40 pages 1 hour read

Daniel Defoe

Robinson Crusoe

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1719

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Summary and Study Guide


Robinson Crusoe is French writer Daniel Defoe’s debut novel, first published in 1719. Structured as a journal, the travelogue chronicles Crusoe’s experiences as a seaman and his twenty-eight years cast away on an uninhabited island near Trinidad, where Caribbean cannibals kill and eat prisoners. The novel takes a plan-spoken, confessional tone. Crusoe’s inner explorations, religious doubt, and yet strong faith in God’s providence, create a character who seems to undergo many changes.

Against the wishes, and wisdom, of his parents, Crusoe sets out on his first voyage at age 18. Six days into the first journey, a violent storm wrecks the boat, leaving Crusoe stranded not far from home. Crusoe options to continue on to London, where he befriends the captain of a ship headed for Guinea. Crusoe returns from his first African journey with small stocks of gold. On his second journey, Crusoe’s ship is taken by pirates. Crusoe spends two years a slave at Sallee, in Morocco. He escapes with Xury, a fellow slave boy, and is rescued days later by a ship en route to Brazil, manned by a Portuguese captain. The captain helps Crusoe procure a plantation in Brazil.

Four years later, fellow merchants offer Crusoe free board in exchange for his guiding them to Guinea to purchase slaves. Forty miles out to sea, the ship gets caught in a storm and wrecks. Crusoe fights for his live before reaching the uninhabited island where he spends the next twenty-eight years. A dog and two cats also survive. While Crusoe is at first filled with despair, nearly to the point of madness, he discovers the ship did in fact not sink but stranded on a rock. He is able to salvage enough provisions, weapons, and ammunition to survive for some time.

On the island, Crusoe pitches a tent and builds a small cave into the side of a hill, a homestead which he expands to include various apartments and partitions for all his belongings over the years. He cuts down trees and builds stakes to build a fence, which he covers with turf and branches, and which over the years grows thatched and into woods. After some years on the island, Crusoe explores to the west end, where he discovers verdant savanna fields, lemon and lime trees, and grape clusters. Crusoe is also able to shoot fowl, obtain tortoise eggs, kill hares, and tame goats for food, as well as grow corn and rice.

While on the island, Crusoe investigates the reasons for his current circumstances. About two years in, he concludes God’s providence drove him there, to pay for sins in his earlier life and for the chance to remedy his ways. At this time Crusoe, begins to seriously study scripture. In his twenty-third year as a cast away, after dreaming of a man escaping a cannibal ceremony, Crusoe saves a man about to be devoured by cannibals. The man becomes known as Friday, and is named such for the day Crusoe saves him. Friday becomes Crusoe’s loyal servant. Crusoe teaches Friday English and converts him to Christianity.

About one year later, Crusoe and Friday save two men about to be eaten by cannibals. One is Friday’s father, the other a Spaniard. Crusoe sends the Spaniard with Friday’s father back to Friday’s mainland with a plan to bring back other shipwrecked Spaniards. Before they return, Crusoe spots an English ship offshore. Crusoe and Friday save a man who turns out to the captain of the ship, which has been mutinied, and whose sailors plan to leave the captain marooned on the island. Together, Crusoe and the English captain hatch a plan to retake the ship. When they do, Crusoe teaches the men he and the captain took prisoner how to survive on the island.

Crusoe returns to England, then inquires after his economic affairs in Lisbon. He visits the captain who rescued Crusoe after his escape from Sallee. Finding his plantation in Brazil has developed at an excellent rate, Crusoe fast becomes a prosperous man. He sails to the Indies, working with his nephew as a private merchant, and thus concludes his journal.