As defined by Diderot and D’Alambert’s Encyclopedia, a citizen was someone who resided in a city, state, or country as a contributing member of society. A later definition, as made noteworthy by the Athenians, says that to become a citizen the honor must be bestowed upon a person deserving of it and that they must take an oath of honor and fidelity to the city in a ceremony. It is reminiscent of being inducted to any of our modern American armed forces, using phrases such as “I will sail against any region where I shall be assigned” and “if anyone removes laws that have been accepted without approval, I shall not allow it.” These exact terms are not in any of the oaths taken by our armed forces today but modifications of such can certainly be seen. The “honor” of being a citizen was to be taken seriously and not just expected, as is seen in today’s societies. Being born in the United States automatically makes you a “citizen” and you are from that point on entitiled to any and all rights as set forth by our constitution. While this has it’s merits and value, I can also see the logic in making a person wait til an acceptable age has been reached, pledging to forever be loyal to your homeland, and then being accepted as a contributing citizen and subsequently a larger part of the community in which you reside.
Despite the fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of coming of age novels, Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” is certainly the first coming-of-age novel still in print. Young people. men and women alike, are always told to succumb to their parents’ wishes and to follow in their footsteps and all manner of patriarchal nonsense that is contrived solely to keep feeding the cogs into the human machine. All of the young people that do follow these guidelines are generally the ones to whom nothing exciting or adventurous ever happens and thus lead dull, drab lives, full of numbers and dreary work with which no rewards are ever coming. Crusoe, however, turns all this on it’s ear and without so much as a word to his parents boards a shit bound for the other side of the world, or so it would be termed in his era. He subsequently leads a life full of turmoil and strife but which can never be termed even remotely dull and thus lives out the fantasy which so many normal people wish they could. If society at large had even half the compunction his character did, we wouldn’t be driven by so many machines and have so such desire to venture outside our boxes. Literarily, Defoe outlines one of the most stereotypical heroes ever to grace us in print, though he caries none of the typical epic hero traits, nor does he fulfill any or the archetypal paths laid out in so many 18th century outlines we use today to judge heroism. He simply breaks the mold and gives us not only a hero but a guiding light to lead us out of the drudgery that defines our day to day lives.