- TYPE OF WORK‐Novel
- GENRE‐Adventure story; novel of isolation
- NARRATOR‐Robinson Crusoe is both the narrator and main character of the tale.
- POINT OF VIEW‐Crusoe narrates in both the first and third person, presenting what he observes. Crusoe occasionally describes his feelings, but only when they are overwhelming. Usually he favors a more factual narrative style focused on actions and events.
- TONE‐Crusoe’s tone is mostly detached, meticulous, and objective. He displays little rhetorical grandeur and few poetic or colorful turns of phrase. He generally avoids dramatic storytelling, preferring an inventory-like approach to the facts as they unfold. He very rarely registers his own feelings, or those of other characters, and only does so when those feelings affect a situation directly, such as when he describes the mutineers as tired and confused, indicating that their fatigue allows them to be defeated.
- SETTING (TIME)‐From 1659 to 1694
- SETTING (PLACE)‐York, England; then London; then Sallee, North Africa; then Brazil; then a deserted island off Trinidad; then England; then Lisbon; then overland from Spain toward England; then England; and finally the island again
- PROTAGONIST‐Robinson Crusoe
- MAJOR CONFLICT‐Shipwrecked alone, Crusoe struggles against hardship, privation, loneliness, and cannibals in his attempt to survive on a deserted island.
- RISING ACTION‐Crusoe disobeys his father and goes out to sea. Crusoe has a profitable first merchant voyage, has fantasies of success in Brazil, and prepares for a slave-gathering expedition.
- CLIMAX‐Crusoe becomes shipwrecked on an island near Trinidad, forcing him to fend for himself and his basic needs.
- FALLING ACTION‐Crusoe constructs a shelter, secures a food supply, and accepts his stay on the island as the work of Providence.
- THEMES‐The ambivalence of mastery; the necessity of repentance; the importance of self-awareness
- MOTIFS‐Counting and measuring; eating; ordeals at sea
- SYMBOLS‐The footprint; the cross; Crusoe’s bower
- FORESHADOWING‐Crusoe suffers a storm at sea near Yarmouth, foreshadowing his shipwreck years later. Crusoe dreams of cannibals arriving, and later they come to kill Friday. Crusoe invents the idea of a governor of the island to intimidate the mutineers, foreshadowing the actual governor’s later arrival.
Important Quotations Explained
“O drug!” said I aloud, “what art thou good for? Thou art not worth to me, no, not the taking off of the ground; one of those knives is worth all this heap; I have no manner of use for thee; e’en remain where thou art and go to the bottom as a creature whose life is not worth saving.” However, upon second thoughts, I took it away. . . .
Crusoe’s contradictory relationship with money is seen in this affirmation in Chapter VI, when he declares that the gold he discovers is worthless, only moments before hauling it away for safekeeping. He does the same thing many years later, expressing scorn for the treasure on the Spanish wreck, but then taking it to shore. The conflict between spiritual aims (scorning worldly wealth) and material ambitions (hoarding gold) reflects the novel’s tension between the practical and the religious. Moreover, Crusoe’s combination of disdain and desire for money is also interesting because Crusoe is conscious of his conflicted feelings only in a limited way. He calls money a drug and admits that he is addicted—but he is not interested in the way he fails to practice what he preaches. We see how Defoe’s focus in the novel is primarily on the practical rather than the psychological, despite the fascinating aspects of Crusoe’s mind. Crusoe’s mixed feelings about the gold also reflect his nostalgia for human society, since he tells us that money has no value in itself, unlike the useful knives to which he compares it. It has only a social worth, and thus reminds us that Crusoe may still be a social creature despite his isolation.
My island was now peopled, and I thought myself very rich in subjects; and it was a merry reflection, which I frequently made, how like a king I looked. First of all, the whole country was my own mere property, Baso that I had an undoubted right of dominion. Secondly, my people were perfectly subjected. I was absolute lord and lawgiver, they all owed their lives to me, and were ready to lay down their lives, if there had been occasion of it, for me.
This passage, from Chapter XXV, shows us Crusoe’s astonishing ability throughout the novel to claim possession of things. He sells his fellow slave Xury to the Portuguese captain even though he has no claim of ownership over the boy. He seizes the contents of two wrecked ships and takes Friday as his servant immediately after meeting him. Most remarkably, he views the island itself as “my own mere property” over which he has “an undoubted right of dominion.” We may wonder why he has no reason to at least doubt his right of dominion, but his faith in his property rights seems absolute. Moreover, Crusoe’s conception of property determines his understanding of politics. He jokes about his “merry reflection” of looking like a king, but it seems more than a merry thought when he refers to “my people” being “perfectly subjected.” Kingship is like ownership for Crusoe. He does not mention any duties or obligations toward his people. His subjects are for him like his possessions: he imagines them grateful for being owned, expecting nothing further from Crusoe. Of course, this view is only Crusoe’s presumption. It is hard to believe that the Spaniard sincerely sees himself as “perfectly subjected” to Crusoe, even if Crusoe does save his life. Nevertheless, Crusoe’s personal point of view dominates the novel and shows us how deeply colonialism depended on a self-righteous, proprietary way of thinking.
I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen who settled first at Hull. He got a good estate by merchandise and, leaving off his trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my mother whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual corruption of words in England we are called, nay, we call ourselves, and write our name “Crusoe,” and so my companions always called me.
Crusoe’s opening words in Chapter I show us the fact-oriented, practical, and unsentimental mind that will carry him through his ordeal. Crusoe introduces his parents objectively through their nationalities, professions, and places of origin and residence. There is no hint of emotional attachment either here or later, when Crusoe leaves his parents forever. In fact, there is no expression of affection whatsoever. The passage also shows that leaving home may be a habit that runs in the family: Crusoe’s father was an emigrant, just as Crusoe later becomes when he succumbs to his “rambling” thoughts and leaves England. Crusoe’s originally foreign name is an interesting symbol of his emigrant status, especially since it had to be changed to adapt to English understanding. We see that Crusoe has long grasped the notion of adapting to one’s environment, and that identities—or at least names—may change when people change places. This name change foreshadows the theme of Crusoe’s changing identity on his island, when he teaches Friday that his name is Master.
I might well say now indeed, that the latter end of Job was better than the beginning. It is impossible to express here the flutterings of my very heart when I looked over these letters, and especially when I found all my wealth about me; for as the Brazil ships come all in fleets, the same ships which brought my letters brought my goods. . . .
Crusoe’s comparison of himself to the biblical character Job in Chapter XXIX, after his return to England, reveals much about how he gives his ordeal religious meaning. In Crusoe’s mind, his shipwreck and solitude are not random disastrous events but segments of an elaborate lesson in Christian patience. Like Job, whose faith was tested by God through the loss of family and wealth, Crusoe is deprived of his fortune while nevertheless retaining his faith in Providence. This passage also showcases Crusoe’s characteristic neutral tone—the detached, deadpan style in which he narrates even thrilling events. Although he reports that the emotional effects make his heart flutter, he displays very little emotion in the passage, certainly not the joy expected of someone who suddenly becomes wealthy. The biblical grandeur of the original Job is lost in Crusoe’s ordinary and conversational opening, “I might very well say now.” We see how Crusoe is far better suited to plodding and mundane everyday life than to dramatic sublimity. Even when the events call for drama, Crusoe seems to do all he can to make them humdrum. This emphasis on the ordinary was a new trend in English literature and is a major characteristic of the novel, which Defoe helped invent.
But no sooner were my eyes open, but I saw my Poll sitting on top of the hedge; and immediately knew that it was he that spoke to me; for just in such bemoaning language I had used to talk to him, and teach him; and he learned it so perfectly that he would sit upon my finger and lay his bill close to my face, and cry, “Poor Robin Crusoe! Where are you? Where have you been? How come you here?” and such things as I had taught him.
When Crusoe returns from his nearly fatal canoe trip in Chapter XVI to find his parrot calling his name, the scene expresses the pathos of having only a bird to welcome him home. Crusoe domesticates the bird in an attempt to provide himself with a substitute family member, as we learn later when he refers to his pets in Chapter XVII as his “family.” Poll’s friendly address to his master foreshadows Friday’s role as conversation partner in Crusoe’s life. Crusoe’s solitude may not be as satisfying as he lets on. Moreover, Poll’s words show a self-pitying side of Crusoe that he never reveals in his narration. Teaching the bird to call him “poor” in a “bemoaning” tone shows that he may feel more like complaining than he admits in his story and that his Christian patience might be wearing thin. Poll’s greeting also has a spiritual significance: it comes right after Crusoe’s near-death experience in the canoe, and it seems to come from a disembodied speaker, since Crusoe imagines a person must be addressing him. It seems like a mystical moment until the words are revealed not to be God’s, but Crusoe’s own words repeated by a bird. Cut off from human communication, Crusoe seems cut off from divine communication too—he can only speak to himself.