What's the theme of adventure in Robinson Crusoe?

The theme of adventure in Robinson Crusoe is closely related to self-discovery. Through his various adventures, Crusoe comes to find out more about himself. When he first embarks upon his journey, he’s a somewhat arrogant young man who only thinks of himself and his own needs. But by the end of the story, he’s found God and learned much more about the kind of person he could be.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The adventure in Robinson Crusoe emerges through an exciting plot that pits man against nature. After going to sea against the advice of his sober-minded parents and surviving many adventures, Crusoe becomes the sole survivor of a dramatic shipwreck. Finding himself all alone on an island, he realizes the odds are stacked against him.

More than any more exalted themes, the story of exactly how a lone man manages to stay alive and thrive on an untamed island has captured imaginations for many generations. We identify with Crusoe because, like us, he is an ordinary human. The novel has no supernatural elements: no magical fairies or sprites are going to come to save him. We put ourselves in his shoes and keep reading to find out how Crusoe will use nothing but his wits and hard work to beat the odds. The wealth of detail that Defoe offers about what Crusoe exactly does to survive makes the story believable and interesting.

Later, as Crusoe settles in and his mere survival is no longer a question, new adventure comes as he witnesses native cannibals from a neighboring island landing on the shores of "his" island. This adds a new level of adventure, and we thrill as Crusoe saves Friday.

Plot is important, and even though Crusoe spends much of the novel alone, there is always something going on to catch our interest. The message or theme of the adventure is never to give up, because you don't know what you have inside you or what the world (or God, in terms of how Crusoe understands his experiences) has in store for you until you put your all into the struggle for life.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Robinson Crusoe first embarks upon his epic adventures, it’s fair to say that self-awareness is not really his strong point. He has no idea as to how much he’s upset his father by defying his wishes and heading off to sea. Nor does he subsequently have the slightest notion as to how much physical and psychological damage is done to the slaves in whom he trades, not even when he himself ends up in captivity.

The world is too much with Crusoe and he too much with it for him to be able to learn anything from his adventures on the high seas. It’s only when he fetches up on a remote desert island that he finally starts developing an insight as to who he is and who he could become if only he would change his selfish ways.

The isolation of life on the island, with its deprivation of human companionship, makes Crusoe understand what it is to be human. Forced back on himself, Crusoe’s adventures on the island take place within himself as much as outside him. Over time, he experiences considerable growth and personal development, which lead him toward maturity and wisdom. It is this process, one could argue, that represents a greater and more compelling adventure in the story than anything that happens at sea.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Much has been written about themes other than adventure hidden in the depths of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe novel. However, the overall prevailing theme is that of an adventure genre. 

By definition the adventure genre is dominated by danger, action, risks and excitement. They take place in unusual settings unlike that which people encounter everyday. The action is fast paced and extraordinary compared to daily life. 

Robinson Crusoe contains all of these elements and more. The adventure begins with the wreck of Crusoe's ship and his immediate action to salvage materials that he can use to survive. Each day Crusoe must solve problems and find new ways to survive the elements, hunger and occasional savages. Further adventures have him taming and domesticating wild goats, learning to grow food to survive, meeting a converting a savage named Friday into a companion and helping a group of sailors and captain who arrive to restore order to their ship. They in turn, take Crusoe back home. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Although the book has many deeper themes, it can also be read as a simply adventure story.  After all, if you think about it, Robinson Crusoe encounters a huge variety of adventures in the course of this book.

Just think about some of the things that happen to him.  He is captured and has to live some years as a slave until he can make a daring escape.  He then becomes a rich man in Brazil.  Then comes the long adventure -- he goes off, and is shipwrecked on the island.

Once he is on the island, his attempts to survive constitute an adventure.  He is having to survive in a difficult environment using only his ingenuity and what he could salvage from the ship.  As if this conflict with nature weren't enough, he then has to face cannibals.  He finally gets off the island and he has a fight with a huge pack of wolves.

In other words, there's all sorts of action and adventure in this book.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial