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Defying Defoe : rewriting the castaway hero

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Horlock, U (2013) Defying Defoe : rewriting the castaway hero. Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

vThis exegesis explores two questions concerning the adventure hero depicted in island fiction and answers them through an analysis of two works—the early eighteenth-century classic, Robinson Crusoe, written by Daniel Defoe, and the contemporary, self-authored “Ile du Coeur”. Robinson Crusoe is chosen as a baseline text as it inspired genre rules for the series of Robinsonades which followed and which have continued to influence all forms of subsequent island narrative, particularly those containing an adventure element. Well known
examples of Robinsonades include The Coral Island and Treasure Island and many of the tropes replicated in these novels continue to appear in modern island narratives, including Lord of the Flies, Muriel Sparks’ 1958 novel Robinson, Sam Selvon’s Moses Ascending, Michel Tournier’s Friday, Douglas Glover’s Elle and J.M Coetzee’s Foe. Emulating Loxely, I therefore focus on Robinson Crusoe’s “implicit legacy... and the importance of its meanings and motifs” (6) specifically in relation to the construction of the island adventure hero.

The first question driving this research project is what is the heroic template set by Defoe? Analysis reveals a male hero representative of a colonising and hegemonic discourse in relation to both masculinity and heroism. I argue that in these two areas, Defoe’s hero is rendered, from a contemporary perspective, severely ‘bound’ or limited. In turn, the parameters of his construction reciprocally bind and limit not just female readers but readers of all genders in relation to performances of gender and heroism. I argue that the ideologies inherent within the hero’s construction are, in some ways, paradoxically antithetical to definitions of heroism itself.

The composition of Defoe’s hero, and its remnant traces in contemporary island fiction, leads to the posing of a second question, an interesting authorial challenge: what do I want my island hero to be? The motivation to rewrite the island adventure hero is twofold, being personal in the first instance and political in the second. From a personal perspective, it is a creative and playful response to all those reading years where I, as a female and gay reader, was not represented. It also reflects, and indulges, a long held fascination with islands both real and imagined, and with island metaphor in general. In summary, I am writing an island narrative that I might have wished to read, with the sort of adventure hero that interests me. From a political perspective, however, underscoring the writing is a belief that the modern western notion of heroic behaviour is outmoded and requires a subtle but conscious metamorphosis in order to remain culturally relevant. Underpinning “Ile du Coeur” is the particular assertion that diverse and multiple heroisms are required of twenty-first century adventure heroes.

These authorial aims are principally achieved by destabilising both the conventions and tropes of “island narrative” (Weaver-Hightower ix) and, in particular, the colonising phallocentrism of the island adventure hero. Accordingly, four characteristics traditionally associated with Robinson Crusoe and the hero of the Robinsonade—maleness, heterosexuality, violence and action—are overtly reworked in order to “inscribe other values without sacrificing richness” (Hourihan 205). In addition, a new heroic behaviour, that of ‘conscious silence’, is written into “Ile du Coeur” in which the hero seeks self-mastery as opposed to mastery over the other. The trope of conscious silence is used to destabilise the destructive mythologies usually associated with the hero of the Robinsonade, and exemplifies a new performance possibility for the twenty-first century adventure hero.

Item Type: Thesis (Research Master)
Keywords: creative writing, hero, island, rewrite
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2013 the author

Additional Information:

Includes the creative work "Ile du coeur"

Date Deposited: 13 Sep 2013 00:21
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2017 01:06
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