Young Robinson Crusoe defies his father's recommendation to seek a "middle way" of life, and runs off to find his fortune at sea. After a series of misadventures including storms at sea and capture by pirates, he succeeds in becoming a plantation owner in "the Brasils." When he sets out to add slave trading to his income, a storm shipwrecks him alone on a desert island. Here he must learn to support himself through farming, hunting, and simple carpentry, making whatever he could not salvage from the ship.

Cannibals from a nearby island use his domain for occasional feasts, but Crusoe rescues one "savage" from certain consumption and finally gains a companion, Friday, whom he teaches English and Christianity and learns to love. In Crusoe's twenty-eighth year on the island, Friday helps him engineer the takeover of an English ship with a mutineed crew nearby, and they journey to England with the ship's grateful captain.


Crusoe expresses the idealism and impatience of many adolescents in rebelling against his father's pragmatic advice. His narrative of shipwreck and survival, which he stops and starts, retelling as story, as journal, even in tabular form, records the turbulence of his psychological state in acknowledging his fears and learning to make the most of his unlucky fate. The novel thus works on one level as a chronicle of grief and depression.

In keeping with eighteenth-century norms, Crusoe finds that the nearly incessant work required for mere survival also solaces him, as he labors to create his dream of a quotidian life. In the end, he constructs not just food and shelter, but also a home, a "country house," a "domain," a "kingdom" from the wilderness. An important strain of criticism on the novel discusses Crusoe as "economic man," since the novel's realist paean to the virtue of an ordinary life models the ideal development of English culture. Indeed, the detail of Defoe's narrative made it possible for readers more easily to imagine England as empire, and of English middle-class domesticity as a kind of culture that could be exported and replanted in colonies elsewhere.

The novel also references the popular eighteenth-century genre of spiritual autobiography in its attention to Crusoe's crises of faith. When he falls sick from bad turtle soup, he doctors himself with tobacco, reporting his symptoms, treatment, and side effects in almost case-historical style. But it is the Bible he finds next to the tobacco that cures his spiritual disorder. In the end, however, the minutiae of Crusoe's difficult daily life, and his satisfaction in building up a material replica of English homelife, dominates the novel more than the narrative's more conscious references to Crusoe's spiritual growth.


First published: 1719.



Place Published

New York



Page Count