Robinson Crusoe Analysis
by Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download Robinson Crusoe Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*England. Home of Robinson Crusoe. When the novel opens, England is being ruled by Oliver Cromwell during the Puritan Revolution, and the middle class to which the young Crusoe belongs is expanding rapidly. To Crusoe, England promises a future of hard, monotonous work and strict Puritanism, so he takes passage on a ship looking for adventure elsewhere. Years later, he returns to England, made prosperous by his long years of work and struggle, and embraces the faith of his father.


*Sallee (sahl-LAY; now known as Salé). North African seaport in what is now known as Morocco that is the base of pirates who attack Crusoe’s ship and make him a slave. After two years in captivity in Sallee, Crusoe is rescued by a Portuguese captain, who advises him to return to England. However, Crusoe, still young and defiant, ignores the advice by continuing his travels.


*Brazil. Portuguese colony to which the Portuguese captain takes Crusoe. There, Crusoe sets up a sugar and tobacco plantation. After a few years, the plantation begins to show a profit, but Crusoe remains restless. Intent on making a fortune, and in need of labor, he leads a slaving expedition to West Africa. Shipwrecked before he reaches Africa, he is marooned on an uninhabited island.

Crusoe’s island

Crusoe’s island. Island on which Crusoe is marooned by himself, located somewhere off the northern coast of South America. With only the clothes on his back and odds and ends he salvages from the wrecked ship, Crusoe spends the next twenty-eight years of his life on the island. During his stay, Crusoe works diligently, building not only a serviceable home, but also almost every convenience to which he was accustomed in England. He thereby ironically ends up following the very Puritan dictates that he originally left England to escape.

On the island, Crusoe develops a sense of wholehearted inventiveness, precisely in keeping with Puritan dictates and, most important, returns to the Protestant religion he spurned by going to sea. With the help of his slave Friday, whom he rescues from cannibalism after twenty-four years completely alone, he builds a home, grows his food, makes clothes from animal skins, keeps animals, and builds a boat. By the end of the novel, when he is rescued and returned safely to England, he has amassed a fortune and becomes a gentleman. Thus, the island provides a means for him to move up the social ladder and climb out of his middle-class beginnings.

Although Crusoe spurns his father’s Protestant religion by going to sea, the deserted island is instrumental in his return to his father’s faith. As in the Bible’s prodigal son narrative and many Puritan-conversion narratives of Defoe’s era, Crusoe is lost in the wilderness but returns after a period of intense suffering, becomes repentant, and finds forgiveness.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

In the second half of the seventeenth century, trade between England, Europe, and overseas colonies boosted the British economy. This map depicts the triangular exchange of goods and slave labor that both Defoe and his protagonist practiced. Published by Gale Cengage

Dissenters (also Nonconformists) is a term that refers to Protestant ministers and congregations (among them: Quakers, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Baptists) who rejected the authority of the Anglican Church. Dissenters refused to participate in Anglican services, take communion, or conform to the tenants of the Church of England under the 1662 Act of Uniformity and the later Five Mile Act.

The Act of Uniformity decreed that all ministers adhere to the Book of Common Prayer. Those who refused were penalized by the Five Mile Act, which ordered that lawbreakers could not come within five miles of their home parish or town.

When William and Mary assumed the throne in 1688, their need for money and their belief in tolerance prompted them to pass the Toleration Act of 1689. This law allowed Dissenters to license their meeting houses with their own ministers, provided they took oaths of allegiance to England according to the Test Act.

The Restoration
When Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) came to power in England in 1653 he instituted a strict government based on Puritan principles. Although this...

(The entire section is 4,135 words.)