Robinson Crusoe

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Robinson Crusoe Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Daniel Defoe
Daniel Foe was born into a lower-middle class Presbyterian family in London in 1660 (he later added the French-sounding "De" to his last name to sound higher-class). At this time, England was not a very tolerant place for non-Anglican Protestants—Defoe was unable to attend Cambridge or Oxford because of his religion, for example. After some time as a merchant, during which he traveled throughout Europe, he became known for writing political pamphlets in the 1680s and 1690s. In the early 1700s, he was imprisoned for some of his more controversial political writings. Defoe later turned his writing efforts toward fiction, publishing Robinson Crusoe in 1719, and following it with a number of other novels, including Moll Flanders. Defoe's realistic novels gained widespread popularity among the newly emerging middle-class readership of England and were foundational in the development of the novel as a literary form. The specific details of Defoe's death are unclear, but he passed away in London on April 24, 1731.
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Historical Context of Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe's journey takes place in the context of 17th-century European imperialism and colonialism, as different countries explored the Americas, establishing colonies and exploiting natives. More specifically, Defoe was likely inspired or influenced by the real-life adventures of Alexander Selkirk. Selkirk was a Scottish man who survived for four years stranded on an island in the south Pacific. His amazing story of survival spread widely after he returned to Europe in 1711 (not long before Defoe published Robinson Crusoe).
Other Books Related to Robinson Crusoe
Defoe was likely influenced by a variety of travelers' accounts. His own novel was extremely popular and became one of the central examples of novelistic realism, exerting a powerful influence on the tradition of the novel. It spawned many imitators (including The Swiss Family Robinson) and Crusoe's journey is often alluded to in other works. The American poet Elizabeth Bishop has written a well-known poem called "Crusoe in England," in which she imagines the adventurer in old age, looking back on his life.
Key Facts about Robinson Crusoe
  • Full Title: The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates.
  • When Written: Shortly before 1719
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1719
  • Literary Period: Robinson Crusoe is often regarded as one of the foundational novels of literary realism.
  • Genre: Novel, adventure story.
  • Setting: England, Morocco, Brazil, an uninhabited island in the Caribbean, Portugal, Spain, and France, in the mid-to-late 17th century.
  • Climax: Robinson rescues the English captain, helps him recapture his ship, and finally leaves his island.
  • Antagonist: Robinson mostly struggles against the forces of nature (from storms to earthquakes to wild wolves), which can themselves be regarded as instruments of fate and God's providence.
Extra Credit for Robinson Crusoe

The Sequel. Defoe's novel was so popular that he wrote a sequel, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, living up to Robinson's promise at the end of the novel to relate his adventures after joining his nephew on a trading ship in a future account.

Art Imitates Life Imitates Art. Defoe's novel was inspired by the real-life survival of Alexander Selkirk on an abandoned island, Más a Tierra. In 1966, to honor Defoe's famous novel, the island was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island.