illustration of a man standing on an island and looking out at the ocean with the title Robison Crusoe written in the sky

Robinson Crusoe

by Daniel Defoe

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Chapters 1-2 Summary

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Last Updated on April 27, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 440

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 sheds tears that move Crusoe.

Crusoe puts the matter aside for a few weeks and then approaches his mother. He asks her to speak to his father and encourage him to relent, but his mother refuses to go against her husband, even if she could change his mind. However, she reports this conversation to the elder Crusoe, who is adamant in refusing his consent. He believes (prophetically) that the life of a sailor will make his son “the most miserable wretch that was ever born.”

A year later, at the age of nineteen, Crusoe’s friends convince him to travel to London by sea. He joins up as a crew member so his passage will be free. When the wind and the sea pick up, Crusoe becomes seasick, and he regrets ignoring his father’s advice. He fears for his life and vows never to set foot on a ship again if he is ever blessed to return to land. The following day, the sea is calmer. Crusoe’s shipmate teases him for being so sick and fearful, stating that was nothing but a small squall. To celebrate, Crusoe joins with the other sailors in getting drunk—he quickly forgets his resolve to return to the shore.

The storm has slowed their travel. After several days, a much stronger storm overtakes them, frightening the entire crew, even those seasoned to such weather. Crusoe hides in his cabin as the sailors pray for deliverance. When the ship nears shore, they fire a cannon as a signal to those on land that rescue is required; a steady leak has sprung. A nearby ship sends out a boat to retrieve the crew from Crusoe’s ship. The crew escapes from the ship before it sinks and eventually makes landfall. The magistrates of the town give them lodging and money to return home.

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Chapters 3-4 Summary