Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Robinson Crusoe was Defoe’s first-published full narrative and his most popular, appealing to both middle-class and aristocratic readers with its combination of a believable and very human first-person narrator, realistic detail, allusions and references to actual places and people, imagery drawn from everyday life and the natural world, and an appealing, if somewhat unstructured, narrative line.
The title page of the book provides a considerable amount of information for the reader. The LIFE and Strange Surprizing ADVENTURES of ROBINSON CRUSOE, of YORK. Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’ by PIRATES. Written by Himself. That, in brief, is a plot summary. It also is evidence of the ordinariness of the narrator, a seaman from York (and therefore middle class) who is forced by circumstances to fend for himself in unfriendly surroundings, a practical man who manages to survive for twenty-eight years before his rescue. Finally, within this long title is the evidence of Defoe’s insistence on realism—the use of real place names, the statement that the book is an autobiographical narrative.
That Robinson Crusoe is a Defoe character is evident from the moment he finds himself shipwrecked. He acts immediately in the interest of survival, salvaging such necessities as he can from the stricken ship and building a rude shelter. Yet Crusoe’s concern is not only for his physical...
(The entire section is 683 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Robinson Crusoe is the son of a middle-class English family. Although his father desires that he go into business and live a quiet life, the young man has such longing for the sea that he finds it impossible to remain at home. He takes his first voyage without his parents’ knowledge. The ship is caught in a great storm, and Crusoe is so violently ill and so greatly afraid that he vows never to leave land again should he be so fortunate as to escape death.
When he lands safely, however, he finds his old longing still unsatisfied, and he engages as a trader, shipping first for the coast of Africa. The ship on which he sails is captured by a Turkish pirate vessel, and he is carried as a prisoner into Sallee, a Moorish port. There he becomes a slave. His life is unbearable, and at the first opportunity he escapes in a small boat. He is then rescued by a Portuguese freighter and carried safely to Brazil, where he buys a small plantation and begins the life of a planter.
When another English planter suggests that they make a voyage to Africa for a cargo of slaves, Crusoe once more gives in to his longing for the sea. This voyage is destined to bring him his greatest adventure of all, for the ship breaks apart on a reef near an island off the coast of South America. Of all the crew and passengers, only Crusoe survives, the waves washing him ashore. He takes stock of his situation and finds that the island seems to be completely uninhabited, with no sign of wild beasts. In an attempt to make his castaway life as comfortable as possible, he constructs a raft and sails it to the broken ship to gather food, ammunition, water, wine, clothing, tools, sailcloth, and lumber.
He sets up a sailcloth tent on the side of a small hill and encircles his refuge with tall, sharp stakes; he enters his shelter by means of a ladder that he draws up after him. Into this area he brings all the goods he has salvaged, being particularly careful with the gunpowder. His next concern is his food supply. Finding little food from the ship that has not been ruined by rats or water, he eats sparingly during his first days on the island. Among the things Crusoe has brought from the ship are a quill and ink, and before long he begins to keep a journal. When he considers the good and evil of his situation, he finds that he has much for which to thank God.
He begins to make his shelter permanent. Behind his tent he finds a small cave, which he enlarges and braces. With crude tools, he makes a table and a chair, some shelves, and a rack for his guns. He spends many months on the work, all the time able to feed himself with wildfowl and other small game. He also finds several springs that keep him supplied with drinking water.
For the next twenty-four years, he spends his life in much the same way as in his first days after the shipwreck. He explores the island and builds what he is pleased to call his summer home on the other side. He is able to grow corn, barley, and rice, carefully saving the new kernels each year until he has enough to plant a small field. He learns to grind these grains to make meal and bakes coarse bread. He catches and tames wild goats to supply his larder and parrots for companionship. He makes better furniture and improves his cave, making it even safer from intruders, whom he still fears, although he has seen no sign of any living thing larger than small game, fowl, and goats. He also has time to read carefully the three Bibles he retrieved from the ship. At a devotional period each morning and night, he never fails to thank God...
(The entire section is 1459 words.)
Part 1 - Born in York
Part 2 - To London and Trade
Part 3 - "The Island of Despair"
Part 4 - The End of Solitude
Chapters 1-2 Summary
Robinson Crusoe was born in 1632 in the town of York, England. His father was from Germany; the family name was originally Kreutznaer. Robinson Crusoe had two elder brothers: one became a soldier and was killed in battle in Dunkirk fighting against the Spanish; the other one vanished without a trace.
Crusoe’s father initially presses him to train to become a lawyer, but Crusoe is determined to become a sailor. Both his parents are against this idea because they fear this would only lead to a life of misery. His father counsels him to remain at home and live the life of the middle class, which is the only guarantee of happiness: being too rich or too poor leads to sorrow. He points out the loss of his oldest child and...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapters 3-4 Summary
Crusoe considers going back to his home in Hull. He knows his father would easily forgive him for his foolishness. His comrade’s father, who was master of the ship on which Crusoe had sailed, tells him that he should never go to sea again but take warning from his bad experiences. The captain hints that it might have been because of Crusoe that the ship was lost in the storm, like the ship on which the cursed Jonah sailed to escape God.
Crusoe travels to London by land and decides that it would be too embarrassing to return home. He reflects on how easy it is to get into foolishness but how humiliating it is to repent of it. He meets a ship’s master who is traveling to the coast of Africa and is invited to go along....
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapters 5-6 Summary
Crusoe is some distance from the Portuguese ship but fires a gun and flies a flag to attract its attention. The captain takes him aboard and gives him free passage; the captain says he would wish someone would do the same for him should he find himself stranded. The captain tells Crusoe he is going to Brazil and urges Crusoe to keep all his possessions so he can make a living there. Crusoe sells most of his possessions, including Xury, who willingly returns to a life of slavery to aid Crusoe.
In Brazil, Crusoe makes friends with a plantation owner and enjoys the life so much that he buys a small plantation of his own. The work is hard and he regrets selling Xury, but after a few years he buys a slave and hires a servant...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
Chapters 7-8 Summary
Robinson Crusoe observes how far out to sea the ship is. He sees no sign of any other survivor, only small articles of clothing. He has nothing on him but the clothes on his back, a knife, a pipe, and some tobacco. He examines his new home and worries about the danger of wild beasts. He finds a freshwater source and then spends the night sleeping in a tree.
In the morning, Crusoe sees that the ship has moved and landed at the rock on which he had been dashed when he was trying to reach shore. He makes a trip out to the ship to retrieve what supplies he can. He sees that, if the crew had stayed on the ship, they would have been carried closer to shore and all of them would have survived. The ship has been positioned so...
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Chapters 9-10 Summary
Robinson Crusoe needs a place to eat and work, so he makes a table and chair. He begins to keep a journal, at least as long as the ink will last, to record his time on the island. He writes that he arrived on the island on September 30, 1659. He narrates his first days on the island in procuring supplies from the ship and building a shelter.
Crusoe describes his efforts to provide himself with food. He finds wild goats on the island, but they are shy and difficult to catch. He shoots one nanny goat with a kid. He tries to tame the kid but is forced to eat it when it will not feed. His dog is terrified of the goats, which show no fear of him as a predator. He shoots a wild cat; he keeps its fur but discards the meat as...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
Chapters 11-12 Summary
As summer begins, Robinson Crusoe is struck with the ague. For several days he suffers from fever and aches and is unable to feed himself. He cries out to God, although he admits he has never seriously prayed before. He dreams that a man of fire descends from the clouds, points a spear at him, and says, “Seeing all these things have not brought thee to repentance, now thou shalt die.” Crusoe had never followed any religious teaching beyond what he had picked up at home. He had prayed some superficial prayers (asking for rescue or giving thanks) but now he considers the events he has undergone as a divine prodding.
As he recovers, he looks at his surroundings and comes to the conclusion that God created all he sees....
(The entire section is 476 words.)
Chapters 13-14 Summary
Robinson Crusoe desires to explore the rest of the island, so he packs some supplies and sets out with his dog. They travel past the valley where his bower lays. He is not exactly sure of where the island is located, but he knows it is near the Spanish possessions in the Americas. He knows some areas were inhabited by cannibals and feels he is thankful that his island is deserted, despite his loneliness. On the way, Crusoe finds a parrot, which he eventually teaches to say the name Crusoe. He finds some hares and foxes, which provide fur but very little good eating. He finds a young kid that he decides to domesticate in preparation for the day when his shot and powder are gone.
When Crusoe reaches the other...
(The entire section is 451 words.)
Chapters 15-16 Summary
Robinson Crusoe has now been shipwrecked on the island four years. Each year he keeps the anniversary as a time of penance and thanksgiving to God. He reflects that he has received great benefit from being separated from the rest of the world. He is removed from the pull of fleshly desires, and he is the ruler of his own little world. He has food and provisions enough; if he had more, it would just go to waste. He even has some money (about thirty-six pounds) that serves no purpose. He has learned to be content with what he has. He sees his isolation, compared to his previous sinful existence, as a sign of God’s mercy.
Over time, many of the things he brought on the island from the ship have disappeared. He has long...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapters 17-18 Summary
Robinson Crusoe decides he has had enough of venturing out to sea in his canoe, even though it took so much time and effort to build and launch it. He concentrates on perfecting his home life instead. He makes a potter’s wheel and thus is able to make passable stoneware for cooking and storing. He has been on the island for eleven years now, and his powder is growing more depleted. His earlier attempts at domesticating goats had not worked well; he has been unable to catch a male goat and his one captured kid is now growing old and dying. Now he digs a pit and manages to catch several goats. Then he builds a corral at his country estate, where the goats breed and multiply until eventually he has forty-two head.
(The entire section is 481 words.)
Chapters 19-20 Summary
Crusoe explores the southwestern portion of the island, a section he has seldom visited. As he stands on a hill, he looks out to sea and thinks he sees a boat. He does not have his telescope with him and so cannot be sure. He vows to always bring his telescope with him from now on. On the beach he sees a large fire and human bones scattered about. Cannibals have landed here, on his island, for a hideous feast. Crusoe feels more outraged at human degeneracy than fearful for himself, and he considers ways he can wipe out the cannibals on their next visit. He ponders the possibility of placing gunpowder below the fire pit. He decides against this both because he is short on gunpowder and because he cannot be sure the explosion would...
(The entire section is 510 words.)
Chapters 21-22 Summary
Because of the recurrence of the cannibals, Robinson Crusoe sees a new benefit in having domesticated the goats: he does not need to fire a gun, which would alert the “savages” to his presence. It is now twenty-four years that he has been on the island.
One day he is surprised to hear the firing of a gun. He climbs to a higher point and sees a flash of fire far out to sea. It sounds to him like a message of distress, and he builds a fire as a signal. The ship evidently sees it, for it fires off several more shots. Crusoe discovers that the ship has struck a rock near the place where the current caused him so much trouble many years before. He prays that some of the men might survive and provide him with some...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
Chapters 23-24 Summary
The savage Robinson Crusoe rescued is lighter skinned than the others and without the features associated with Native Americans or Native Africans. Crusoe teaches him that his name is to be “Friday” because he was rescued on a Friday; he is to call Crusoe “Master.” Friday suggests they go back to the two cannibals they killed and eat them. Crusoe makes him understand that this is something he will not do. They return to the scene where Friday escaped to find it littered with bones and flesh. They burn these on the fire.
Crusoe makes Friday some clothing, which makes the native feel uncomfortable. Friday becomes a loving and loyal servant to Crusoe, acknowledging that he owes his life to the White man. Crusoe...
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Chapters 25-26 Summary
Robinson Crusoe tells Friday the story of his coming to the island and his survival on it. He explains the use of gunpowder, which seems miraculous to Friday. Crusoe tells him of Europe and how the people function there. When Crusoe shows him the remains of his old boat, Friday tells him that some White men came to his homeland in such a boat. Crusoe surmises that these men might be the survivors of the ship that was wrecked on the rock some years previously. Friday explains that the White men and the natives made a treaty.
One day, standing on a high point, Friday points over the ocean toward the mainland and describes it as his country. This desire to see his home causes jealousy to arise in Crusoe’s mind; he...
(The entire section is 441 words.)
Chapters 27-28 Summary
Robinson Crusoe feels like a proper king on his island now that he has three subjects. He notes that each subject represents a different religion: Friday is a Protestant, Friday’s father is a Pagan, and the Spaniard is a Catholic. Crusoe remarks that he allows for liberty of conscience in his kingdom. He sends Friday off to bury the dead cannibals and to cover their location.
In speaking with the Spaniard, Crusoe learns that there are fourteen survivors living on the mainland, but they are close to being destitute despite the aid given by Friday’s tribe. They discuss bringing the Europeans over to the island. The Spaniard feels it would be better to wait a season and grow some more crops before doing so, lest the...
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapters 29-30 Summary
They repair the boat so they can retake the ship. The captain tells the captured mutineers that the governor of the island is English and they are his prisoners. The governor has the power to hang them all but has determined that they should go back to England to be tried. When the captain and some of his crew return to the ship, they manage to overtake the men there; they shoot the ringleader, Atkins, and hang his body from the yardarm. On his return to the shore, Crusoe suggests dividing up the prisoners, which he does. The captain talks with them and offers them the choice of leaving with him to be tried in England or remaining on the island. They decide to remain, and Robinson Crusoe shows them how to survive.
(The entire section is 405 words.)
Chapters 31-32 Summary
Crusoe and Friday travel back to England from Lisbon by land. As they approach the northeast border of Spain, heavy snow in the Pyrenees blocks them. Friday is terrified by the snow as well as the effects of the cold weather. The pass through the mountains is so thick with snow that no one can get through. A French gentleman finds them a guide who will take them through the mountains. They are surprised when he leads them back toward Madrid to a warmer climate, but then he leads them through a meandering route through the mountains toward the north. The snow once again catches them and a wolf attacks the guide. Friday manages to shoot it but not until it has bitten the guide in the arm and the leg.
Further on, the group...
(The entire section is 468 words.)