Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe book cover
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What happens in Robinson Crusoe?

In Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe washes up on an uninhabited island on the North American coast. He lives there for twenty-eight years, documenting his physical and spiritual growth in his journal. Then one day a British ship sails by the island, and he is rescued.

  • In the mid 17th century, Robinson Crusoe begins his career as a sailor, against the wishes of his parents, who would prefer him to go into law.
  • Crusoe survives a deadly shipwreck in the Caribbean and manages to set up a camp for himself on an uninhabited island. Much of the story follows the time Crusoe spent building his shelter and other things to make his life more comfortable. He documents his gardening, goat raising, and hunting, as well as his religious reflections.

  • Many years after the shipwreck, Crusoe rescues a prisoner from a group of cannibals who land on his island. He names this man Friday, converts him to Christianity, and enjoys his company.

  • Later, he sees a British ship sailing by. The crew has recently mutinied, but with the help of the captain he's able to take the ship. He returns to England briefly, where he has been disinherited, because his father had believed Crusoe to be dead upon his own death, but soon sets out on another adventure.

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical 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 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...

(The entire section is 1,025 words.)