Robinson Crusoe is an Englishman from
the town of York in the seventeenth century, the youngest son of
a merchant of German origin. Encouraged by his father to study law,
Crusoe expresses his wish to go to sea instead. His family is against
Crusoe going out to sea, and his father explains that it is better
to seek a modest, secure life for oneself. Initially, Robinson is
committed to obeying his father, but he eventually succumbs to temptation
and embarks on a ship bound for London with a friend. When a storm
causes the near deaths of Crusoe and his friend, the friend is dissuaded
from sea travel, but Crusoe still goes on to set himself up as merchant
on a ship leaving London. This trip is financially successful, and
Crusoe plans another, leaving his early profits in the care of a
friendly widow. The second voyage does not prove as fortunate: the
ship is seized by Moorish pirates, and Crusoe is enslaved to a potentate
in the North African town of Sallee. While on a fishing expedition,
he and a slave boy break free and sail down the African coast. A
kindly Portuguese captain picks them up, buys the slave boy from
Crusoe, and takes Crusoe to Brazil. In Brazil, Crusoe establishes
himself as a plantation owner and soon becomes successful. Eager
for slave labor and its economic advantages, he embarks on a slave-gathering expedition
to West Africa but ends up shipwrecked off of the coast of Trinidad.
Crusoe soon learns he is the sole survivor of the expedition
and seeks shelter and food for himself. He returns to the wreck’s
remains twelve times to salvage guns, powder, food, and other items. Onshore,
he finds goats he can graze for meat and builds himself a shelter.
He erects a cross that he inscribes with the date of his arrival, September 1, 1659,
and makes a notch every day in order never to lose track of time.
He also keeps a journal of his household activities, noting his
attempts to make candles, his lucky discovery of sprouting grain,
and his construction of a cellar, among other events. In June 1660,
he falls ill and hallucinates that an angel visits, warning him
to repent. Drinking tobacco-steeped rum, Crusoe experiences a religious
illumination and realizes that God has delivered him from his earlier
sins. After recovering, Crusoe makes a survey of the area and discovers
he is on an island. He finds a pleasant valley abounding in grapes,
where he builds a shady retreat. Crusoe begins to feel more optimistic
about being on the island, describing himself as its “king.” He
trains a pet parrot, takes a goat as a pet, and develops skills
in basket weaving, bread making, and pottery. He cuts down an enormous
cedar tree and builds a huge canoe from its trunk, but he discovers
that he cannot move it to the sea. After building a smaller boat,
he rows around the island but nearly perishes when swept away by
a powerful current. Reaching shore, he hears his parrot calling
his name and is thankful for being saved once again. He spends several
years in peace.
One day Crusoe is shocked to discover a man’s footprint
on the beach. He first assumes the footprint is the devil’s, then
decides it must belong to one of the cannibals said to live in the
region. Terrified, he arms himself and remains on the lookout for
cannibals. He also builds an underground cellar in which to herd
his goats at night and devises a way to cook underground. One evening
he hears gunshots, and the next day he is able to see a ship wrecked
on his coast. It is empty when he arrives on the scene to investigate.
Crusoe once again thanks Providence for having been saved. Soon
afterward, Crusoe discovers that the shore has been strewn with
human carnage, apparently the remains of a cannibal feast. He is
alarmed and continues to be vigilant. Later Crusoe catches sight
of thirty cannibals heading for shore with their victims. One of
the victims is killed. Another one, waiting to be slaughtered, suddenly
breaks free and runs toward Crusoe’s dwelling. Crusoe protects him,
killing one of the pursuers and injuring the other, whom the victim
finally kills. Well-armed, Crusoe defeats most of the cannibals
onshore. The victim vows total submission to Crusoe in gratitude
for his liberation. Crusoe names him Friday, to commemorate the
day on which his life was saved, and takes him as his servant.
Finding Friday cheerful and intelligent, Crusoe teaches
him some English words and some elementary Christian concepts. Friday,
in turn, explains that the cannibals are divided into distinct nations and
that they only eat their enemies. Friday also informs Crusoe that the
cannibals saved the men from the shipwreck Crusoe witnessed earlier,
and that those men, Spaniards, are living nearby. Friday expresses
a longing to return to his people, and Crusoe is upset at the prospect
of losing Friday. Crusoe then entertains the idea of making contact
with the Spaniards, and Friday admits that he would rather die than
lose Crusoe. The two build a boat to visit the cannibals’ land together.
Before they have a chance to leave, they are surprised by the arrival
of twenty-one cannibals in canoes. The cannibals are holding three
victims, one of whom is in European dress. Friday and Crusoe kill
most of the cannibals and release the European, a Spaniard. Friday
is overjoyed to discover that another of the rescued victims is
his father. The four men return to Crusoe’s dwelling for food and
rest. Crusoe prepares to welcome them into his community permanently.
He sends Friday’s father and the Spaniard out in a canoe to explore
the nearby land.
Eight days later, the sight of an approaching English
ship alarms Friday. Crusoe is suspicious. Friday and Crusoe watch
as eleven men take three captives onshore in a boat. Nine of the
men explore the land, leaving two to guard the captives. Friday
and Crusoe overpower these men and release the captives, one of
whom is the captain of the ship, which has been taken in a mutiny.
Shouting to the remaining mutineers from different points, Friday
and Crusoe confuse and tire the men by making them run from place
to place. Eventually they confront the mutineers, telling them that
all may escape with their lives except the ringleader. The men surrender.
Crusoe and the captain pretend that the island is an imperial territory
and that the governor has spared their lives in order to send them
all to England to face justice. Keeping five men as hostages, Crusoe
sends the other men out to seize the ship. When the ship is brought
in, Crusoe nearly faints.
On December 19, 1686,
Crusoe boards the ship to return to England. There, he finds his
family is deceased except for two sisters. His widow friend has
kept Crusoe’s money safe, and after traveling to Lisbon, Crusoe
learns from the Portuguese captain that his plantations in Brazil
have been highly profitable. He arranges to sell his Brazilian lands.
Wary of sea travel, Crusoe attempts to return to England by land
but is threatened by bad weather and wild animals in northern Spain.
Finally arriving back in England, Crusoe receives word that the
sale of his plantations has been completed and that he has made
a considerable fortune. After donating a portion to the widow and
his sisters, Crusoe is restless and considers returning to Brazil,
but he is dissuaded by the thought that he would have to become
Catholic. He marries, and his wife dies. Crusoe finally departs
for the East Indies as a trader in 1694.
He revisits his island, finding that the Spaniards are governing
it well and that it has become a prosperous colony.