You are on page 1of 3

Robinson Crusoe is a story of adventure and ingenuity, and also a

travel narrative in which the hero journeys to Africa, Brazil, China, and Siberia,
and then is shipwrecked on a deserted island. But to view the novel as simply a
fascinating travelogue is to ignore much of what makes it valuable and interesting
to modern readers.
Throughout the narrative, Defoe details an individuals struggle to survive in
basically hostile surroundings. As part of his day-to-day existence, Robinson
Crusoe faces starvation, illness, pain, possible insanity, even danger from
cannibals, but he salvages what he can from the shipwreck and provides himself
with shelter and rudimentary furniture and tools. Through ingenuity, hard work,
and common sense, he improvises many of the comforts to which he was
accustomed in England. Crusoe never broods about his isolation; rather he
occupies his time productively and triumphs over his unpromising environment,
thus becoming an example of the triumph of the human spirit.
Extremely popular with the reading public of Defoes day, Robinson Crusoe is for
the modern reader an excellent introduction to the way of life of the average 17thcentury Englishman. A member of the large and prosperous middle class,
Robinson Crusoe is a practical and materialistic man who believes in success and
in trade, who aspires to better himself socially and financially, and who tries to live
a carefully controlled and documented life. Like many of his contemporaries,
Crusoe scrupulously keeps a journal in which he records his daily activities and his
observations about his situation. Crusoe is also deeply religious. He sees Gods
will manifested in the everyday events of his life and frequently records his
thoughts on the role of Providence in the affairs of humans. The character of
Robinson Crusoe embodies the 17th-century individuals struggle between the
pursuit of money and the pursuit of God.
Robinson Crusoe is important historically as one of the prototypes of the modern
novel in English. Defoes tale contains many novelistic elements, among them the
creation of believable characters and a world that is both recognizable and exotic.

The story begins in mid-17th-century York, with a brief account of


Robinson Crusoes early years. From there it moves to the Moorish port of Sallee,

where Crusoe is imprisoned after his capture by pirates, and then to Brazil, where
he sets up as a planter after his escape. From his Brazilian plantation, Crusoe sets
out on an African voyage that ends in shipwreck; the sole survivor, Crusoe lives
his next 28 years on a deserted island.
Situated off the South American coast, Crusoes new home is a small hilly island
populated only by wild animals and birds. Crusoe is unfamiliar with most of the
terrains luxuriant vegetation, but he finds sugar cane and tobacco plants, melon
and grape vines, and citrus trees. On a journey to the far side of the island, he sees
a nearby land mass that he is unable to identify. In stark contrast to the teeming
city where Crusoe was born and raised, the island is an unspoiled paradise, an
example of untamed nature.

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 fathers 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.
Robinson Crusoes 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 Crusoes, is depicted as a savagea 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 Crusoes 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 Crusoes 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 Crusoes education of Friday. Furthermore, Crusoes journal
contains several passages in which he reflects on time and labor and the acquisition
of material possessions.

Robinson Crusoe is an artistic achievement that is recognized as a major


contribution to the development of English prose fiction. Especially interesting are
the narrative devices that Defoe employs to lend verisimilitude-the appearance of
reality-to his story.
Although Defoe is writing fiction, he creates the impression that his tale is a true
story by including a preface in which he identifies himself as the editor of the tale.
Also contributing to the apparent authenticity of the story are the use of a firstperson narrator, the frequent mention of dates and real places in Crusoes account
of his early life, and the inclusion of specific details and accurate descriptions.
Defoe frequently uses images drawn from everyday life and from nature, images
that underscore Robinson Crusoes middle-class origins and tastes. The similes and
metaphors draw on nature and are written in language that recalls biblical proverbs.
The books plot is loose, rambling, and disorganized, but it contains a rich variety
of interesting or amusing or fascinating episodes, all of which display Defoes
characteristic celebration of human ingenuity and his own superb command of
detail and imagery.