5. From Robinson Crusoe to Cast Away: A History of the Island Survival Narrative in Literature


From Robinson Crusoe to Cast Away: A History of the Island Survival Narrative in Literature

The concept of a lone individual stranded on a deserted island, left to fend for themselves against the harsh elements, has long captured the imagination of readers. This popular motif, known as the island survival narrative, has been a recurring theme in literature since its inception. From the classic tale of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe to the more recent movie adaptation, Cast Away starring Tom Hanks, this genre has evolved and adapted with changing cultural and societal attitudes. In this article, we will delve into the history of the island survival narrative in literature and explore its enduring appeal.

The Origins of the Island Survival Narrative

The roots of the island survival narrative can be traced back to the 18th century with the publication of Daniel Defoe’s novel, Robinson Crusoe. Based on the true story of a Scottish sailor, Alexander Selkirk, who was stranded on a remote island for four years, the novel captivated readers with its detailed account of survival and self-reliance. Defoe’s tale of a castaway’s struggle to survive against all odds struck a chord with readers and has since been hailed as one of the earliest examples of the island survival narrative.

The Impact of Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe’s immense popularity led to a surge in similar tales. The 19th and 20th centuries saw a proliferation of island survival narratives, with authors incorporating elements of adventure, exploration, and self-discovery into their stories. Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island (1874) and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) are just a few noteworthy examples of this trend. These narratives not only entertained readers with tales of daring and resilience but also served as a reflection of the values and ideals of their respective eras.

Changing Trends and Themes

As societal attitudes and values shifted towards the end of the 20th century, the island survival narrative in literature also underwent significant changes. The idea of being stranded and isolated on an uninhabited island became less romanticized and more realistic. Authors began to explore darker themes, delving into the psychological effects of isolation and the struggle for survival.

One notable example is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954), which depicts a group of young boys stranded on a deserted island and their descent into savagery. Unlike the earlier island survival narratives, this novel presents a bleaker outlook on human nature and the perils of isolation.

Contemporary Takes on the Island Survival Narrative

In recent years, the island survival narrative has continued to evolve, incorporating diverse perspectives and expanding beyond the traditional “castaway” storyline. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (2001) deals with the more philosophical aspects of survival through the story of a young boy stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. Angela Carter’s Sea, Ship, Mountain, Sheep, Desert, and covered Wagon (1997) retells the story of Robinson Crusoe from the perspective of a native woman, challenging the traditional colonialist themes of the original novel.

Films and television shows have also played a significant role in the popularization of the island survival narrative. In addition to the aforementioned Cast Away, we have seen adaptations of classic tales as well as original works such as Lost, The Martian, and The Wilds. These portrayals have brought the genre to a wider audience and sparked discussions on relevant themes such as the human will to survive, the balance between individualism and cooperation, and the effects of isolation on mental health.

In conclusion, the island survival narrative in literature has a long and complex history. From its humble beginnings with Robinson Crusoe to its diverse and thought-provoking versions in contemporary works, the genre has continuously evolved and adapted to reflect the changing beliefs and values of society. Whether it is a story of adventure and resilience or a critique on human nature, the island survival narrative continues to captivate readers and serve as a vehicle for exploring the human experience.