This study guide will help you analyze the novel Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. You can also find a summary of the text, detailed characterizations, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Daniel Defoe (around 1660-1731) was an English writer, trader, and journalist. His original name was Daniel Foe, but he changed his surname to Defoe to sound more aristocratic. Defoe wrote hundreds of books, pamphlets, and journals on various topics. Apart from Robinson Crusoe and its sequels, Defoe's novels also include Captain Singleton (1720), A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), and Moll Flanders (1722).
The novel Robinson Crusoe deals with the many adventures of a traveler with the same name. On his third sea voyage, Robinson is shipwrecked on an uninhabited Caribbean island and lives there all on his own for 23 years before man-eaters appear. The book became a bestseller as soon as it was published and is still a global success today as the third most printed work after the Bible and the Quran.
Excerpt from the study guide:
Robinson's account is remarkable in the last part of the story, which contains a large amount of suspense. The pious adventurer decides that he will not kill savages without God directing him to do so: “it was not my business to meddle with them, unless they first attacked me; and this it was my business, if possible, to prevent […] and I ought to leave them to the justice of God, who is the Governor of nations” (Chapter 16, 58%). However, a short time later, when he discovers that a European has been captured by the cannibals, he impulsively and without hesitation decides to attack the group of 21 man-eaters. He then shoots 17 cannibals with the help of Friday and the Spanish prisoner.
Robinson the Puritan
The author Daniel Defoe was brought up in the Puritan faith, that pious English form of Protestantism whose communities were mainly influenced by the strict thinking of the Swiss reformer John Calvin. They were called Puritans because of their strict doctrine. Mainly, they insisted on a purification of the Anglican state church from all elements of faith and rites of the Roman Catholic Church.
The Puritans equated material wealth with pleasing God. They believed that people can achieve wealth through hard work, diligence, and godliness. Robinson, too, through his hard work and faith in God, is able to achieve satisfactory prosperity with his two dwellings, his farming and his animal breeding, of which he is very proud.
After Robinson's disobedience to his father in his youth, several interpretations have placed a religious implications on the course of the plot. Storm, shipwreck, and slavery would then be understood as punishments from God after Robinson left his parents without their permission.
His survival on the deserted island and the discovery of the Bible on the wreck would thus represent a great opportunity for Robinson to purify his soul during the years he is alone on the island. “I was now landed and safe on shore, and began to look up and thank God that my life was saved” (Chapter 3, 88%); “But God wonderfully sent the ship in near enough to the shore, that I have got out as many necessary things as will either supply my wants or enable me to supply myself, even as long as I live.” (Chapter 4, 84%), he writes in his diary.
The adventurer himself states that he survived as a result of his work ethic and discipline because God kept a hand over him at all times and saved him in the end.