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.
Themes and Characters
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.
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.
(The entire section is 1,496 words.)