Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 205
Robinson Crusoe, a self-sufficient Englishman who, after several adventures at sea and on land, is cast away on a small, almost uninhabited island. A practical, farsighted man of talents, he sets about making his island home comfortable, utilizing all his knowledge. His prudence and industry, aided by an imaginative insight, enable him to pass twenty-four years on the island, providing for himself in every way from the resources of the island itself and what he is able to salvage from the shipwreck that puts him in his predicament. A God-fearing man, he reads his Bible and gives thanks each day for his delivery from death. Eventually, he is rescued and returns to England after an absence of thirty-five years, only to go traveling again.
Mr. Crusoe, Robinson Crusoe’s father, a middle-class Englishman. He wants his son to go into business and remain at home, rather than go to sea.
Friday, a native of a nearby island rescued from cannibal captors by Robinson Crusoe. He proves to be an apt pupil and learns how to participate in his rescuer’s life and labors. He learns to speak English and becomes a friend and companion, as well as a fellow laborer.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 346
Robinson Crusoe, narrated in the first person, is dominated by the title character. The other major character, Friday, appears after two-thirds of the narrative has been told.
Crusoe is adventurous by nature. Against his father's "serious and excellent counsel," Crusoe embarks on the seafaring career that he feels will satisfy his "wandering inclination." Even late in life, after his return to England, where he marries and has three children and is later widowed, Crusoe once again heads out to sea for another long voyage that takes him to China.
I learned to look more upon the bright side of my condition, and less upon the dark side...
Robinson Crusoe's character is a study in contradictions. He is by turns an ardent capitalist and an introspective Christian; a wanderer attracted to adventure and a civilized Englishman who creates a cozy dwelling for himself; a believer in the dignity of the human being and a slave trader. Defoe portrays these contradictions as typical characteristics of a middle-class English Protestant tradesman of the period.
By contrast, Friday, a native of an island close to Crusoe's, is depicted as a savage—a reformed cannibal. Crusoe sees Friday as his "faithful, loving, sincere servant"; in fact, the first English word Crusoe teaches Friday to say is "Master."
Many of the important themes in Robinson Crusoe are embodied in the title character and in his interaction with Friday. Through the story of Crusoe's sojourn on the island, Defoe comments at length on several social and philosophical concepts. The novel is an allegory for a progression from spiritual alienation to salvation in that Crusoe's life moves from rebellion to punishment to conversion and finally to deliverance. But Robinson Crusoe is also an economic document, with its focus on the taming of a wild environment, its portrayal of Crusoe as a man who keeps a careful record of his projects and crops, and its depiction of the colonial impulse in Crusoe's education of Friday. Furthermore, Crusoe's journal contains several passages in which he reflects on time and labor and the acquisition of material possessions.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 945
Captain of the Guinea Trading Ship
Arriving in London, Crusoe happens to meet the master of a ship bound for Guinea. The two men become friends, and Crusoe decides to make the journey too. Unfortunately, the man dies en route to Guinea.
The widow of Crusoe's friend the Captain of the Guinea Trading Ship is one of the two substantial female characters in the book. A trustworthy friend, she watches his money and becomes his London agent.
These responsibilities are appropriate to the gender roles governing the London financial district. Women as well as men were investors in the Bank of England—affectionately known as the lady of Threadneedle Street.
Comrade in Hull
Crusoe meets a friend in Hull who offers him a trip to London. This friend represents the youth of the English mercantile class as well as a life of adventure. He inspires Crusoe in his dreams of a life at sea.
The Comrade's Father
The Comrade's father is the master of the first vessel Crusoe travels on in Yarmouth, where he goes to recover. When his comrade tells his father that Crusoe was on the vessel as a sailor, he tells Crusoe that he ought to give up seafaring.
The Comrade's father resembles Crusoe's own father. They are both old-fashioned men and fearful of change. For them, a man's destiny is determined at birth.
The protagonist of Defoe's fictional autobiography, Crusoe is an adventurous man who rejects the expectations of his family and the constraints of the English middle class for a life on the high seas. After a devastating wreck at sea—of which he is the only survivor—he is forced to confront his fear about being alone in order to survive the harsh demands of his solitary existence.
Crusoe is not by nature a brave man. In time, his reason grows sharper and he conquers his fears. In fact, for a time he wanders the island without any weaponry. He learns how to do many diverse tasks, such as making an ax, baking bread, and building an elaborate shelter. When faced with marauding cannibals, he attacks them and rescues their captives. Finally, when he returns to London, he is able to readjust to English life and even gets married and has a family.
Friday is a native rescued by Crusoe; the young man eventually becomes his loyal servant. He is described by Crusoe as a Creole—a mix of African and Indian—and represents the wildness of nature. Through his relationship with Friday, Crusoe is able to confront his fear of the native people of the region.
When Friday offers to exchange ideas with Crusoe on religion or technology, Crusoe refuses to learn from his knowledge. For example, when they begin to build a boat together, Friday wants to show Crusoe how to burn out the inside. Crusoe, however, insists on the more laborious method of using a hatchet. Crusoe's reluctance to treat Friday as an equal symbolizes general European attitudes toward "the savage."
Eventually, Friday becomes Europeanized, accepting English customs and religious concepts. He symbolizes the process of colonialization.
Crusoe's father is an immigrant from the town of Bremen, Germany. A merchant by trade, Mr. Kreutznaer's name is changed in England to Crusoe. He is a "wise and grave man" who pleads with Crusoe to give up his notions of adventure and settle in England at a solid middle-class occupation like law.
Although his mother refuses to intercede on Crusoe's behalf and win him his father's blessing, she does support her son in private. She represents the "proper woman" referred to at the end—a hard worker who is not afraid of risks.
The Old Savage is one of the captives rescued by Crusoe and Friday; surprisingly, he turns out to be Friday's father. He too pledges allegiance to Crusoe.
The Portuguese Captain's ship rescues Crusoe from Africa, takes him to Brazil, and purchases Xury. He also helps invest Crusoe's money and acts as a father figure for him. He is an honest pilot of his crew and vessel and he serves Crusoe faithfully.
The Spaniard is one of the captives rescued by Crusoe and Friday. After they release and give him a weapon, the group is able to kill many of the cannibals. The Spaniard turns out to be an honest fellow who advises Crusoe to expand the plantation. The Spaniard's belief in Roman Catholicism is of no importance to Crusoe; what matters to him is that the Spaniard has a good work ethic and a true sense of honor.
Mr. Wells is Crusoe's Portuguese neighbor; his plantation is next to Crusoe's in Brazil. Crusoe and Mr. Wells exchange labor and help each other when needed—a common practice for colonizers at that time. Accordingly, they become good friends and look out for each other's affairs. It is Wells who takes over the management of Crusoe's estate while he lives on his island. Wells represents the settler and plantation operator.
Xury is a servant that is forced into slavery with Crusoe. Fortunately, they are able to escape their masters. Xury, like Friday, naturally assumes the role of obedient and affectionate slave. Xury represents a European's notion of the non-European. He has better natural instincts—he is a natural hunter, a hide processor, he can see better at night (or day, for it is Xury who spots the Portuguese ship), and his sense of self-preservation is keener. Xury agrees to being sold into slavery on the condition that if he converts to Christianity he will be free in ten years.
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