Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (c. 1659-1731) Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (c. 1659-1731) Type of Work: Adventure novel Setting England, various ships at sea, and a small island near Trinidad; seventeenth century Principal Characters Robinson Crusoe, an Englishman Friday, his island companion Story Overveiw Young Robinson Crusoe told his parents that he wished more than anything else to go to sea. His father bitterly opposed the idea, and warned his son that “if I did take this foolish step, God would not bless me – and I would have leisure hereafter to reflect upon having neglected his counsel, when there might be none to assist in my recovery.” These words proved prophetic. The youthful Crusoe set out on his first voyage, with little knowledge about the perils of a sailor’s life.
In telling later about the tremendous storm in which his ship was caught, he remarked, “It was my advantage, in one respect, that I did not know what they meant by ‘founder,’ till I inquired.” So ill and afraid was he during this first harrowing crisis, that he vowed never again to leave solid ground if he was blessed enough to escape drowning. But once safe on shore he found his old longing resurfacing, and Robinson took sail aboard another ship Alas, the ill-fated vessel was captured by Turkish pirates. Crusoe managed to avoid capture and made off in a small craft. Together, he and a young companion navigated along the coast of Africa, where they were pursued by both wild beasts and natives. A Portuguese ship finally rescued them and they sailed for Brazil.
In the new land Crusoe established a prosperous sugar plantation. But again a feeling of lonely dissatisfaction overcame him: “I lived just like a man cast away upon some desolate island, that had nobody there but himself.” Then came an offer from some planters for Crusoe to act as a trader on a slave ship bound for Africa. But this voyage also met disaster: fierce hurricanes wrecked the ship, drowning everyone aboard except Robinson, who was finally tossed up on a desolate beach.A subsequent storm washed the ship’s wreckage close to shore and Crusoe constructed a raft to haul most of its supplies to land, where he stored them in a makeshift tent. After a few days, he climbed a hill and discovered that he was on what he assumed to be an uninhabited island. On his thirteenth day there, still another storm pushed the ship wreck back out to sea, where it sank, leaving him with no reminder of civilization.
Crusoe soon discovered that goats inhabited the island, and began domesticating some of them to provide himself with meat, milk, butter and cheese. Near the entrance of the cave where he stored his provisions taken from the ship, he painstakingly built a well-fortified home. After crafting a table, a chair and some shelves, Crusoe also began keeping a calendar and a journal. Over the next few months, an earthquake and a hurricane damaged his supply cave, and though he still spent most of his time at his coastal home, in case a ship should happen by, he decided to erect an additional inland shelter. Later, during a brief but raging fever, the adventurer was confronted by a terrifying apparition, who announced, “Seeing all these things have not brought thee to repentance, now thou shalt die!” Remembering the advice of his father, Crusoe commenced to pray and to read from the Bible.
In a strangely inverted search, he began to seek deliverance from his sins rather than from his adverse situation. In a small valley on the island, Crusoe found an abundance of wild grapes, lemons, limes and other fruits and vegetables. From the grapes he made raisins, which became a favorite staple food. In his wanderings he also caught a parrot, whom he taught to speak. With a few grains of rice and barley from the bottom of one of the ship’s sacks, the sailor planted what would become large fields of grain. For several years he experimented with making bread and weaving baskets. One of Crusoe’s biggest frustrations was the lack of bottles or jars in which to cook or store food.
Over time, he succeeded in making clay containers and even fired some pots that were solid enough to hold liquids. After four years on the island, he was a changed man: “I looked now upon the [civilized] world as a thing remote, which I had nothing to do with, no expectation from, and indeed no desires about. .” Crusoe dedicated his entire fifth year as a castaway to building and inventing. He constructed a “summer home” on the far side of the island; he fabricated for himself a suit made from , skins, as well as an umbrella; he fashioned a small canoe in which he traveled around the island. And so the years passed in solitude. One day, in his fifteenth year on the island, Crusoe spied a human footprint in the sand.
When he finally summoned the courage to measure it against his own foot he found the strangeprint to be much larger…. Fear of danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than danger itself,” he declared. Still, for safety, he built a second wall around his home and fit it with six muskets. Once, while exploring, Crusoe came upon a beach spread with human bones. He quickly abandoned the area, and for the next two years lie stayed close to home, never fired a gun, and avoided making fires. Twenty-four years had passed when one night Crusoc heard gun fire. And in the morning he spied a ship’s hull impaled on the rocks. Then he saw something that sent shivers down his spine – about 30 cannibals on the beach, enjoying a gruesome feast.
Robinson shot at them, killing some and driving the others away. He rescued one of their native prisoners and named his new companion Friday, for the day upon which he was delivered. Friday proved to be strong, loyal and intelligent, though Crusoe still had cause to worry – Friday was also a bit cannibalistic. Crusoe began introducing Friday to his mode of living, especially hoping to turn him to Christianity. Friday managed to learn English quite well, and was pleased to answer his benefactor’s questions concerning the surrounding islands and their inhabitants. Crusoe discovered that his island must be near Trinidad. One day in the course of their conversation, Friday told Robinson about seventeen white men who were held prisoner on his home island, survivors of a shipwreck.
If Crusoe rescued them, they i-night be the key to his return to the civilized world. But before the two men could finish constructing a canoe to reach the captives, another group of cannibals arrived. This time Crusoe and Friday were able to save two of their prisoners from the cooking pot; a Spaniard, and another islander – who turned out to be Friday’s fa ther. After assuring Crusoe that the other Spanish and Portuguese prisoners would willingly follow the English castaway in an escape attempt, the Spaniard returned to the island with Friday’s father to explain the plan and have the men sign an oath of allegiance. While they were gone, an English ship anchored near the island and eleven men came ashore, three of them – the ship’s captain, his mate, and a passenger – as prisoners of mutineers.
Crusoe and Friday killed the most belligerent of them, and the others turned themselves over to Crusoe, swearing loyalty. With control of the ship, Crusoe prepared to return to England. Some of the mutineers, however, chose to remain on the island rather than return to England and hang. Though Crusoc hated to leave the island before the return of the Spaniard and Friday’s father, he sailed with the ship and arrived in England on June 11, 1687, thirty-five years after his earlier visit. Finding two sisters and two children of a brother still living, he decided to sail on to Lisbon to learn what had become of his Brazilian plantation.
Friday, “in all these ramblings [proved] a most faithful servant oil all occasions.” Surprisingly, Crusoe’s holdings had been well-managed by his friends – in fact, they had earned him a small fortune. He generously gave portions of his profit to charity as well as to his family and others. In Lisbon, Crusoe, apprehensive about traveling back to England by sea, organized a party of men to travel overland as far as tile Channel. After many difficult adventures in the Pyrenees, and, as usual, with a great deal of luck, the company reached England. Finally home, the wanderer married and had two sons and a daughter. But alas, Crusoc’s wife died and he was compelled to join one of his nephews on a voyage to the East Indies.
Miraculously, this ship sailed safely. Crusoe revisited his island, where he found that tile Spaniards and the English mutineers had taken native wives. After hearing a full account of what had happened since his departure, he left supplies, furnished the islanders with a carpenter and a smith, and divided the island among them. The ship then sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and on to China. On an overland trip through Siberia and on back to England, Crusoe had many more encounters. Ultimately, Robinson Crusoe, after a total of 54 years abroad, returned home, an old, weathered man, and lived out his remaining days in peace, never to take to the sea again.
Commentary An adventurous tale, The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, as Defoe titled his novel, is especially loved by children, although there is certainly enough to keep an adult entertained as well. Since the story is told in the first person, it is easy to confuse the author with the character of Crusoe, and in fact the novel is based on the real-life adventures of a man named Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who was marooned for a little over four years on an island called Juan Fernandez. Defoe obviously added a great deal of imagination, adventure and romance to his tale. He also incorporates into his novel many of his own beliefs in divine providence and the importance of faith. It is evidence of Defoe’s talent and spirit that this book is still, after more than 250 years, popular reading.