A Novel of Adventure by Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2006
.......Robinson Crusoe is an adventure novel presented as an autobiography by the fictional character Robinson Crusoe. The novel was published in London on April 25, 1719, by William Taylor in the Ship at Pater Noster Row. The preface pretends that the account of Crusoe's adventures is nonfiction, saying, "The Editor believes the thing to be a just History of Fact; neither is there any Appearance of Fiction in it."
.......Robinson Crusoe is the shortened version of the title of Daniel Defoe's novel. The full title appearing in the 1719 book was The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.
.......The time is the second half of the seventeenth century, from 1651 to 1694. The places include the following:
Africa: Guinea and coastal regions to the south
South America: Brazil and an island off northeast Venezuela, near the mouth of the Orinoco River
Continental Europe: Lisbon, Portugal; Madrid and other Spanish cities; Toulouse, Paris, and Calais, France
Robinson Crusoe (bornRobinson
Kreutznaer): Englishman with a yearning to go to sea and conduct trade.
Crusoe is an intelligent, curious, independent, hard-working, and risk-taking
man who undergoes a spiritual awakening on the island on which he is marooned.
He never loses his desire to travel and even returns later to the island
on which he spent nearly three decades. Crusoe is a capitalist who believes
in middle-class values. In his relations with non-Caucasians, he believes
his proper role is as master rather than servant. He is suspicious of Catholics,
although he generally gets along with them. In literature, Crusoe has become
something of an archetype, representing any man or woman struggling alone
against the forces of nature and against his or her own inner fears.
York, England, where he was born in 1632, eighteen-year-old Robinson Crusoe
yearns for a life of adventure on the high seas. His two brothers previously
left home. One, a lieutenant-colonel in an English regiment, died at Flanders
fighting Spaniards. The other simply left and was never heard from again.
.......The next day, Crusoe returns to the ship for more supplies: nails, spikes, a grindstone, bullets, muskets, another fowling piece, more gunpowder and shot, clothes, a hammock, and bedding. Aboard the ship are two cats and a dog. He carries the cats back to shore while the dog swims on his own. At least he now has living beings to keep him company. He continues to return to the ship over the next several days to pick it clean of supplies, including knives, forks, scissors, razors, fountain pens, ink, and paper. He stores most of his supplies in a tent fashioned out of sails. The tent sits next to a hollow worn into a hillside.
.......In time, he finds grapes, lemons, and other fruits, as well as vegetables, growing abundantly. After discovering wild goats on the island, he learns how to raise them and make cheese, milk, and butter. He also uses them as a source of meat, along with pigeons and turtles. For company, he tames a parrot and teaches it to speak in the first few years of his residence on the island. Eventually, he takes on a wild look, having a beard and wearing goatskin apparel. Over his head, he wears a goatskin umbrella.
.......Prayer becomes extremely important, a means to seek forgiveness for his sins, including the sin of ignoring his father's advice. He reads the Bible, and it offers him solace against his loneliness.
.......Many years pass. Crusoe comes to appreciate the peace and quiet of his little world, in which he is both ruler and subject. One day, he makes a startling discovery: a human footprint in the sand.
.......Several more years pass. One night, the sound of gunfire startles him. In the morning, he finds the wreckage of a ship and, later, human remains along the shore. From a lookout, he spies savages around a fire over which they cook human beings. Cannibals! They have just finished eating victims. When they are preparing two more men for the fire, Crusoe charges them with two muskets and a sword. He manages to rescue and befriend one of the men, a young savage. So grateful is the man that he pledges to serve Crusoe forever, and Crusoe names him Friday after the day of the week on which he effected the rescue. "I . . . taught him to say Master," Crusoe says, "and then let him know that was to be my name: I likewise taught him to say Yes and No and to know the meaning of them."
.......Crusoe outfits Friday with clothes–linen underpants from the ship, a goatskin jerkin, and a cap of hare skin. Over time, Crusoe teaches Friday elementary English and the rudiments of the Christian religion, which Friday adopts. One day Crusoe asks Friday how he came to be captured, and Friday says the “nation" of savages to which he belongs was overpowered by an enemy nation that greatly outnumbered Friday’s nation. "They more many than my nation, in the place where me was," Friday says. "They take one, two, three, and me."
.......Friday says the enemy nation of cannibals is holding the crew of the wrecked ship. They decide to construct a boat to visit the land where the captives are held. In the interim, however, a boat of cannibals arrives with three more victims. Crusoe and Friday manage to save two of them, a Spaniard and Friday’s father, who reunites with his son. The Spaniard is one of the crew of the wrecked ship. Months later, the Spaniard and Friday’s father go out in the newly constructed boat to bring back the rest of the Spaniards.
.......While those two are gone, Crusoe and Friday sight an English ship. (It arrived at the island after a stop in Jamaica, Crusoe discovers later.) Fourteen men from it row ashore in a longboat. Three of the men are captives of the others. While the captives sit under a tree, the other men enter the woods to sleep or to explore. Crusoe then reveals himself to one of the captives, who explains his situation: He is the captain of the ship, and the men with him are the first mate and a passenger. The men in the woods are mutineers; they brought only one gun from the ship. Their ringleaders are two “desperate villains," the captain says. If they are subdued, he says, the rest of the men would return to the ship and abandon their mutiny. Crusoe gives the three men firearms and, moments later, they confront the men in the woods. They kill one man and wound another. When the latter cries for help from the rest of the mutineers, the captain tells him to make peace with God, then strikes him with the butt of his musket “so that he never spoke more." The other men surrender and plead for mercy, and the captain says he will spare them if they agree to man the ship. The mutineers vow to be loyal, and the captain believes them.
.......In December of 1686, with Friday accompanying him, Crusoe returns to England on the ship manned by most of the restored and repentant crew. A few of the mutineers remain on the island to escape the wrath of English justice. After arriving in England on June 11, 1687, Crusoe discovers that his father and mother are dead but that relatives of the family live in Yorkshire. Businessmen with an interest in the ship and its cargo–grateful that Crusoe had saved the vessel and its crew–reward him with 200 pounds sterling.
.......After traveling to Lisbon in search of records about his lands in Brazil, Crusoe learns that his plantation has made him incredibly wealthy:
.......Crusoe marries and becomes the father of a daughter and two sons. After his wife dies, Crusoe goes to sea again in 1694, this time to the East Indies as a private trader. Along the way, he visits his island and discovers that the Spaniards (the men whom Friday’s father and the Spaniard from the wrecked ship went to fetch in a boat) and the mutineers left behind now live there.
......."Five of them [had] made an attempt upon the mainland," Crusoe writes, "and brought away eleven men and five women prisoners, by which, at my coming, I found about twenty young children on the island."
.......Crusoe remains on the island 20 days. Before he leaves, he gives the islanders weapons and ammunition, clothing, and two craftsmen, a carpenter and a smith. He then goes on to Brazil and there purchases a boat on which he sends back to the island more supplies, seven more women, five cows, and some sheep and hogs.
.......Daniel Defoe writes in the straightforward manner of a chronicler or diarist. In fact, the central character, Crusoe, keeps a diary. Moreover, he tracks time by carving the days into a post. The narrator tells his tale sequentially, with one event following another, in simple language that even children can understand. In telling his tale, the narrator frequently reflects on how he went wrong and what he must do to set himself right with God. Throughout the novel, Defoe presents not only specific details but also specific dates, lending verisimilitude to the novel. Note, for example, the following passage from Chapter VII, "Agricultural Experience":
climax of the novel occurs on Crusoe's island when Crusoe helps the English
captain overcome the mutineers and regain control of his ship. This action
means that Crusoe at long last has a means to return to England. There
are also mini-climaxes in various episodes, including Crusoe's religious
awakening after he becomes ill for several days with chills, fever, and
a severe headache (Chapter VI, "Ill and Conscience Stricken") and his discovery
of a human footprint (Chapter XI, "Finds Print of Man's Foot on the Sand").
Adventure: Life as a Perilous Journey
.......Robinson Crusoe goes to sea in search of high adventure rather than lead a humdrum life in England. He finds more than his share of adventure on several ships in stormy seas, in several countries on two continents, and on an island on which he must tame nature, learn survival skills, and fight savages. In some ways, he represents every man on his journey through life, as did Odysseus in Homer's Odyssey, coping with many dangers and ultimately returning home after a long time.
Importance of Religion
.......Robinson Crusoe not only discovers the world–or a goodly part of it–during his adventures. He also discovers the importance of religion in his life. Once a lukewarm Christian, he becomes a devout Christian after interpreting stormy seas as signs of God's displeasure and after becoming marooned and struggling through an illness. He writes:
.......In the beginning of the novel, Robinson Crusoe yearns to be free and independent. When he goes to sea, he escapes the prison of ordinary life in England. In the rest of the novel, Crusoe repeatedly struggles for freedom–from an angry sea, from pirates who capture him, from an empty pocketbook, from a foundering ship, from fear and hunger, from the confines of his island. Others seek freedom as well, including mutineers, their captives, and the captives of cannibals. Ironically, Crusoe tolerates and benefits by people who know no freedom, slaves.
Colonialism and Capitalism
.......In the second half of the 17th Century, when the action in the novel takes place, European companies vied for control and exploitation of colonized lands around the world. Crusoe appears to represent this imperialist spirit, first when he goes to Guinea, next when he travels to Brazil and opens a plantation, and finally when he becomes "king" of an island.
.......Crusoe learns to depend on his wits and talents to survive. On his island, he makes furniture, grows crops, and tames and uses animals.
.......Crusoe’s loneliness on the island evolves into solitude. Being alone terrified him when he arrived; later, aloneness became desirable. Theologian Paul Tillich once observed, “Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone." Crusoe came to appreciate the glory of being alone. His anxiety at discovering a human footprint is therefore quite understandable.
based Robinson Crusoe on the real-life experiences of Scotsman Alexander
Selkirk (1676-1721), a shoemaker’s son who went to sea in 1695. In 1703,
he became sailing master on the Cinque Ports, one of two ships on
a privateering expedition under the command of William Dampier (1651-1715).
In 1704, as the ship sailed past an island group, Selkirk demanded to be
let off the ship for fear that damage it incurred during battles with Spaniards
would sink it. The crew cast him off at Más a Tierra, one of three
islands making up the Juan Fernández Islands, about 400 miles west
of Chile. His only belongings were clothing, a gun, a few tools, tobacco,
and a Bible. English seamen rescued him in February 1709 after he spent
nearly five years on the island. Spanish explorer Juan Fernández
discovered the islands in 1563 and lived on them for a short time. In Defoe's
novel, Crusoe's island is in the Atlantic Ocean, off Venezuela.
.......In Chapter 1, Robinson Crusoe's father warns him not go to sea. "If I did take this foolish step," Crusoe says in paraphrasing his father, "God would not bless me." In the same chapter, Crusoe–ignoring his father's warning–runs away on a London-bound ship. In a raging storm, Crusoe and the others aboard abandon ship when it begins to sink. They make it safely to shore in a rowboat. The master of the ship later says that the shipwreck is a sign from God that He wants Robinson to return home to his father. Moreover, the ship master tells Robinson, "If you do not go back, wherever you go, you will meet with nothing but disasters and disappointments. . . ." The warnings from Robinson's father and the ship master foreshadow–indeed, foretell–the life-threatening misadventures that befall Crusoe later on.
.......Crusoe reports that his island has two seasons, writing, "I found now that the seasons of the year might generally be divided, not into summer and winter, as in Europe, but into the rainy seasons and the dry seasons, which were generally thus:
The half of April, the whole of May, June, and July, and the half of August - dry, the sun being then to the north of the line.
The half of August, the whole of September, and the half of October - rainy, the sun being then come back.
The half of October, the whole of November, December, and January, and the half of February - dry, the sun being then to the south of the line.
.......Many modern psychologists encourage patients to use cognitive therapy to overcome anxiety and depression, as well as other conditions characterized by negative thought patterns. In cognitive therapy, a patient attempts to change the way he thinks. Through treatment that includes mind exercises, the patient learns that he tends to magnify the likelihood of negative outcomes. Some patients write down their irrational, negative thoughts and counter them with rational, positive thoughts in what is intended to be an honest appraisal of their thought processes. Seeing the results of their brainstorming on paper somehow objectifies their mental status and puts it in the proper perspective. Crusoe performs such a writing exercise in Chapter IV ("First Weeks on the Island"):
Evil: I am cast upon a horrible,
desolate island, void of all hope of recovery.
Upon the whole, here was
an undoubted testimony that there was scarce any condition in the world
so miserable but there was something negative or something positive to
be thankful for in it; and let this stand as a direction from the experience
of the most
Study Questions and Essay Topics