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BlogJuly, 2008
WALL-E, Robinson Crusoe, Abraham Lincoln, Najeh Davenport

Robinson Crusoe describes his loneliness and self-reliance so painstakingly that his name is a metaphor for those twin traits. What Shylock is to greed, what Sisyphus is to effort, what Samantha is to sluts, is what Crusoe is to loneliness/self-reliance. Los Angeles Times movie critic Kenneth Turan deftly employed a Crusoe metaphor in his analysis of the title character in WALL-E.

Other critics have likened WALL-E to movie bots like R2-D2 and Johnny 5, but Turan knows better. For unlike R2-D2 and Johnny 5, WALL-E is subsistent and solitary. Moreover, WALL-E is an anachronism in his own film, a 22nd century creature in a 29th century setting. WALL-E is, in fact, earth’s last standing biped. In the context of the movie, this simple fact gives WALL-E the charming aura of an outdated but functional relic of technology. He’s a forgotten phonograph, an abandoned Atari, a bygone boom box. And he’s all alone on planet earth, just as Crusoe was alone on his island.

What’s more, WALL-E has the soul of an old machine. After all, he dates back to the 22nd century, when humans still inhabited the planet. He’s so old-school, so indisputably man-made, that he even has a religion: Each night – after another day of dystopian labor – he gains spiritual nourishment from a VHS tape of the musical Hello, Dolly!  This is where Turan’s Crusoe metaphor is a homerun. For WALL-E uses Hello, Dolly! just like Crusoe uses the bible: It’s his opiate. It cheers him up and restores his faith that his isolation won’t last forever. Here’s how Turan describes it:

“What really entrances WALL-E about Hello, Dolly! is the spectacle of people expressing emotion and connection by holding hands. Not a word is spoken, but we understand that this lonely Robinson Crusoe, like so many movie creatures before him, would like nothing better than to hold hands with another entity.”

***

Abraham Lincoln turns 200 next year, and you can bet America will hunger for fresh stories about him. To that end, I’ve been researching the 16th president. Incredibly, historians differ as to whether or not Lincoln ever read Robinson Crusoe:

"He made one unsuccessful attempt at Ivanhoe, but he had no other acquaintance with the great British and American novelists" (p.47). --David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (1995) 

"And he enjoyed reading, too, losing himself in the adventures of Robinson Crusoe or the selected fables of Dilworth's Spelling-Book" (p.11). --Stephen B. Oates, With Malice Toward None (1977)

"While Lincoln did not read many books, since few were to be had, those that he read he devoured. Among these, besides Weem's Washington were Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress, Aesop's Fables, Grimshaw's History of the United States, and The Kentucky Preceptor" (p.15). --Benjamin P. Thomas, Abraham Lincoln -- A Biography (1952)

If Lincoln read Crusoe, he certainly identified with the title character. When Lincoln was 21, he left his father’s household via boat and did not return to his hometown for 14 years. Crusoe, of course, left his parents’ household via boat when he was 19. He did not return to England for 35 years, by which time his parents were dead.

***

Emptying the desk drawer of the sports mind (to borrow a phrase from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan): 

  • NBA second-round draft picks I love, not including Joey Dorsey (33) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (40), both of whom cracked the top 20 rookies list in my June blog: Patrick Ewing Jr. (43) can hit the NBA three and defend both forward spots; Sasha Kaun (56) and Darnell Jackson (52) possess the size and smarts to have five-year careers as backups; Kyle Weaver (38) is a Brian Shaw clone; Mike Taylor (55) will learn under Baron Davis; and Maarty Leunen (54) is the next Pat Garrity.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers released running back Najeh Davenport not long ago. If I were the Detroit Lions or Chicago Bears or Seattle Seahawks or Houston Texans, I would sign him. In his six-year career, he’s averaged 4.7 yards per carry. He’s also a polished receiver. In Week 16 last season, he had 167 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. His future employment will affect the fantasy football landscape.
  • Speaking of fantasy football: Stay tuned for my KFFL profiles of wide receivers Roydell Williams, Amani Toomer, Patrick Crayton, Derrick Mason, Vincent Jackson, Deion Branch, Isaac Bruce, Ted Ginn Jr., Donte' Stallworth, Drew Bennett, Ronald Curry, and Michael Jenkins. And on newsstands, look out for Rotoman’s annual Fantasy Football Guide, to which I contributed profiles of the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Texans. Rotoman is, of course, the nom de plume of fantasy sportswriter Peter Kreutzer.


Ilan Mochari is a novelist and journalist living in the Boston area. His fiction has been honored by
Glimmer Train. He is a former staff writer for Inc magazine, and he has also written for Fortune Small Business and CFO magazine. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University.

 
    © 2008 Ilan Mochari  
Ilan Mochari