What is the background of the story Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Daniel Defoe's innovative novel about a castaway on a Caribbean island, Robinson Crusoe, was probably based on a real-life castaway, Alexander Selkirk, who was stranded for four years on the island of Mas a Tierra (later, Robinson Crusoe Island) in the Pacific Ocean. Defoe had probably also read Hayy ibn Yqdhan by Ibn Tufail, a novel with a deserted island as its setting. Another possibility is "An Historical Account of the Island Ceylon," written by Robert Knox, who was taken prisoner in 1659 by the King of Ceylon. The island on which Crusoe is stranded was probably based on Tobago, near the island of Trinidad off Venezuela.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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It is thought that the story in Robinson Crusoe is based on the life of Alexander Selkirk (1676-1721), a Scottish sailor and buccaneer known for being quarrelsome as a youth, as he beat up his father and brothers and left two women claiming to be his wife. Selkirk spent four years alone on an island in the South Pacific before he was rescued. In 1704, he was on a buccaneering expedition and asked to be let off the ship on an island that was part of the San Juan Archipelago, 400 miles from Valparaiso, Chile. He predicted that the ship he was traveling on would founder, which it indeed later did off the coast of Colombia. While on the island, which was not inhabited, he constructed huts out of pepper trees and hunted wild goats and drank their milk.

In 1709, after four years and four months of solitary living, he was rescued by William Dampier, the same privateer whose boat Selkirk was on when he was marooned on the island. The Captain of the Duke (the ship that rescued Selkirk), Woodes Rogers, found Selkirk's ability to live independently amazing, and Rogers later wrote about Selkirk in his book on his own adventures called Cruising Voyage Round the World, published in 1712. Later, Richard Steele also wrote about Selkirk in The Englishman in 1713. Selkirk went on to a life of continued fighting, and he later joined the Royal Navy and died of yellow fever while on a journey with the navy. 

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