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After a voyage of twenty-two days, Crusoe lands in Brazil, accepting many farewell gifts from the Portuguese captain. After meeting his Anglo-Brazilian neighbor, he conceives a plan to become a tobacco planter. For two years Crusoe earns only enough on which to subsist, but in the third year he begins to do well and, in retrospect, misses the labor potential of the slave boy Xury whom he sold. Having told the Portuguese captain of his 200 pounds left in England, the captain arranges to have one hundred pounds sent to Crusoe in Brazil, along with many gifts besides. After receiving what the captain sent, Crusoe feels quite well off. Eager for slave labor to extend his business further, he agrees to an acquaintance’s plan to sail to Guinea for Black slaves, in exchange for his own share of the slaves.
After writing a will leaving half his possessions to the Portuguese captain, Crusoe sets sail for Guinea on September 1, 1659 with a cargo of trinkets with which to buy slaves. Sailing up the South American coast, the ship encounters a storm, and two men are lost. Crusoe fears for his life. Reaching the Caribbean, the ship is shaken by yet another storm that drives the ship onto the sand, breaking the rudder. The ship is clearly doomed, and the crew climbs into boats to make for shore. Crusoe loses sight of his mates when all are swept away by an immense wave. Finally Crusoe makes it to shore, where he immediately prays to God in gratitude. He never sees a sign of another living crewmember. After drinking some fresh water and finding a tree in which to sleep, Crusoe spends his first night on the island.
“O drug!” said I aloud, “what art thou good for?”
“O drug!” said I aloud, “what art thou good for?”
Awakening the next morning refreshed, Crusoe goes down to the shore to explore the remains of the ship. Swimming around it, he finds it impossible to climb aboard until he finds a chain hanging, by which he pulls himself up. Crusoe conceives the idea of building a raft out of broken lumber, on which he loads provisions of bread, rice, goat meat, cheese, and other foods. He also finds clothes, arms, and fresh water. He sails his cargo-laden raft into a small cove, where he unloads it. He notices that the land has wildfowl but no other humans. Crusoe returns to the ship twelve times over the following thirteen days. On one of the later trips he finds thirty-six pounds, and he sadly meditates on how worthless the money is to him. After a strong wind that night, he awakens to find the ship’s remains gone the next morning.
Wary of savages, Crusoe decides he must build a dwelling or “fortress,” as he calls it. He chooses a spot with a view of the sea, protected from animals and the heat of the sun and near fresh water. He drives wooden stakes into the ground, using them as a frame for walls. Crusoe sleeps securely in the shelter that night. The next day he hauls all of his provisions and supplies inside, and hangs a hammock on which to sleep. He also builds a cellar. During a thunderstorm he suddenly worries about his gunpowder supply, which he separates from the other supplies and stores in the cellar. Crusoe discovers wild goats on the island. He kills one and then sees that it had a kid, which he then kills too. On about his twelfth day on the island, he erects a large cross that he inscribes with the date of his arrival, September 30, 1659. He resolves to cut a notch on the cross to mark every passing day. He also begins a journal in which he records the good and evil aspects of his experience, until he runs out of ink. He keeps watch for passing ships, always disappointed.
The question of whether Crusoe’s humanity will survive on the island, or whether he will revert to savagery, is subtly raised in these chapters. His changing relationship to Xury is one example of a test of morality. During his early acquaintance with the boy, Crusoe appears genuinely fond of him, moved by the boy’s expression of loyalty and by their solidarity as slaves of the same master. But then, Crusoe, recently a slave himself, coldly sells Xury to the Portuguese captain with no compunction at all. When Crusoe thinks about Xury later, he does not recollect memories of a long-lost acquaintance, but instead laments missing out on the potential for slave labor: he and his planter neighbor “both wanted help, and now I found, more than before, I had done wrong in parting with my boy Xury.” We might feel what is “wrong” is not his business decision, but the sale of his supposed friend as a slave for profit. The question of whether morality is socially adaptable or naturally inborn was disputed in seventeenth-century England: the philosopher Thomas Hobbes maintained that men are naturally savages. Crusoe is a case study in the nature of human morals.
Crusoe’s sense of religion seems, on the one hand, to develop strongly, but on the other hand, some of his words do raise some doubt about his beliefs. Certainly he appears very devout when his first reaction on reaching dry land after his shipwreck is “to look up and thank God that my life was saved in a case wherein here was some minutes before scarce any room to hope.” But, as many have noticed, his comments right after this remark are theologically unsound: “I believe it is impossible to express to the life what the ecstasies and transports of the soul are when it is so saved, as I may say, out of the very grave. . . .” As any devout Christian of Defoe’s day would know, the soul is eternal, and what Crusoe should instead say is that his bodily life is saved. The remark is thus a bit ignorant even at the moment when he appears to be deeply God-fearing. Later, when he builds a cross on the island and devotes it to himself and his time on the island, rather than to Christ, our doubt over his true faith in God grows further.
Read more about the cross as a symbol.
Crusoe’s relation to material possessions is a prominent topic in these chapters. Crusoe repeatedly suggests that his shipwreck is a punishment for his greed for profits and that his pursuit of ever more material wealth has caused his current misery. His biblical prototype Job, another survivor of a disaster at sea, learns from his ordeal to disdain material possessions. Crusoe’s survival on the island seems like a rebirth into true Christian spirituality, a chance to live less materially and more religiously. Yet when Crusoe makes not one or two, but twelve trips to the ship for salvaged supplies, we wonder how nonmaterialistic he has really become. It is doubtful that in his solitude he needs “a dozen of good knives and forks.” He proudly entitles one of his chapters I Furnish Myself with Many Things. When he discovers thirty-six pounds in coins on the ship, he first disdains it with Christian high-mindedness, saying, “Oh drug, what art thou good for,” but then he takes the money with him anyway. His attitude toward possessions seems a major contradiction in his character, and these sorts of contradictions exist throughout the novel.
Read more about ordeals at sea as a motif.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Robinson Crusoe!