this journey, he begins to realize that the things he once valued really don’t have any value at all. He finds money in the shipwreck, but he quickly realizes that the money is worthless since it doesn’t help him solve his problems. He finds that he has very negative views of some of the natives on the island, but, again, he finds that those negative views do not help him survive on the island.

Instead, most of the book is about Crusoe constantly questioning what he needs and what he actually values. What does he need to survive? What does he need to find some basic pleasure in life? What’s left when you strip away all of the layers of society around us and look at just what you need as an individual?

Robinson Crusoe really struck a chord with me this time around because it echoes the journey I’ve been on over the past five years. It’s a journey that, on the surface, is a lot about personal finance, but it’s really all about rethinking what’s actually important to me.

What do I really need in life? What actually matters to me? What am I actually responsible for?

When I think about those questions, I start coming up with a lot of answers that would have been alien to me eight years ago.

I think, first and foremost, about human beings. I think about my children and my wife. I think about my parents and my in-laws and my closest friends. I think about the people who read my site and who write me heartfelt emails that I often feel completely inadequate responding to.

I think about securing the basics. I think about emergency funds and insurance. I think about my role as an educator for my children and my role as a skill-builder for myself.

I think about the truth of my own self-actualization. What things do I do that actually feel good? For me, reading and writing are right up there at the top of the list, as are mild exercise and a good meal and time spent with those human beings I care about.

So many of the things that media and society tell me I’m supposed to care about… I simply don’t care about. A car is merely a means to get from one place to another. An electronic device is nothing more than a way to communicate with someone I care about or to entertain myself in an often-unfulfilling way.

I also find myself thinking about my own obstacles. I’m deaf in one ear. I’m blind in one eye. I have a non-functional thyroid (since birth – my mother used to mash up my thyroid medication in my baby milk). I have a lot of personality flaws, too, particularly my tendency toward not being overly social when I ought to be.

Like Crusoe, my life is filled with basic things that are important to me and the realization that a lot of things that once seemed important really aren’t. Like Crusoe, I have a lot of obstacles in front of me, but I have a lot of tools for building what I need for the future.

We are all Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked on an island. We all face hardships that we didn’t expect in life, and we’re all faced with things we probably feel are grotesquely unfair. At the same time, we all have a lot of tools to make the best of our situation.

It all comes down to whether or not we give into the grief and the desire to blame others, or whether we pick ourselves up and embark on a new journey in which we make the most of what we have and focus on what we actually need instead of what we want.

The strongest tool we have is our mind, which helps us evaluate our life and figure out what things are genuinely important to us – and which are not. The answer to that question – what’s important and what isn’t – is not something that someone else can tell us. It’s something we have to figure out for ourselves.

The choice is yours.

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  1. Tracy says:

    I – I think you need to read Robinson Crusoe again because just – 90% of what you wrote about it is just off, besides the technical plot synopsis. It’s like you’re trying to force it into the mold for a post you wanted to write, when it’s just not organically there.

    I also find it bizarre that eight years ago, you would have said your wife and family (even an as-yet existing family), parents and friends being important/needing/mattering to you was an ‘alien’ concept.

  2. Johanna says:

    I was going to say that reading this post makes me feel less inclined to read Robinson Crusoe, if it’s just another story about how awesome Trent is. I’m glad Tracy cleared things up.

  3. Jon says:

    Don’t you know that everything can be used by Trent to show how awesome Trent is, in his eyes at least!

  4. Evangeline says:

    Meow. Why do Tracy, Johanna and Jon have to be so snarky? If the posts bother them that much perhaps they should be reading something more in line with their own thinking.

  5. Carole says:

    I agree with Evangeline!

  6. Mike says:

    Evangeline +1

  7. con says:

    On the few times I’ve commented, I have not been necessarily kind but, I have to agree, these comments seem pretty out of line for the post. Trent has a right to interpret the book how he wants. Others can interpret it how they want. As for those saying Trent is showing how awesome he is, I don’t get it this time. I have gotten upset many times about him talking about his brand new Prius (a couple of years back) and how it was a better deal than a newly used one and he tells everyone else that they should buy a newly used car because it’s a better deal than buying a new car (and his judgmental nature in general)…but that is a different story. I just don’t see how this post caused such “snarkiness” as Evangeline stated.

  8. Tracy says:

    *shrug* I am not being snarky.

    “Most of us are familiar with the basic outline of the story. Crusoe is shipwrecked on an island and, after overcoming his initial grief, he manages to build a home for himself using only what he has on hand. Most of the story revolves around Crusoe’s solitary life on this island”

    This is factually correct.

    “most of the book is about Crusoe constantly questioning what he needs and what he actually values.”

    Absolutely not, most of the book is his depiction of what he does on a ‘daily’ basis to survive and his attempts to reconstruct society as much as possible and thanking God he has the opportunity.
    The rest of the things Trent states about the book are not. He says “During this journey, he begins to realize that the things he once valued really don’t have any value at all. ”

    This does not happen in the book. The closest is when he finds the money and says, paraphrasing, that a knife would be more useful. Then he takes the money. The money also later becomes handy when he’s rescued and there’s far more time talking about how it has to be rubbed all shiny and new.

    “He finds that he has very negative views of some of the natives on the island, but, again, he finds that those negative views do not help him survive on the island.”

    This also does not happen – he finds he has negative views and he does not change those views – they’re cannibals. He kills some of them and hides from the rest.

    “Like Crusoe, my life is filled with basic things that are important to me and the realization that a lot of things that once seemed important really aren’t. Like Crusoe, I have a lot of obstacles in front of me, but I have a lot of tools for building what I need for the future.”

    Crusoe doesn’t come to this realization in the book. It ends, *spoiler alert* with his eventual escape from the island and becoming fabulously rich and resuming his place in society and then deciding to go out and seek more adventures. I’m not trying to be snarky here, I’m saying Trent is wrong in his interpretation of the book because he’s saying things happen that don’t.

    It’s an adventure story, but it’s not the story that Trent says it is.

    And that’s not even getting into the privilege aspect of it, or the colonialism or the moral/religious aspect. But it’s simply NOT the story Trent claims it is. Read the book and decide for yourself, but I absolutely disagree that you can interpret a book by making up what the character talks/thinks.

  9. con says:

    Well, once again, I stand corrected. I have never read the book; I was just giving Trent the benefit of the doubt. I guess I will have to read it because it has piqued my curiosity now. You seem very knowledgeable about it, I will say that. I believe Trent linked to it, so I will start it right now.

  10. marta says:

    This reminds me of the David Ortiz post, and how Trent turned a quote into quite something else.

    I am also starting to wonder if, despite all the “challenging” books he reads, Trent has a problem with reading comprehension. There is this, and poems about ways to kill oneself turned into poems about the traps of modern life, and so on.

    At least Robinson Crusoe wasn’t a victim of domestic abuse! ;)

  11. Annie says:

    thanks for the link to the novel. Interesting post with your life stated in there as well as how you relate. If i was shipwrecked on an island and had money, i probably would have no use for it. I would be scared and lonely and wish i was with my family. your mind begins to wander, i think this is true for everyone in this situation. In this story as Tracy points out, in the end he becomes fabulously rich and resumes his place in society….Cars will get you from one place to the next like Trent says but it’s comfort to do that, electronics if we didn’t have it, there would be no email, no technology, no communication, nothing, you can’t live this way. I thought we are greatful to live in a country where everything is possilbe. Would you rather grow up in a third world country where kids are begging for a TV or haven’t watched world news in their life or picked up a phone. i think not. We have way too much in our culture that makes us less appreciate of things.

  12. getagrip says:

    While I appreciate Trent may have taken, liberties, with the Crusoe story to make his points, I still think the general points are good.

    The heart of being frugal is determining what is important to you and focusing your efforts on those things rather than being scattershot trying to please everything external to yourself. Part of that is looking at where you are now, what you have available to you, where you want to be, and what you need to get there. I think he covered that.

  13. Marie says:

    Life is not about stuff. Clothing just covers the body – whether it is cheap or expensive, old or new. Cars get you from place to place whether they are the latest expensive SUV with all the bells and whistles or a 10 year old great running clunker whose only claim to fame is AC & power windows. Technical toys (phones, IPads, etc.) are nice, but we lived without them for many years and didn’t miss them. Oh, and fancy jewelry is just rocks and metal. People have given them value. The true values in life are family, caring for the earth and its inhabitants and making a difference in the world. Everything else is just fluff…

  14. Evita says:

    Very entertaining post! I could not believe how Trent could stretch the facts (the story) to fit his pet subject!
    Thanks Tracy for your analysis that so clearly confirms that I remembered !

  15. Johanna says:

    I stand by my snark. Sure, it’s only natural that each of us will be drawn to the themes that resonate with us most in a piece of literature. But it looks like Trent is stretching pretty far to see his chosen themes in Robinson Crusoe at all. And like Evita, I find it very entertaining how Trent can look at just about anything and think the moral is “stuff is bad, family is good, and by the way, stop blaming other people for anything.” Not that that’s a bad message (although, as I’ve said before, the “stop blaming other people” part needs a more nuanced approach when other people actually are at fault), but not everything is about that.

  16. David says:

    review (vt):

    To set your wisdom (holding not a doubt of it
    Although in truth there’s neither bone nor skin to it)
    At work upon a book, and so read out of it
    The qualities that you have first read into it.

    Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary”.

    I don’t believe any of you have ever read Paradise Lost, and you don’t want to. That’s something that you just want to take on trust. It’s a classic, just as Professor Winchester says, and it meets his definition of a classic – something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.

    Samuel Langhorne Clemens [Mark Twain] in a speech on “The Disappearance of Literature”.

    In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
    In the midst of his laughter and glee,
    He had softly and suddenly vanished away -
    For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.

    Charles Lutwidge Dodgson [Lewis Carroll], “The Hunting of the Snark”.

  17. Justin says:

    Definitely a diferent way to think about Crusoe, but you’re right. He managed to do an awful lot by being effective with his time and tools, which most of us need to learn a lot about!

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