Robinson Crusoe Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Robinson Crusoe

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 well-being; he begins a journal in which he plans to record his spiritual progress as it is reflected in the daily activities that mark his sojourn on the island. For nearly two decades, Crusoe works to create a life for himself, building what he needs, improvising where he must, and ultimately replicating a little corner of England on the desert island. What he accomplishes is beyond basic survival; he fashions an English life that is dependent on the transformation of raw materials into the necessities of his culture. He plants grain that he bakes into bread, he domesticates goats so that he might have milk, and he turns a cave into a cozy fortified dwelling that boasts comfortable furniture. When Friday arrives, Crusoe’s little English empire is complete: The conqueror has mastered both the territory and its people.

Having survived the shipwreck, Crusoe has become strongly aware of his vulnerability as a human being, and throughout the narrative he insists that his life is proof of the workings of divine Providence. Consequently, he often reflects on the spiritual lessons to be learned not only from his experiences on the island but also from the events in his life that led to his sojourn so far from home. This reflection is typical of Defoe’s narrators, who look on life’s experiences as a series of symbolic occurrences pointing to the connections between the spiritual and the secular.

Defoe has created in Robinson Crusoe a man very like himself—and very much a typical eighteenth century Englishman. Crusoe’s plebeian origins, his earnest industry, his tendency to see religious meaning in the mundane, and his talent for overcoming misfortune are all Defoe’s qualities. Like the average Englishman of his time, Crusoe is something of a bigot, and although he treats Friday well, the slave is never offered his freedom and must call Crusoe “Master.” Crusoe triumphs over his circumstances and environment, and indeed he manages to provide himself with a little paradise on earth; but he is English to the core, and with the first opportunity he returns to England and settles down to family life.

Robinson Crusoe is often described as one of the major forerunners of the novel. Although written as a travel narrative, it displays many of the modern novel’s major characteristics: realism (through verisimilitude, the first-person narrator, imagery from the natural world, and copious detail), interesting and believable characters engaged in plausible adventures and activities, and an engaging story.

Robinson Crusoe Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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 for delivering him from the sea.

In the middle of Crusoe’s twenty-fourth year on the island, an incident occurs that alters his way of living. About a year and a half previously, he had observed some savages who had apparently paddled over from another island. They had come in the night and gorged themselves on some other savages, obviously prisoners. Crusoe had found the bones and the torn flesh the next morning and had since been terrified that the cannibals might return and find him. Finally, a band of savages does return. While they prepare for their gruesome feast, Crusoe shoots some of them and frightens the others away. Able to rescue one of the prisoners, he at last has human companionship. He names the man Friday after the day of his rescue, and Friday becomes his faithful servant and friend.

Over the course of time, Crusoe is able to teach Friday to speak English. Friday tells him that seventeen white men are prisoners on the island from which he had come. Although Friday reports that the men are well treated, Crusoe has a great desire to go to them, thinking that together they might find some way to return to the civilized world. He and Friday build a canoe and prepare to sail to the other island, but before they are ready for their trip, another group of savages comes to their island with more prisoners. Crusoe discovers that one of the prisoners is a white man and manages to save him. He also rescues another savage, an old man who turns out to be Friday’s father; there is great joy at the reunion of father and son. Crusoe cares for the old man and the white man, who is a Spaniard, one of the seventeen of whom Friday had spoken. A hostile tribe has captured Friday’s island, and now the white men are no longer safe.

Crusoe dispatches the Spaniard and Friday’s father to the neighboring island to try to rescue the white men. While waiting for their return, Crusoe sees an English ship one day at anchor near shore. Soon he finds the captain of the ship and two others, who have been set ashore by a mutinous crew. Crusoe, Friday, and the three seamen are able to retake the ship, and Crusoe is at last delivered from the island. He dislikes leaving before the Spaniard and Friday’s father return, and he determines to go back to the island some day and see how they had fared. Five of the mutinous crew choose to remain on the island rather than be returned to England to be hanged. Crusoe and Friday then sail to England. Crusoe returns to his homeland after an absence of thirty-five years, arriving there, a stranger and unknown, in June of 1687.

His adventures are not over, however. When he visits his old home, he finds that his parents have died, as have all of his family but two sisters and the two children of one of his brothers. Having no reason to remain in England, he goes with Friday to Lisbon to inquire about his plantation. There he learns that friends have saved the income of his estate for him and that he is now worth about five thousand pounds sterling. Satisfied with this accounting, Crusoe and Friday return to England, where Crusoe marries and had three children.

After his wife dies, Crusoe sails again in 1695 as a private trader on a ship captained by his nephew and bound for the East Indies and China. The ship puts in at his castaway island, where he finds that the Spaniards and the English mutineers have taken native wives from a nearby island; consequently, the population is greatly increased. Crusoe is pleased with his little group and holds a feast for them. He also presents them with gifts from the ship.

After Crusoe has satisfied himself that the island colony is well cared for, he and Friday sail away. On their way to Brazil, savages attack their ship, and Friday is killed. From Brazil, Crusoe travels around the Cape of Good Hope and on to the coast of China. At one port, after the sailors on his ship take part in a massacre, Crusoe lectures them so severely that the crew members force the captain, Crusoe’s nephew, to set him ashore in China, as they can no longer tolerate his preaching. There Crusoe joins a caravan that takes him into Siberia. At last, he reaches England again. Having spent the greater part of fifty-four years away from his homeland, he is finally glad to live out his life there in peace and in preparation for that longer journey from which he will never return.

Robinson Crusoe Overview

Robinson Crusoe is a story of adventure and ingenuity, and also a travel narrative in which the hero journeys to Africa, Brazil,...

(The entire section is 342 words.)

Robinson Crusoe Summary

Part 1 - Born in York

Born in York

A retired German merchant named Kreutznaer settles in the York country where, due to the "usual...

(The entire section is 79 words.)

Part 2 - To London and Trade

To London and Trade

A year later Crusoe sneaks away and accepts passage to London. He leaves on September 1,...

(The entire section is 241 words.)

Part 3 - "The Island of Despair"

"The Island of Despair"

Crusoe is shocked to find himself on the deserted island. His shock gives way to...

(The entire section is 252 words.)

Part 4 - The End of Solitude

The End of Solitude
One night, in his twenty-fourth year on the island, he dreams of saving one of the cannibals and...

(The entire section is 252 words.)

Part 5 - Back to Civilization

Back to Civilization
After an absence of twenty-eight years, Crusoe returns London in June, 1687. After the English...

(The entire section is 85 words.)

Robinson Crusoe Chapter Summaries

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.)