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...

(The entire section is 816 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The story begins in mid-seventeenth-century York, with a brief account of Robinson Crusoe's early years. From there it moves to the Moorish...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Robinson Crusoe is a fictional autobiography written from a first-person point of view, apparently...

(The entire section is 685 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Robinson Crusoe is an artistic achievement that is recognized as a major contribution to the development of English prose fiction....

(The entire section is 186 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Robinson Crusoe contains references to two issuesracism and religionthat should be addressed by parents and teachers of precocious...

(The entire section is 265 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1600s: Religion is a central focus of life. Many European countries—such as England, Spain, the Netherlands, and...

(The entire section is 245 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. In what ways does Robinson Crusoe attempt to "civilize" his environment? How successful is he in these attempts? How does his environment...

(The entire section is 168 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. The true story of Alexander Selkirk, popularized in various narratives during the eighteenth century, is generally held to be the major...

(The entire section is 268 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Research the ecological impact of colonialism. Use your research to explain the problematic overpopulation of cats on the island in the...

(The entire section is 184 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Delighted with the incredible success of Robinson Crusoe, Defoe followed it four months later with Farther Adventures of Robinson...

(The entire section is 252 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Aidan Quinn played the title role in Crusoe, the 1989 film version of Defoe's novel. Published by Gale Cengage

Since the silent black-and-white film in 1916 with Robert Paton Gibbs, there have been some sixteen film adaptations of Robinson...

(The entire section is 123 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Another of Defoe's fictional biographies, The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, was published in 1722. It is the...

(The entire section is 332 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Bell, Ian. Defoe's Fiction. London: Croom Helm, 1985. Although a bit scholarly in tone, this study provides a good chapter on reading...

(The entire section is 175 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Joyce Appleby, Capitalism and a New Social Order. The Republican Vision of the 1790s, New York...

(The entire section is 461 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Damrosch, Leopold, Jr. God’s Plot and Man’s Stories. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Damrosch devotes a chapter to Robinson Crusoe, which he reads largely within the context of Puritan doctrine. The result is a first-rate and highly recommended discussion of the work.

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Edited by Michael Shinagel. New York: W. W. Norton, 1994. The perfect beginner’s guide to Defoe’s great novel. In addition to an authoritative text of Robinson Crusoe, Shinagel provides selections from twentieth century criticism, a bibliography, and a set of very useful contextual materials.

McKeon, Michael. The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987. A large and challenging work, which includes a readable and rewarding chapter on Robinson Crusoe.

Rogers, Pat. Robinson Crusoe. London: Allen and Unwin, 1979. A rich source book for the study of Defoe’s most famous work. Provides, among many other useful materials, a brief account of Defoe’s life, chapters entitled “Travel, Trade, and Empire” and “Religion and Allegory,” a full bibliography, and two appendices containing pre-Robinson Crusoe accounts of Alexander Selkirk (the castaway who inspired Defoe’s fictional character).

Watt, Ian. Myths of Modern Individualism: Faust, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Robinson Crusoe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Ian Watt studies the origins and literary uses of Don Quixote, Don Juan, Faust, and Robinson Crusoe as pervasive myths of the modern individualist world.

Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964. First published in 1957, Watt’s study remains, in spite of numerous challenges, one of the key works in the field of early English fiction. He devotes a long and fascinating chapter to Robinson Crusoe.