Desire in Robinson Crusoe

February 17, 2010

In Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Robinson Crusoe attempts to convince himself that he has everything he could ever want on the island and he is without desire. However, throughout the text Crusoe desires many things, especially food. Crusoe proves, through his language, to be unsuccessful; he constantly wants more of something. He contradictions himself throughout the text, specifically in one sentence. He says, “The most covetous griping Miser in the World would have been cur’d of the Vice of Covetousness, if he had been in my Case; for I possess’d infinitely more than I knew what to do with. I had no room for Desire, except it was of Things which I had not, and they were but Trifles, though indeed of great Use to me” (Defoe 120). In this sentence, it is obvious that Crusoe is desperately trying to stifle his desires but has no control.

Crusoe states he can cure a person of the “Vice of Covetousness” (120). Covetous is defined as “having an ardent or excessive desire of (or for) anything; eagerly desirous to do, have, or be” (“covetous”). Crusoe says he could take the most greedy, materialistic person and put them in his situation, and they would be cured of their greed. However, Crusoe does not back up this claim. He does not explain how his situation ridded him of desire. He states he can only desire things that he does not have, and if he does not have them, they are trifles. Trifles, besides the obvious meaning, can be defined as “1. A false or idle tale, told    (a) to deceive, cheat, or befool,    (b) to divert or amuse; a lying story, a fable, a fiction; a jest or joke; a foolish, trivial, or nonsensical saying” (“trifle” This indicates that Crusoe is trying to deceive himself to be happy in his situation, since he continues by saying that trifles are “of great Use to me” (120).

Later on, Crusoe inadvertently admits that he desires desire. He says, “thus we never see the true State of our Condition, till it is illustrated to us by its Contraries; nor know how to value what we enjoy, but by the want of it” (Defoe 129). He cannot see the value in things until he wants something. By saying he did not desire anything more in his situation would be implying he did not see the value in anything that he had.

Works Cited

“covetous” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford UP. 16 Feb. 2010 <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50052637>.

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. New York: Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2001. Print.

“trifle” Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford UP. 16 Feb. 2010 <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50257770>.

Religion in Oroonoko

February 10, 2010

In Oroonoko by Aphra Behn, the narrator implies that religion corrupts men. When describing the native people of Surinam, the narrator says, “And these people represented to me an absolute idea of the first state of innocence, before Man knew how to sin, and ‘tis most evident and plain that simple Nature is the most harmless, inoffensive, and virtuous mistress. ‘Tis she alone, if she were permitted, that better instructs the world than all the inventions of Man. Religion would here but destroy the tranquility they possess by ignorance, and laws would not teach ‘em to know offence, of which now they have no notion” (Behn 8). On the surface, the text says man would be better left to nature than religion, but the text is also commenting on religion on a deeper level.

The text describes the state of innocence as “before Man knew how to sin” (8). The Oxford English Dictionary defines “know” as “To perceive (a thing or person) as identical with one perceived before, or of which one has a previous notion; to recognize; to identify” (“know”). Man did not “know” how to sin; they sinned without recognizing what they were doing. In order to know they are sinning, they have to learn the definition of sin, and then identify it with their actions. If they were completely without sin, they would be unable to comprehend the definition of sin. The narrator is not saying they are innocent because they do not sin, they are innocent because they are unaware they are sinning. Their actions are natural, not sinful.

The narrator’s thoughts on sin are further complicated by the concept of innocence. The word innocence is defined as, “Freedom from cunning or artifice” (“innocence”).  Perhaps this is a commentary by the text to say that religion is “cunning” and artificial. Before men are introduced to religion, they are free from hypocrisy that surrounds religion.  This idea is further supported by the use of the word offence. The word offence is defined as, “A stumbling block; a cause of spiritual or moral stumbling; an occasion of unbelief, doubt, or apostasy” (“offense | offence, n”).  Obviously, man without knowledge of sin and religion would not know offence. Since the text is not saying men are perfect before knowledge of sin, it seems that the text is implying that men become imperfect through the knowledge of sin and religious order.

This passage creates many paradoxes and problems that are not clear to the white characters in Oroonoko, but seem to be obvious to Oroonoko. The text states, “But of all the discourses Caesar liked that the worst, and would never be reconciled to our notions of the Trinity, of which he never made a jest; it was a riddle, he said, would turn his brain to conceive, and one could not make him understand what faith was” (Behn 45). This passage further illustrates that Oroonoko had a difficult time understanding the religious beliefs of the white characters. Oroonoko has no concept of sin, and views it as natural, like the narrator earlier in the text. Oroonoko’s innocence does not allow him to understand faith and religion, especially when confronted with the actions of those who claim to be faithful. The narrator’s description of nature and innocence in man is indeed a riddle for the reader, as well as Oroonoko.

Works Cited

Behn, Aphra. Oroonoko and Other Writings. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

“innocence” The Oxford English Dictionary.  2nd ed. 1989.  OED Online.  Oxford  UP. 1 Feb. 2010 <http://dictionary.oed.com.dax.lib.unf.edu/cgi/entry/50117372>.

“know” The Oxford English Dictionary.  2nd ed. 1989.  OED Online.  Oxford  UP. 1 Feb. 2010 < http://dictionary.oed.com.dax.lib.unf.edu/cgi/entry/50127587&gt;.

“offense | offence, n” The Oxford English Dictionary.  2nd ed. 1989.  OED Online.  Oxford  UP. 1 Feb. 2010 <http://dictionary.oed.com.dax.lib.unf.edu/cgi/entry/50225127>.

In The Country Wife by William Wycherley, few characters have honor or virtue, yet honor and virtue are ideas that are discussed extensively throughout the play.  In Act 2, Scene 1, Lady Fidget expresses her views on virtue and honor with Dainty and Squeamish. The repetitive language used by Lady Fidget gives the reader an insight on her true behavior and opinions on honor and virtue.  She says in lines 409-411, “Damned rascals! That we should be only wronged by ‘em! To report a man has had a person, when he has not had a person, is the greatest wrong in the whole world that can be done to a person” (Wycherley 71). Lady Fidget’s repeated use of the word “person” leads the reader (and the other women in the scene) to believe she could be talking about herself. The repetition seems to stress the fact that Lady Fidget is talking in third person, which makes the reader question why she is stressing the fact so much if she had nothing to hide.

The idea that the greatest wrong that can be done to a person is to say a man has had someone when he has not is echoed in Act 3 Scene 5 by Alithea and Lucy. Although Alithea and Lucy use the idea of a man as a cuckold when he is not, as an act of revenge for a wronged wife, it is the same idea. While the idea is noted to be intelligent when Lucy is the speaker, Lady Fidget is seen as deceitful when she discusses this idea.

In lines 414-416, Lady Fidget continues, “But still ‘tis an arranter shame for a noble person to neglect her own honour and defame her own noble person with little considerable fellows, foh!” (Wycherley 71). Lady Fidget’s main concern is protecting her honor. She takes her repetitive use of the word ‘person’ a step further by adding ‘noble.’ She sees no shame in the act of cheating, as along as it does not interfere with her reputation, therefore allowing a person to be both noble and unfaithful to their spouse.  Lady Fidget’s usage of the words honor and noble reveal that she views honor to be a synonym to reputation.

Lady Fidget further elaborates on her ideas of honor when she says, “’Tis not an injury to a husband till it be an injury to our honours; so that a woman of honour loses no honour with a private person” (Wycherley 73).  Instead of repeating the word “person,” Lady Fidget is now repeating the word “honour” perhaps as a way of convincing herself and the other women that she is a virtuous woman. Lady Fidget is stating that unless a woman’s actions affect her honor (or reputation), then they should not affect her husband. In other words, as long as no one finds out, and an affair is with a “private person,” then there is no harm done.

Lady Fidget’s conversation on honor is cut short when Sir Jaspar, Horner, and Dorliant enter. Sir Jaspar says, “Ay, my dear, dear of honour, thou hast still so much honour in thy mouth-“ To which Horner says, as an aside, “That she has none elsewhere” (Wycherley 73). The sexual undertone of this comment further implicates Lady Fidget as a woman with little virtue.  Lady Fidget was attempting to convince herself and others of her honor, but she made it obvious through her repetitive language that she has no honor.

Work Cited

Wycherley, William. The Country Wife. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1996. Print.