The story of Robinson Crusoe is a great example of a context or narrative in which Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is demonstrated as a template for existence and progression. Crusoe finds himself shipwrecked on a desert island, and begins his existence here catering first and foremost to his physiological needs before anything else. One can imagine emerging from the sea, exhausted, alone, and in a mode of survival, motivated to fulfill only the most fundamental needs as a human being. Crusoe sets out to find water, food, and shelter, and as his position on the island would progress, so would his shelter, and thus his approach to his needs. He would now focus more on his security and protection, improving upon his previous shelters of the tree, the hut of crates, and finally the fortification, that would then incorporate the use of a defensive fence. This fence would satisfy the second fundamental need for Crusoe, as he lives on an island of mystery and vastly unknown territory. This fence would soon evolve, growing in intricacy and strength, allowing for a much stronger fortification as a physical barrier from danger and threat, but also aiding in Crusoe’s much needed psychological aid, comforting him in a place where he might feel constantly threatened by his environment and surroundings. The fence acts as a constant in the story. Protecting his home, defending his possessions, and forming the boundaries of what he has conquered and made civilized from what is left untamed and wild. It creates a sense of belonging, and adds to his ego and feeling of identity, as it begins to become part of who he is on the island.
Crusoe discovers a footprint in the sand, and soon Friday, a native Crusoe saves
from the cannibals, becomes an important element in Crusoe’s mini
civilization. The act of allowing Friday
to enter his fortified “castle”, and sharing in his safety behind the walls of
the cave, means the he has power and authority in this seemingly uncivilized
place. Although he does not exercise this power heavy handedly, it is apparent
that the act of including Friday in his reality on the island helps him in his
feelings of belonging and acceptance. His ability to teach Friday new things
and because of having saved him, adds the component of Crusoe’s ego to the mix.
He is now a peer to Friday but also someone who can lead and hold
authority, which creates a whole new level of social interaction in the story.
These developments in the story and the progression of the hierarchy of needs
seem to mirror the degree to which the shelters in the story progress as well.
As Crusoe becomes more comfortable and accomplished on the island, the more
advanced his shelters become; that being said, Crusoe is still a puritan, and
his shelters always remain true to the simplicity of his beliefs. Even his
bower, a place of retreat, protection, and safety, is limited in its comforts,
having only that of a simple couch. Crude shelves, a table, and chair are all
Crusoe needs to live a content and semi-domestic life on the island, as long as
his initial needs are met; namely shelter and protection. The shelters, and
Crusoe’s need to build, create, and ultimately be in charge of his surroundings
are a manifestation of his understanding of life. Although he came from a time
in England that had seen much turmoil, he understood that order and improvement
were necessary to any functioning and successful society. One can then note
that Crusoe himself was developing a civilization of his own, that were very
much symbolized in the creation and improvement upon every shelter he built.