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Crusoe is astonished one day to discover the single print of a man’s naked foot in the sand. Crusoe is terrified and retreats to his “castle,” where he entertains thoughts that the devil has visited the island. His conclusion that it is not the devil’s but a real man’s footprint is equally terrifying, and Crusoe meditates on the irony of being starved for human contact and then frightened of a man. Driven wild by fear, Crusoe fortifies his home and raises guns around it, keeping watch whenever possible. Concerned about his goats, he contrives to dig an underground cave in which to herd them every night and creates another smaller pasture far away to keep a second flock. Crusoe spends two years living in fear.
Coming down to a far part of the shore, Crusoe finds the beach spread with the carnage of humans. Eventually realizing that he is in no danger of being found by the cannibals, Crusoe’s thoughts turn to killing them as perpetrators of wicked deeds and thereby saving their intended victims. Waiting every day on a hillside fully armed, Crusoe eventually changes his mind, thinking that he has no divine authority to judge humans or to kill. He also realizes that killing them might entail a full-scale invasion by the other savages.
Crusoe describes the measures he takes to avoid being spotted by the cannibals. He rarely burns fires, removes all traces of his activities when leaving a place, and even devises a way to cook underground. While descending into a large cave he has discovered, he is shocked to see eyes staring at him. Crusoe is frightened and returns with a firebrand, only to find it is an old he-goat. Crusoe is pleased with this new cave and considers moving into it. Mounting to his lookout spot later, Crusoe spots nine naked savages on the beach, lingering among the remains of their cannibal feast. He proceeds toward them with his gun, but when he arrives they are already out to sea again. Crusoe inspects the human carnage with disgust.
On May 16, Crusoe is reading the Bible when he is surprised by a distant gunshot followed closely by another. He senses the shots are coming from a ship and builds a fire to notify the seamen of his presence. By daylight he perceives that the shots have come from the wreck of a ship whose men are now either gone or dead. Once again he thanks Providence for his own survival. Going down to the shore, where he discovers a drowned boy, he prepares to paddle out to the ship in his canoe. He finds the ship is Spanish and contains wine, clothing, and a great treasure in gold bars and doubloons, all of which he hauls back to his dwelling.
Crusoe reflects on the “original sin” of disobeying his father, recounting the foolish decisions he has made throughout his life. One night he dreams that eleven cannibals arrive on his island to kill a victim who escapes and runs to Crusoe for protection. About a year and a half afterward, Crusoe finds five canoes on the island and thirty cannibals on the beach preparing two victims for slaughter. After the first is killed, the second breaks away and runs toward Crusoe’s hiding place. He is pursued by two cannibals but is faster than they are. Crusoe attacks both pursuers and persuades the frightened victim to approach. Finding Crusoe friendly, the native vows devotion to his liberator. After burying the remains of the two pursuers so as not to be tracked later, Crusoe and the native return to his camp, where the native sleeps.
Crusoe names the native Friday to commemorate the day on which Crusoe saves the native’s life. Friday again asserts his subservience to Crusoe. Crusoe teaches him simple English words and clothes him. Returning together to the slaughter scene, Crusoe has Friday clean up the bones and skulls and tries to convey to his servant the horror of cannibalism. Crusoe is delighted with his new companion and teaches him to eat goat meat instead of human flesh. He realizes he must expand his grain cultivation, which Friday helps him to do.
Crusoe’s discovery of a mysterious single footprint in the sand is one of the most unforgettable and significant events of the novel, since it condenses into one moment Crusoe’s contradictory attitude toward other humans: he has been craving human society, yet when it arrives he is deeply afraid of it. Crusoe himself comments on this irony when he says, “How strange a checker-worker of Providence is the life of man! . . . Today we love what tomorrow we hate!” Indeed, he hates this human intruder almost as much as he hates the devil himself, whose footprint he originally suspects it is. It is hard to explain why Crusoe immediately leaps to a negative conclusion about the footprint, why he is sure it is the sign of an enemy rather than a friend. Crusoe’s reaction shows how solitude has become his natural state, making any human contact seem unnatural and highly disturbing.
Read more about the footprint as a symbol.
The appearance of Friday is a major development in the novel, which has had only one character in it for a large part. The sweetness and docility of Friday, who is a cannibal, and the extraordinary ease with which Crusoe overcomes Friday’s two pursuers, leads us to rethink Crusoe’s earlier fear. Crusoe lives in terror of the cannibals for many years, scarcely daring to leave his cave and reduced to a cavemanlike existence. Then, in only a few minutes, he stops two cannibals and makes another his lifelong servant. Suddenly it seems that Crusoe has feared not the savages themselves, but his own exaggerated mental image of them. Thus, Crusoe’s self-awareness arises as a major theme of the novel, and Crusoe illustrates that a better understanding of himself and his fears leads him to more prosperity and satisfaction in life. Friday’s instantaneous servitude to Crusoe also raises questions about Crusoe’s sense of his own rank and power. Crusoe easily could lift Friday from the ground when Friday grovels before him, but he does not. Without so much as a second thought, Crusoe accepts Friday as a servant and an inferior, assuming his own superiority. Friday may be the first New World “savage” in English literature to force a questioning of whether white people should automatically assume superiority over other races.
Read an in-depth analysis of Friday.
Crusoe’s religious awareness continues to grow in these chapters. Almost every major event is taken either as cause for repentance or as proof of God’s mercy. Crusoe’s first assumption on seeing the footprint on the beach is that it is a mark of the devil, showing that supernatural or divine explanations have priority over natural ones in his mind. When the gunshots are heard from the wrecked ship, Crusoe is reading the Bible, and when he compares the fate of the shipwrecked men to his own fate, it seems as if he begins to see the whole process as a religious lesson. When Crusoe decides not to open fire on the cannibal feast, he does so out of a religious conviction that he has not the “authority or call . . . to pretend to be judge and executioner upon these men as criminals.” Though he later admits there were also practical reasons for not killing them, his religious reason comes across with sincerity. Perhaps most strikingly, in Chapter XXII Crusoe compares his disobedience of his father to Adam and Eve’s disobedience of God in Eden, referring to his own “original sin.” The Bible, the devil, and God are all becoming very closely entwined in the fabric of Crusoe’s everyday life on the island.
Read more about the theme of repentance and its necessity.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Robinson Crusoe!