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Structure and meaning in Defoe’s Roxana Allin, Robert Stewart


The purpose of this study is three-fold. First, it is intended as a demonstration that Defoe wrote Roxana with a high degree of conscious awareness. Secondly, it is to be a reading which shows that Roxana is a well unified novel, the meaning of which emerges clearly because of its structure. Thirdly, it is to be the basis for a reappraisal of Defoe the novelist. The study is comprised of an investigation of the nature and function of the six structuring devices I have found in Roxana. Of these, foreshadowing was considered first. The analysis of foreshadowing shows that Defoe used this device in a calculated way, and the study leads to the conclusion that Defoe was writing the novel as a conscious and subtle craftsman and artist. It becomes apparent that Defoe was using foreshadowing in a sophisticated way to bind the plot together, to provide focii which draw together and make the reader acutely aware of the material between a foreshadowing and its resolution, to set up relationships between characters and between events, to set up expectations, and to unify the various thematic threads. The episodic divisions were considered next, and it was found that they provide the novel with an underlying architectonic framework and make the novel easier to comprehend by breaking it into "manageable" units which show the stages in Roxana's moral deterioration and show the choices and actions which led to her downfall. The third stage of the analysis is an examination of the motif of images which pertain to Roxana's dancing and Turkish dress. These images highlight and bring into acute focus the various stages of Roxana's moral deterioration and provide points of reference which allow the reader to measure the development of the heroine's character and to assess the author's themes, attitudes, and values amid changing fictional circumstances. The fourth stage of the analysis is comprised of an examination of Defoe's use of geographical settings. It was found that the connotations of the countries Roxana travels to and her responses to these countries either mirror and emphasize her moral state or contrast with her moral state and thus emphasize both the positive values implicit in the work and the precise nature of Roxana's moral flaws. As well, the changes in location tend to mark the stages in Roxana's degeneration and to make the novel a continuous development. Studied next were the revelatory comparisons and contrasts between characters and between situations. The contrasts between Roxana and the secondary characters simultaneously point out the flaws in her character, her refusal to learn by positive examples, and the pattern of right conduct the novel sets forth. The similarities between Roxana and several of the major characters also ironically expose her shortcomings and vices. A result identical to that produced by the contrasts is yielded by the inclusion of situations which parallel ones Roxana is involved in but wherein the characters concerned take courses of action radically different from hers. As well, the strategic re-emergence of characters assists in accentuating the decay of Roxana's moral sense. The progressive divergence between Roxana's rise to material prosperity and her moral deterioration was considered in the final stage of the study. This showed that wealth is worthless as an ultimate value, and that one should not engage in a material quest at the expense of spiritual well-being and social responsibility. This divergence helps to define Defoe's attitudes towards economic individualism and, more generally, towards individualism and social responsibility. The investigation of these formal structuring devices suggests that Defoe's last novel is a unified whole which was written with a high degree of awareness and with a great deal of sophistication, that the novel's meaning emerges clearly and forcefully because of its structure, and that Roxana is among the most carefully wrought novels of its century, I am indebted, as anyone who studies Defoe is, to the works of J. R. Moore, George A. Starr, Maximillian E. Novak, James Sutherland, and other authors too numerous to be mentioned. In addition, stimulation was derived from Robert D. Hume, Ralph E. Jenkins, and John Henry Raleigh, who find formal bases of unity in Roxana.

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