Introduction to Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe was written by Daniel Defoe, a canonical foundation in the art of novel and story writing. It was long considered a true story instead of a work of fiction, causing confusion about the author with the hero of the story. It was first published in English on the 25th of April, 1719. Since its first publication, it has been termed a didactic, confessional, epistolary, and colonial story as well as a travelogue. The story of Robinson Crusoe spans over 28 years of his isolation on an island where he encounters different types of people and animals and learns to survive against all odds. The novel is also a subject of various critiques, picturizations, graphics, and even stage plays., Robinson Crusoe with its simple narrative style was well received in the world of literature and is often credited to being the beginning of realistic fiction in the genres of literary.
Summary of Robinson Crusoe
The storyline opens with Robinson Crusoe, an English boy, living in York of 17th century England. As the son of a German merchant, Crusoe is told during his childhood to study law, but his love for the sea does not hold him back from expressing his strong desire to his father about voyages to the far-off lands. His father, instead wanted him to find a secure job for himself. Robinson initially wanted to obey his father but could not resist the temptation of fulfilling his longing. So, despite staunch familial opposition and paternal advice, Robinson leaves for London after boarding a ship in the company of his friend. Although his friend leaves him on the next voyage, Robinson does not budge from his stand despite facing a terrible storm during the journey.
However, he wins some financial success after which he makes another plan for such a journey. He leaves his profits in the care of a nice widow. But, he then becomes a victim of Moorish pirates, as well as abduction and becomes, is enslaved to a ruler in the North African town of Sallee. During a fishing expedition, he along with a slave and sail through the coast of Africa. A kind Portuguese captain picks them up and buys the slave boy from Robinson. He takes him to Brazil where he becomes a plantation owner successfully. He then leaves for West Africa on a slave-gathering expedition to bring slaves for his plantation but faces a storm on the way in which his ship is wrecked on the coast of Trinidad.
When Robinson comes to his senses, he sees that he is the sole survivor of the shipwreck and that he would have to fend for himself. Soon he becomes busy making a shelter for himself and preparing food. He returns to the wreckage to extract some food, gunpowder, and a gun and creates a cross to write his date of arrival; September 1, 1659. Soon he becomes an inmate of a shelter he has prepared, rearing goats he finds there on the island. He also maintains a journal to keep a track of everything he does like cleaning his hut, grazing goats, attempts at making candles, discovering sprouting grain, etc. After a while, on June 1660, he finds himself on the deathbed due to an illness and an angel warns him to repent.
However, while drinking tobacco-steeped rum, he experiences exoneration from his sins as God relieves him from this sickness. Soon he busies himself surveying the area and finds that he is on an Island. He constructs a retreat for himself after he declares himself as to its king. He domesticates some animals, makes things of everyday use, and builds a boat for himself to navigate the sea around the island. When he rows around the Island one day, he nearly dies but is thankfully saved as he hears his parrot calling his name once he reaches the shore. Crusoe enjoys several years in peace with his pets and animals when one day he discovers footprints on the seashore. He first thinks that the footprints are that of the devil’s, but later decides that it must be the cannibals. Finally, he arms himself and creates an underground cellar for himself and his pets to live in safety. He hears gunshots yet does not discover anything except a shipwreck the following day.
When he investigates that shipwreck, he sees footprints of cannibals. This alarms him and he keeps a lookout for the cannibals. He later discovers one victim killed and several cannibals chasing another victim. This victim heads straight toward Crusoe who offers him protection, kills the pursuer, and makes others run for their lives. Robinson being well-armed kills most of the cannibals onshore. The victim Robinson saved, becomes his servant for life whom he names Friday to commemorate that day of his life. They start living together in that part of the island where Robinson has built his hut. He finds Friday to be intelligent and starts teaching him English and the biblical concepts of God, life, and death. He, on his part, explains to him about cannibals and tells him about the Spaniards who survived the shipwreck. After this, both of them build a boat but soon find cannibals with three victims landing on their seashore. They fire at them, making them flee for their lives, leaving four victims behind, one of who happens to be the father of Friday which makes him overjoyed. The four men return to Robinson Crusoe’s dwelling and he welcomes them to join his community permanently.
After some days, Friday announces the arrival of a ship with an alarm. When the boarders come on the island, they discover that they are rebels with some captives, including the captain of the ship, which was was taken in mutiny. They chase the mutineers around the island until they surrender, including their ringleader. They make the men bring the ship at which Robinson becomes much elated, showing them that the island is the English territory and that they cannot run away from justice. Finally, when he returns to his home in 1686, he finds that only two of his sisters are alive and the rest of the family members have breathed their last. After retrieving his money from his widow friend, he learns about his planation of Brazil and sells it to have more money that he donates to the widow and his sisters and turns into a catholic to lead a peaceful life. He gets married and after his wife died, Robinson finally leaves as a trader for the East Indies in 1694. He also revisits his island to see it being ruled well by the Spaniards and that it become a wealthy colony.
Major Themes in Robinson Crusoe
- Christianity: The theme of Christianity is significant in the course of the novel through the physical journey of Robinson Crusoe to the island that is also a representation of his spiritual journey to become a good Christian. His initial disregard of the religious beliefs confirms this proposition that he considers his life faithless due to the warning of his father about God has not blessed him. His dream about his non-repenting attitude and his study of the Bible on the island confirms this assumption that Robinson has turned to Christianity and is engaged in its propagation. Also, it gives him a way out from his confusion and provides him with some solace during these dark moments on the island. This long and arduous rumination about religion provides him some confirmation about his belief’s miracle in the shape of Friday, his servant, and an English captain. Some other such incidents and happenings, which first seem disastrous for him, later prove blessings only because of his leanings toward Christianity in that he considers them God’s will and care for him.
- Society: Society and social interaction is another major significant theme of the novel in that Robinson Crusoe flees from his family, including trying to escape from his middle-class social relations in England. It is, in a sense, an escape from responsibilities as well as the obligation of adhering to the social framework. However, when he lands on the island, he comes to know about the value of people and social relations and immediately makes Friday his companion to make a sense of the isolated living. His view of prioritizing his own life over that of the social life by leaving toward the sea shows that he is fed up with the society, which he, later, thinks is necessary for the balanced growth of an individual to survive. However, in another sense, it is also appropriate for an individual to be isolated to learn the value of society as Robinson learns it.
- Individuality: The novel shows the theme of individuality through Robinson Crusoe’s desire of leaving English society despite his father’s warnings. When he is shipwrecked and ends up on an island, he learns about his individuality and the difficulties a person faces when they remain away from society. He also learns to live a sustainable life of independence that is free from the stress of everyday preoccupations and tensions. His final return to the English society, however, confirms to him that the individuality of a person can only prosper in a balanced lifestyle in a social setup where he has the will to leave the social fabric and then return to it when he wants. Yet what he values the most is his liberty and freedom that no harassing father or torturing relations could make a person to be loaded with cares and preoccupations.
- Isolation: Isolation is torturing and also enriching from the social and spiritual point of view. Robinson Crusoe, when he faces himself all alone on the island, not only finds himself isolated from the society but also from his family and faith. However, this isolation from society teaches him the value of self-living and self-reliance, patience, and socialization. When he makes Friday his comrade, he also learns that isolation teaches a person to have others at his beck and call, though, it seems quite contradictory to his freedom-loving nature. This isolation and loneliness bring him close to God and Christianity as he starts preaching later in life after his return to England.
- Independent Living: Self-reliance or independent living is another theme that Robinson Crusoe highlights through his life on the island. When he is alone on the island, he builds his own hut, and also domesticates different animals for his benefit, and starts using Friday for himself, though, at the surface level he is imparting his knowledge. His acts of escape from the master and his plantation in Brazil and later its sale and purchase point to his thinking of living an independent life away from the fever and fret of the daily living of the English urban life.
- Civilization: The theme of civilization unfolds when Crusoe is stranded on an island following the shipwreck. He lives in the wild, taking the fittest of survival to his heart. However, he soon starts spreading civilization when he domesticates animals and parrots and teaches the English language and Christianity to Friday. In one sense, this becomes a tool to spread the civilization that Kipling has called a white man’s burden.
- Nature: Nature and the impact of its forces on human beings in setting the course of their lives is another major theme that Crusoe shows through his story. It entails not only human nature but also natural forces. When Crusoe does not pay heed to his father’s advice, it is the rebellion of his nature, but when he faces a shipwreck, it is the wrath of the natural forces. Ultimately, he comes to know that his own nature mixed with the natural forces could balance the life of a person.
- Colonialism: The novel is highly seductive in presenting the theme of colonialism. Robinson Crusoe’s desire to execute his voyages to different lands and his desire to materially profit from his voyages are a reflection of human desire and the English bent of mind. Although the sane voice of his father restrains him for some time, he finally breaks the barrier by setting out to different islands. His idea of having a plantation in Brazil and its final sale is also a sign of the colonial mind to profit from such ventures.
- Morality: The novel also shows the theme of the existence of a moral framework although it is mostly based on English and Christian morals. Robinson Crusoe considers it his moral duty to save Friday to whom he later teaches Christianity and civilization. He saves several others and kills the cannibals chasing them, considering it a morally upright task.
- Self-Reliance: Crusoe presents the theme of self-reliance through his character that he faces the question of his survival in provision and fending off the animals at the island.
Major Characters Robinson Crusoe
- Robinson Crusoe: Robinson Crusoe is the protagonist of the novel and demonstrates character traits that make him worthy of praise as the hero of the story. His persistence against his father’s advice of not leaving home for his voyages, his perseverance in building a boat and domesticate animals, and his hard work of teaching Friday and sharing The Gospel and English education set him apart in the list of heroes used in the stories of those times. In this connection, Robinson not only shows his resourcefulness but also his intelligence in that he is able to survive on the island and cultivate nature to assist him to leave the island that he ultimately does. His intelligence is also evidenced in his act of investing in the Brazil plantation and saving his life when he is on the boat. However, his character is not without flaws; he is, in a sense, incentivizing colonialism. Despite this, his generosity of giving gifts to his family and others, his assistance to humanity, and his concern for human beings are praiseworthy qualities that win him the love of his family and friends.
- Friday: Friday is the second significant character of Robinson Crusoe, who appears on the scene when Robinson saves him on the island from becoming a victim of the cannibals. However, it proves that he is inferior to him in physical use of power and also in intelligence. Robinson teaches him English language and introduces Christianity. Friday finally becomes his student, as Robinson also trains him to domesticate parrots and goats. Friday also provides solace to Robinson Crusoe in the torturing and trying isolation of the island and proves himself a comrade for him to assist him when he needs him the most. The appeal of his personality lies in the exotic attraction that he exudes for Crusoe when expressing his love for the English man.
- Portuguese Captain: The Captain saves Crusoe from the bloodthirsty Moors and permits him to board his ship to go to Brazil. Robinson Crusoe, in his turn, establishes himself as the owner of the plantation over there, becoming a rich man. The second time he comes into contact with Robinson is when he returns home and the captain ensures him the safety of his plantation in Brazil and Captain arranges to sell at a hefty profit and brings money to him. His timely and appropriate assistance to Robinson wins him laurels from the readers also which is suggestive of his being a tool for the entrepreneur spirit. His coincidental appearance for the second time in the novel suggests the role of providence in the course of the novel as a miracle where human beings seem looking toward God for divine assistance in mundane matters. His morally upright position in conducting safe deals for Robinson wins him the admiration of the readers.
- The English Captain: The English Captain is testimony to the Englishness of Robinson Crusoe when Robinson saves his life on the island. The captain promises to rescue Robinson to take him back. Both of them fight against the mutineers to wrest the ship from their possession and help each other to return to the crew/civilization. The meeting of both the English men also testifies to better ingenuity and education.
- The Spaniard: The Spaniard is saved by Robinson from becoming a likely victim of the cannibals after his ship was wrecked near the island where Robinson has been living. He becomes compliant to Crusoe, considering him the owner of the island, and works for him until he and Crusoe both leave the island for good.
- Xury: Xury lies is also a non-white character who becomes Robinson’s friend when both of them join hands with slaves to escape Sallee island in a boat when others flee but they stay on the boat. Robinson, however, sells this pliant boy to the Portuguese captain, showing the English mentality of occupying human beings and humanity of that time.
- Robinson Crusoe’s Wife: Robinson Crusoe’s wife lives a respectable life in England with their children. However, when she departs from the scene after her death, he again takes to his addiction to voyaging and leaves England, showing the power of femininity of settling down the patriarchal wayward spirit.
- The Widow: A widow is an honest person who keeps Robinson’s 200 pounds safe when he travels around the world and continues for more than three decades. Her goodwill extends to Robinson Crusoe when he returns and gets back his money.
- Will Atkins: Will Atkins is known for his rebellion against the English captain who later refuses to forgive him due to his severity toward him during the mutiny. However, Robinson leaves him on the island to save his life.
- Robinson Crusoe’s Nephews and Sisters: Robinson’s family members, his two sisters, and nephews are minor and known for his familial relations. He brings them up with English traditions, making one of them a sailor and the other a good gentleman.
Writing Style of Robinson Crusoe
The writing style of Daniel Defoe in Robinson Crusoe is simple and direct in the first-person narrative as told by Robinson himself, the main narrator. The presentation of details to show realism through a travelogue demonstrates the journalistic capability of the author but at the same time, he has also used long sentences and spare use of adjectives. As far as the devices are concerned, the author is dexterous in the use of metaphors and extended similes along with rhetorical devices of pathos, ethos, and logos. The use of navigational jargon and maritime vocabulary has also played a role in lending credence to Robinson’s story.
Analysis of the Literary Devices in Robinson Crusoe
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises the whole life, growth, and voyages of Robinson Crusoe until the end of his life in England. The rising action occurs when Crusoe shows disobedience to his father and leaves for a voyage with a merchant. The falling action occurs when he faces a shipwreck on his second adventure and finds himself stranded on an island at the mercy of animals and cannibals.
- Allegory: The novel is an allegory as it shows Crusoe justifying his actions on moral and religious grounds when he starts teaching Christianity and the English language to Friday.
- Allusion: The novel shows good use of different allusions such as,
i. I knew where my Patroon’s Case of Bottles stood, which it was evident by the make were taken out of some English Prize; and I convey’d them into the Boat while the Moor was on Shoar, as if they had been there before, for our Master: I convey’d also a great Lump of Bees-Wax into the Boat, which weighed above half a Hundred Weight, with a Parcel of Twine or Thread, a Hatchet, a Saw and a Hammer, all which were of great Use to us afterwards; especially the Wax to make Candles. (77)
ii. As I had been one Voyage to this Coast before, I knew very well that the Islands of the Canaries, and the Cape de Verd Islands also, lay not far off from the Coast. (81)
iii. The same Day I went on board we set sail, standing away to the Northward upon our own Coast, with Design to stretch over for the Affrican Coast, when they came about or Degrees of Northern Latitude, which it seems was the manner of their Course in those Days. (93)
iv. Notion of Jesus Christ being sent to redeem us, and of the Manner of making our Prayers to God, and his being able to hear us, even into Heaven; he told me one Day, that if our God could hear us upbeyond the Sun, he must needs be a greater God than their Benamuckee, who liv’d but a little way off, and yet could not hear, till they went up to the great Mountains where he dwelt, to speak to him. (240)
The first example shows allusions of navigation and marine life, the second of geographical locations, the third of geographical jargon, and the last of Biblical tales.
- Antagonist: Natural calamities and sea storms are the main antagonists of the novel as they appear to obstruct all avenues for Robinson Crusoe to force him to try his surviving human skills.
- Conflict: The novel shows both external as well as internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Robinson Crusoe and his father, then between Crusoe and cannibals and animals, and then between Crusoe and the mutineers. The internal conflict, however, is going on in the mind of Crusoe about his actions and his behavior vis-à-vis the advice of his father.
- Characters: The novel shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The young man, Robinson Crusoe, is a dynamic character as he shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the novel. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Friday, The English captain, Xury, or even his father.
- Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when Robinson Crusoe finds himself trapped on the island after confronting the storm in which his ship is wrecked.
- Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows such as,
i. I Was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York,* of a good Family, tho’ not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen,*who settled first at Hull. (62)
ii. I observed in this last Part of his Discourse, which was truly Prophetick, tho’ I suppose my Father did not know it to be so himself; I say, I observed the Tears run down his Face very plentifully. (64)
The mention of his father, his father’s profession, and then of his own tears show that Crusoe is going to have trying times ahead.
- Hyperbole: The novel shows various examples of hyperboles such as,
i. I expected every Wave would have swallowed us up, and that every time the Ship fell down, as I thought, in the Trough or Hollow of the Sea. (66)
ii. I got up out of my Cabbin, and look’d out; but such a dismal Sight I never saw: The Sea went Mountains high, and broke upon us every three or four Minutes. (68)
iii. Then all Hands were called to the Pump. At that very Word my Heart, as I thought, died within me, and I fell backwards upon the Side of my Bed where I sat, into the Cabbin. (70)
These examples exaggerate things as the wave swallowing up, the sea high as mountains, and the heart has died.
- Imagery: Robinson Crusoe shows the use of imagery as shown in the below examples,
i. It happen’d one time, that going a fishing in a stark calm Morning, a Fog rose so thick, that tho’ we were not half a League from the Shoar we lost Sight of it; and rowing we knew not whither or which way, we labour’d all Day and all the next Night, and when the Morning came we found we had pull’d off to Sea instead of pulling in for the Shoar; and that we were at least two Leagues from the Shoar:
However we got well in again, tho’ with a great deal of Labour, and some Danger; for the Wind began to blow pretty fresh in the Morning; but particularly we were all very hungry. (76)
ii. The Mouth of this Hollow, was at the Bottom of a great Rock, where by meer accident, (I would say, if I did not see abundant Reason to ascribe all such Things now to Providence) I was cutting down some thick Branches of Trees, to make Charcoal; and before I go on, I must observe the Reason of my making this Charcoal; which was thus. (206)
These two examples show images of color, light, and sight.
- Metaphor: Robinson Crusoe shows good use of various metaphors as given in the below examples,
i. I cast my Eyes to the stranded Vessel, when the Breach and Froth of the Sea being so big, I could hardly see it, it lay so far off, and considered, Lord! how was it possible I could get on Shore? (98)
ii. My Thoughts were now wholly employ’d about securing my self against either Savages, if any should appear, or wild Beasts, if any were in the Island. (107)
iii. How can he sweeten the bitterest Providences, and give us Cause to praise him for Dungeons and Prisons. What a Table was here spread for me in a Wilderness, where I saw nothing at first but to perish for Hunger. (182)
These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel such as the first shows his eyes as if they are a net, the second his thoughts as if they are hooks, and the last the island as if it is a table.
- Mood: The novel shows various moods; it starts on a happy and optimistic note but turns out highly somber and dreadful as it moves and ends in a hopeful mood.
- Motif: Most important motifs of the novel are isolation, individuality, society, and religion.
- Narrator: The novel is narrated from the first-person point of view, who is the protagonist, Robinson Crusoe. The novel starts when he starts his narrative of navigating the seas and ends when he returns home after long voyages.
- Personification: The novel shows examples of personifications such as,
i. The Wave that came upon me again, buried me at once 20 or 30 Foot deep in its own Body; and I could feel my self carried with a mighty Force and Swiftness towards the Shore a very great Way. (97)
ii. She lay almost where she did at first, but not quite; and was turn’d by the Force of the Waves and the Winds almost Bottom upward, against a high Ridge of Beachy rough Sand; but no Water about her as before. (163)
iii. In my viewing the Sea from that Hill where I stood, I perceiv’d a strong, and indeed, a most furious Current, which run to the East, and even came close to the Point; and I took the more Notice of it, because I saw there might be some Danger; that when I came into it. (174)
These examples show as if the waves, boat, and the sea have the life of their own.
- Protagonist: Robinson Crusoe is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry and moves forward as he grows young and takes up to voyaging across the oceans and living on the islands.
- Rhetorical Questions: The novel shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places such as,
i. But judge you, if you can, that read my Story, what a Surprize I must be in, when I was
wak’d out of my Sleep by a Voice calling me by my Name several times, Robin, Robin, Robin Crusoe, poor Robin Crusoe, where are you Robin Crusoe? Where are you? Where have you been? (178)
ii. I do not mean, that I entertain’d any Fear of their Number; for as they were naked, unarm’d Wretches, ’tis certain I was superior to them; nay, though I had been alone; but it occurr’d to my Thoughts, What Call? What Occasion? much less, What Necessity I was in to go and dip my Hands in Blood, to attack People, who had neither done, or intended me any Wrong? (252)
This example shows the use of rhetorical questions posed by Robinson Crusoe to himself not to elicit answers but to stress upon the underlined idea.
- Setting: The setting of the novel is somewhere in Africa, Brazil, and then some island in the Atlantic as well as England.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes as given in the examples below,
i. I added a Wick of some Oakum, I made me a Lamp; and this gave me Light, tho’ not a clear steady Light like a Candle. (67)
ii. I made me a Cave just behind my Tent, which serv’d me like a Cellar to my House. (109)
iii. I went out with my Gun and kill’d two Fowls like Ducks, which were very good Food. (119)
iv. I had a short Jacket of Goat-Skin, the Skirts coming down to about the middle of my Thighs; and a Pair of open-knee’d Breeches of the same, the Breeches were made of the Skin of an old He-goat, whose Hair hung down such a Length on either Side, that like Pantaloons it reach’d to the middle of my Legs; Stockings and Shoes I had none, but had made me a Pair of some-things, I scarce know what to call them, like Buskins to flap over my Legs, and lace on either Side like Spatter-dashes; but of a most barbarous Shape, as indeed were all the rest of my Cloaths. (184)
These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things.