Within the Jewish religious tradition, narratives that include themes of exile are prominent, such as the exile of Moses to the desert. In these narratives, the concept of exile serves a powerful spiritual function. Separating oneself from the bonds and obligations of society opens the individual to an experience of the sacred. Namely, the profane world, with its rules and norms, ignores the message of God, and it is only through removal from this world that one can have the distance to see any receive the divine message, such as in the case of Moses. However, within secular narratives, there is also a prominence of such narratives of exiles.
Novels such as Robinson Crusoe, or newer films, such as The Revenant, place their protagonists in settings of radical isolation. What makes these stories different from the tales of the Jewish tradition is that there appears to be no explicit religious or theological element to the concept of exile. Nevertheless, there are clear parallels, to the extent that being isolated in the wilderness away from society forces the protagonist to see the world from a different perspective, one that is unclouded by the norms of society. It is these norms which are furthermore questioned, for example, Robinson Crusoe’s friendship with Friday, which subverts the dominant narrative of his time, which stressed racial hierarchies, segregation and the devaluation of non-European races.
Thus, there is also the motif even in these secular stories of some type of awakening to a higher truth. The secular stories, however, because of their explicit secularism can perhaps be interpreted by the audience as only a tale of survival in the face of cruel nature. In other words, a superficial reading only sees these heroic tales of survival from a hostile nature, which in one sense justifies society as a place of safety and security, as something that is to be criticized. Namely, it is in the religious stories of exile that somewhat paradoxically, even though they rely on the sacred, that the domain of criticism of social critique becomes more clear, since there is a radical contrast between the divine and the worldly in narratives such as that of Moses’ exile.