The Swiss Family Robinson Summary

Johann David Wyss

The Swiss Family Robinson

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The Swiss Family Robinson Summary

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The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss is a book containing the fictional and episodic adventures of a family of six—a father, a mother, and four sons. The father’s name is William, and he is not only the brave, knowledgeable leader of the family, but also the narrator of the story. His wife, Elizabeth, is intelligent and resourceful, evidenced by the fact that she takes with them a magical bag full of supplies including sewing materials and seeds. She can also cook a meal out of almost everything, from porcupine to penguin.

William and Elizabeth’s oldest son, Fritz, is fifteen years old. While he’s intelligent like his mother, he’s also impetuous. He’s brave too, and accompanies William into potentially dangerous situations. After Fritz, there’s Ernest, who is thirteen years old. He’s even more intelligent than Fritz, but less active, and so he doesn’t go with William as often as Fritz does. Jack is the next oldest boy at eleven years old. Bold and thoughtless, Jack is quick-thinking. Franz, or Francis, is the youngest member of the Robinson family. He is only eight years old and typically stays with Elizabeth.

Understanding the main characters is crucial to understanding the book because since the story is episodic, there isn’t an overarching plot line.

The story begins with the six Robinsons aboard a ship. The ship is in rough seas during a storm, and the other passengers evacuate the ship, leaving the Robinsons to survive on their own. William prays for their salvation. After surviving the night, the family sees a tropical island ahead. They manage to create a small vessel on which they can reach the island, and fill it with provisions including food and ammunition. They row toward the island with two dogs, Turk and Juno, paddling along beside them.

Once they make landfall, they construct a camp. Though it’s temporary, William knows they will need a more permanent place to live on the island, and sets off exploring with Fritz to find out what the island has to offer. For their first few days on the island, they focus on securing enough food so that they won’t starve. They return frequently to the ship, where much cargo, including livestock, survived the storm. The cargo also includes supplies and tools that allow the Robinsons to live in relative comfort in a permanent camp, first in a treehouse and then in a cave.

In his explorations, Fritz meets Jenny Montrose, a young Englishwoman who was shipwrecked on another part of the island. Ten years later, Jenny ends up being the family’s salvation when a ship comes in search of her. In the meantime, those ten years are filled with adventures on the island. Once the ship comes and offers them rescue, some of the family return to Europe while others opt to stay on the island. The journal that detailed their ten years of adventures is published into a book.

The Swiss Family Robinson launched a number of adaptations, including everything from television movies to comic book series and even computer video games. These adaptations have kept the Robinson family’s adventures alive throughout the years. Johan David Wyss wrote the book with the intention of imparting upon his four sons the values of resourcefulness and self-reliance, as well as what he considered to be strong moral values.

The title was not meant originally to be about a family with the surname Robinson. Instead, the title The Swiss Family Robinson is based on the word Robinsonade, which is a literary genre of fiction based on the adventures of Robinson Crusoe, a famous fictional explorer created by novelist Daniel Defoe in 1719. A Robinsonade can be broadly described as a castaway story, or a story that takes place on a desert island. In cinema, one example of a Robinsonade story is the movie Castaway, starring Tom Hanks. Castaway isn’t about a family’s resourcefulness, but rather one man, a sole survivor who ends up befriending a volleyball in order to keep his sanity.

Johann David Wyss’ novel was first published in 1812. In the story, the Robinsons are sailing through the East Indies on their way to Port Jackson, Australia. Wyss passed away in 1818, six years after his one and only novel was published. However, following his death and the publication of The Swiss Family Robinson, other versions of the story with additional characters and adventures were written, and are considered a part of the celebrated literary experience that is Johann David Wyss’ The Swiss Family Robinson.