Robinson Crusoe

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Themes and Colors
Christianity and Divine Providence Theme Icon
Society, Individuality, and Isolation Theme Icon
Advice, Mistakes, and Hindsight Theme Icon
Contentment vs. Desire and Ambition Theme Icon
Strangers, Savages, and the Unknown Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Robinson Crusoe, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Society, Individuality, and Isolation Theme Icon

At the center of Robinson Crusoe is a tension between society and individuality. As the novel begins, Robinson breaks free of his family and the middle-class society in which they live in order to pursue his own life. If he were to stay at home, he would live a life already arranged for him by his father and by the constraints of English society. By setting out to sea, Robinson prioritizes his sense of individuality over his family and society at large. Robinson gets exactly what he asks for (and more than he bargained for) when he finds himself stranded alone on his island. There, he lives entirely as an individual apart from society and is forced to struggle against nature to survive. He becomes self-sufficient and learns how to make and do things himself, discovering ingenuity he didn't know he had. Thus, one could say that being separated from society leads to Robinson becoming a better person. Robinson himself seems to come to this conclusion, as he realizes that his experience brings him closer to God and that living alone on the island allows for a life largely without sin: he makes, harvests, and hunts only what he needs, so there is nothing for him to be covetous of or greedy for. And while he is alone, he does not suffer from lust or pride.

Robinson comes around to liking his individual existence on the island so much that, at times in the novel, it is unclear whether he even wants to be rescued and returned to society. And when he finally does return to England, he notes how much worry and stress issues of money and property caused him. Nonetheless, there are some problems with Robinson's valuing of individuality over society. For one, while Robinson values his own personal liberty, he doesn't respect that of others. He hates being a slave, but is quick to sell Xury into the service of the Portuguese captain. Similarly, he treats Friday as his inferior servant. This maltreatment of others can be related as well to Robinson's narcissistic style of narration. His narrative is always about himself, to the degree that he hardly even gives the names of other characters. We never learn the name of his wife, for example, whose death Robinson describes quickly and unemotionally at the end of the novel before hastening to tell us more of his own adventures. And finally, Robinson's intense individualism is inseparable from his painful isolation. He feels lonely in Brazil, and then is literally isolated (the word comes from the Latin word for island, insula), when he is stranded on his island all alone. His only companions are his animals and, while he learns to enjoy life on the island, he still feels a deep desire for the human companionship that he lacks. Thus, the novel values individuality, but also shows the dangers of narcissism and isolation that may come with it.

While Defoe presents individuality as important, Robinson does decide to leave his island in the end. And, as we learn when he returns, he turns his haven of individualism into a society—a thriving colony with a substantial population. Society may curb an individual's independence, but it also provides valuable companionship. While Robinson rejects the claims of society in favor of individuality in the beginning of the novel, he ultimately comes around to trying to balance the two.

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Society, Individuality, and Isolation ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Society, Individuality, and Isolation appears in each chapter of Robinson Crusoe. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Society, Individuality, and Isolation Quotes in Robinson Crusoe

Below you will find the important quotes in Robinson Crusoe related to the theme of Society, Individuality, and Isolation.
Chapter 3 Quotes

At this surprising change of my circumstances, from a merchant to a miserable slave, I was perfectly overwhelmed; and now I looked back upon my father's prophetic discourse to me, that I should be miserable and have none to relieve me, which I thought was now so effectually brought to pass that I could not be worse; for now the hand of Heaven had overtaken me, and I was undone without redemption; but, alas! this was but a taste of the misery I was to go through, as will appear in the sequel of this story.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker), Crusoe's Parents
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson's ship is captured by pirates and he becomes the slave of the ship's captain at the port of Sallee. Looking back on these events now, Robinson notes that he thought things could really get no worse from here. He had been enthralled by the thought of gaining his riches after having so easily made money on the trip to Africa, and had once again brushed away his father's concerns. Now, though, Robinson reminds us that his father's worries were "prophetic," and he should have known that something would go awry. Robinson alternately locates the source of his woes in God's judgment and in his own mistakes: he doesn't exactly have a well-thought-out understanding of the relationship between his choices and the consequences, except to stress that he was mistaken about his ability to embrace danger without falling into trouble.


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Chapter 4 Quotes

He offered me also sixty pieces of eight more for my boy Xury, which I was loth to take; not that I was unwilling to let the captain have him, but I was very loth to sell the poor boy's liberty, who had assisted me so faithfully in procuring my own. However, when I let him know my reason, he owned it to be just, and offered me this medium, that he would give the boy an obligation to set him free in ten years, if he turned Christian; upon this, and Xury saying he was willing to go to him, I let the captain have him.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker), Xury, The Portuguese Captain
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

If there's anything we've learned about Robinson through the first few chapters of the book, it's that he prizes his freedom and individuality above nearly all else. This is what has motivated him to go to sea and what has propelled him to escape - of course, with the help of Xury. Robinson seems to grant, at least implicitly, that there is a massive contradiction between wanting freedom for himself and agreeing to sell off someone else into slavery: this is why he makes clear that he was so reluctant to take away the boy's "liberty." 

Still, Robinson cannot be that reluctant, since he soon agrees to the captain's terms. He seems to justify these terms to himself based on the captain's agreement to set Xury free if he converts to Christianity (though only in ten years) - which for him is significant enough to counteract any other questions. Although Robinson has spent a great deal of time with Xury, and though he seems to really enjoy his company, he fails to consider the boy, who is not from England, as a person with the same hopes, fears, and human dignity as himself.

In this manner I used to look upon my condition with the utmost regret. I had nobody to converse with, but now and then this neighbour; no work to be done, but by the labour of my hands; and I used to say, I lived just like a man cast away upon some desolate island, that had nobody there but himself. But how just has it been—and how should all men reflect, that when they compare their present conditions with others that are worse, Heaven may oblige them to make the exchange, and be convinced of their former felicity by their experience—I say, how just has it been, that the truly solitary life I reflected on, in an island of mere desolation, should be my lot, who had so often unjustly compared it with the life which I then led, in which, had I continued, I had in all probability been exceeding prosperous and rich.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson has settled into the life of a middle-class sugar farmer in Brazil, and while he is relatively successful, he begins to become lonely. Robinson had never feared being alone before - indeed, he had left England largely with the express desire of being alone in the world. However, now that he is no longer on the sea, he finds himself in a place where society exists around him - but it is a society that is foreign to him, in which he doesn't truly belong.

At the time, Robinson compares his life to that on a "desolate island." Robinson the narrator, looking back on this moment, takes the opportunity - with the wisdom gained from the passage of time - to emphasize to the reader how dangerous it is to constantly be comparing one's experience to other, worse conditions. Looking back on his time in Brazil, Robinson recognizes that it was a good life, and could easily have made him rich: he should have been content with his time rather than constantly remaining unsatisfied with what he had. This dissatisfaction, indeed, would almost ensure that his feelings would be equated by reality later on.

Chapter 5 Quotes

I smiled to myself at the sight of this money: "O drug!" said I, aloud, "what art thou good for? Thou art not worth to me—no, not the taking off the ground; one of those knives is worth all this heap; I have no manner of use for thee—e'en remain where thou art, and go to the bottom as a creature whose life is not worth saving." However, upon second thoughts I took it away.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Related Symbols: Money
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson has landed on the island as the sole survivor, although he does manage to return to the ship several times in order to obtain any useful provisions. As he rummages through the ship, he prizes anything he can find that would be valuable to him. In another place, at another time, a pile of money would have certainly been one of these valuable possessions. However, now Robinson fully recognizes that money is only valuable in society: when all one needs is to survive, nothing could be more useless.

Thus far in the book, Robinson has shown himself to pay very close attention to details of money and economic transactions, always mentioning how much he made at a certain job, and often recounting the exact logs of spending for the reader. It is ironic, then, that he must now come to terms with exactly how useless money is. Nonetheless, the fact that he does take the money away reminds us that Robinson is at heart a man of society: even if he now must play by different rules, the rules of an isolated man, he keeps the currency of society aside just in case it might serve him well.  

Chapter 6 Quotes

I had great reason to consider it as a determination of Heaven, that in this desolate place, and in this desolate manner, I should end my life. The tears would run plentifully down my face when I made these reflections; and sometimes I would expostulate with myself why Providence should thus completely ruin His creatures, and render them so absolutely miserable; so without help, abandoned, so entirely depressed, that it could hardly be rational to be thankful for such a life.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson has managed to create a somewhat stable existence for himself on the island. Although he is proud of his ability to live by himself, as he thinks about the future he realizes that he may well be here forever, with no hope of ever seeing other humans again. He believes that God has intervened because of how foolhardy and thoughtless he has been, in refusing to follow his duty and listen to his father.

Although Robinson has a great deal of respect for Providence, he isn't exactly happy about the lesson that God seems to be teaching him. Providence in his view is a means of punishment, but even so he wonders why it is necessary for him to be taught a lesson so harshly. In attempting to develop a cause or greater plan for why he finds himself in such straits, Robinson at least in this moment fails to do so. 

Chapter 7 Quotes

Evil: I am singled out and separated, as it were, from all the world, to be miserable.
Good: But I am singled out, too, from all the ship's crew, to be spared from death; and He that miraculously saved me from death can deliver me from this condition.
Evil: I am divided from mankind—a solitaire; one banished from human society.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

In order to make himself feel better, Robinson begins to draw up a list of everything that has happened to him on the island, dividing it into two categories: the good and the evil. Although Robinson had sought great independence, had sought to assert his own individual will, in going to sea, now he fully recognizes the other side of that value: deep suffering that comes from being fully isolated from society. Robinson recognizes that a great deal of human meaning comes from being around others, and asserting one's individuality only really makes sense in the context of a social world. At the same time, Robinson recognizes that his isolation is at least in part due to the fact that he, among all members of his crew, was saved from death. 

Robinson continues to have a businessman's mentality even as he makes a life for himself in a place where the pursuit of profit is no longer relevant. His pro and con list is another kind of income/expenses ledger. Robinson believes that by setting up his situation in such a way, the good will balance out the evil, even if his own personal experience ends up being less rational than a balance ledger would make it seem.

"Now," said I, aloud, "my dear father's words are come to pass; God's justice has overtaken me, and I have none to help or hear me. I rejected the voice of Providence, which had mercifully put me in a posture or station of life wherein I might have been happy and easy; but I would neither see it myself nor learn to know the blessing of it from my parents. ...Lord, be my help, for I am in great distress." This was the first prayer, if I may call it so, that I had made for many years.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker), Crusoe's Parents
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson has grown seriously ill as a result of eating turtle meat, and he finds himself in both physical and spiritual torment. He begins to think about the fact that it has been many years since he's prayed - a lapse of time that, for him, signifies just how much he has discounted the will of God in favor of his own individual desires and ambitions. Our narrator - Robinson at a later stage in his life - has been reminding us all along the story how Providence has played a role in his life, but the Robinson of the past was still largely unconscious of this role. 

This passage is this first moment in the book where Robinson finds himself not only in danger but truly at a crossroads between life and death. It is this acute peril that gives him the opportunity for an epiphany about the way he should live his life. Asking God for help requires the humility of knowing that one is not entirely isolated and self-sufficient, and may not be able to overcome struggles alone.

Now I looked back upon my past life with such horror, and my sins appeared so dreadful, that my soul sought nothing of God but deliverance from the load of guilt that bore down all my comfort. As for my solitary life, it was nothing. I did not so much as pray to be delivered from it or think of it; it was all of no consideration in comparison to this. And I add this part here, to hint to whoever shall read it, that whenever they come to a true sense of things, they will find deliverance from sin a much greater blessing than deliverance from affliction.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson has begun to reflect seriously on his life up until now, and has begun to recognize just how wrong he has been and how many mistakes he has made in pursuing his own desires and ambitions above all else. Even in the past, when he has acknowledged the power of God in his affairs, it has been mainly as a source of fear - or even as power that could potentially influence his life for the better. Now Robinson recognizes that even to pray for his own safety is selfish, and what he should be doing is praying for God to help him come to terms with the reality he is living. This is what Robinson means by "deliverance from sin" rather than from "affliction," and here he tries to share with his reader the lesson that it took so long for him to learn. 

Chapter 9 Quotes

I gave humble and hearty thanks that God had been pleased to discover to me that it was possible I might be more happy in this solitary condition than I should have been in the liberty of society, and in all the pleasures of the world; that He could fully make up to me the deficiencies of my solitary state, and the want of human society, by His presence and the communications of His grace to my soul; supporting, comforting, and encouraging me to depend upon His providence here, and hope for His eternal presence hereafter.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

Robinson is reading the Bible and comes across a passage that speaks of God's promise not to forsake his people. He is greatly cheered by this passage, as he has come to accept that he will have to live in total isolation from society on the island. Robinson has continued to hold an ambivalent attitude towards this fact. On the one hand, he misses the excitement of society and recognizes that his notions of individuality make sense largely within the context of other people around him. At the same time, his streak of independence makes him more open to the idea that isolation can be positive rather than negative.

Now, Robinson finds what he believes to be divine justification for the more positive elements of isolation from society. Other people may not be around Robinson, he argues, but he is in the presence of God, and this presence can be even better felt when no one else is around to distract him. Robinson takes comfort in the fact that he has come to believe in God's plan for mankind, so that he no longer needs to worry about his own plan for his survival--or about ever being totally alone.

I believe few people have thought much upon the strange multitude of little things necessary in the providing, producing, curing, dressing, making, and finishing this one article of bread. I, that was reduced to a mere state of nature, found this to my daily discouragement. ...I had the next six months to apply myself wholly, by labour and invention, to furnish myself with utensils proper for the performing all the operations necessary for making the corn, when I had it, fit for my use.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

As a member of society - and even as a farmer himself - Robinson has never had to really contemplate what it would be like to begin again from scratch, with none of the comforts of social life ready-made. Here he zooms in on one example of the difficulties that he has to surmount for something as simple as grinding corn and making it into bread. In his "state of nature," the simplest tasks become incredibly complicated and time-consuming, as Robinson must recreate the environment that he's grown used to.

The book is interested in chronicling just how excruciating this process is mainly in order to show how powerful it can be to be thrust away from society and be forced to figure things out on one's own. Here, the tools and processes that have been developed throughout history in order to make things easier for people are portrayed as signs of weakness, which a true individualist must learn either to do without or to recreate.

Chapter 11 Quotes

In the first place, I was removed from all the wickedness of the world here; I had neither the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, nor the pride of life. I had nothing to covet, for I had all that I was now capable of enjoying; I was lord of the whole manor; or, if I pleased, I might call myself king or emperor over the whole country which I had possession of.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

As the fourth anniversary of Robinson's stay on the island arrives, he takes the time to reflect on what he has learned and how he has changed since the shipwreck. He realizes that he has ceased to feel the driving desire and ambition that had been behind his motivations in England and eventually in Brazil. Indeed, Robinson recognizes that a large part of those desires came from the existence of a powerful social hierarchy that made it easy for one to constantly wish to climb up onto the next rung. Now, without anyone else to compete against, he can finally learn to be content with what he has.

Of course, part of that contentment stems from the fact that in terms of possession or use, Robinson is much wealthier than he's ever been - he has the entire island at his disposal. Still, he makes the broader point that being surrounded by other people makes it easy to be jealous and over-ambitious, in the sphere of love and material possessions as well as life and social rank. It is easier for him to attempt to be a good, fully Christian person on the island than it was in society.

Chapter 14 Quotes

It happened one day, about noon, going towards my boat, I was exceedingly surprised with the print of a man's naked foot on the shore, which was very plain to be seen on the sand. I stood like one thunderstruck, or as if I had seen an apparition. ...I went to it again to see if there were any more, and to observe if it might not be my fancy; but there was no room for that, for there was exactly the print of a foot - toes, heel, and every part of a foot. How it came thither I knew not, nor could I in the least imagine; but after innumerable fluttering thoughts, like a man perfectly confused and out of myself, I came home to my fortification, not feeling, as we say, the ground I went on, but terrified to the last degree, looking behind me at every two or three steps, mistaking every bush and tree, and fancying every stump at a distance to be a man.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Footprint
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

For the past several chapters, Robinson has described to the reader in acute detail how he has developed a pleasant, sustainable life for himself on the island. He has learned to be content with what he has, and he hardly misses the excitement and companionship of society, having learned to exchange it for God's companionship. Suddenly, this mode of peaceful satisfaction is blown open. At first Robinson thinks the footprint must be an "apparition," a sign of the supernatural - he cannot bring himself to believe that it is truly another person.

Soon, though, Robinson recognizes the concrete reality of the footprint, and with it the undeniable fact of the presence of another person on the island, where he had previously thought himself not only alone, but indeed king and ruler of the entire place. Robinson has learned to move throughout the island easily and confidently, knowing that no one will disturb him. Now he believes he sees another human at every moment, and he cannot relax. This passage thus marks a turning point in Robinson's story. While he has spent the first part re-learning what it takes to survive, and coming to embrace isolation as a definitively positive trait in individual development, now he must also re-create basic social processes of competition and defense, though against an unknown other.

How strange a chequer-work of Providence is the life of man! and by what secret different springs are the affections hurried about, as different circumstances present! To-day we love what to-morrow we hate; to-day we seek what to-morrow we shun; to-day we desire what to-morrow we fear, nay, even tremble at the apprehensions of. This was exemplified in me, at this time, in the most lively manner imaginable; for I, whose only affliction was that I seemed banished from human society, that I was alone, circumscribed by the boundless ocean, cut off from mankind, and condemned to what I call silent life; that I was as one whom Heaven thought not worthy to be numbered among the living, or to appear among the rest of His creatures; that to have seen one of my own species would have seemed to me a raising me from death to life, and the greatest blessing that Heaven itself, next to the supreme blessing of salvation, could bestow; I say, that I should now tremble at the very apprehensions of seeing a man, and was ready to sink into the ground at but the shadow or silent appearance of a man having set his foot in the island.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Footprint
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is largely an intrusion by the Robinson Crusoe who is narrating the story, and who knows all that has happened and that will come to take place: he is therefore equipped with much greater knowledge and the ability to draw out greater meaning than the Robinson who is muddling his way through. With the self-awareness that comes from time, the narrator points out a central contradiction in his own reaction of fear and despair towards the footprint, evidence of the presence of at least one other human on the island. The only thing that has been difficult for Robinson on the island thus far has been the sense that he is "banished" from society and unable to interact with other human beings. This is why he taught Polly to talk, and it is why it has taken him so long to finally feel content with what he has, learning to see isolation as a virtue rather than as a curse.

It is ironic, then, that the possibility of what Robinson has hoped for for so long - other people with whom to talk and to live - is now the occasion for feelings of such terror. Part of the reason, of course, is that Robinson thinks that a "savage" must have come here, and he does not consider savages as equals. But also, Robinson is clearly still learning to come to terms with the winding realities of fate through the guiding structure of Christian Providence. 

Chapter 22 Quotes

My island was now peopled, and I thought myself very rich in subjects; and it was a merry reflection, which I frequently made, how like a king I looked. First of all, the whole country was my own property, so that I had an undoubted right of dominion. Secondly, my people were perfectly subjected - I was absolutely lord and lawgiver - they all owed their lives to me, and were ready to lay down their lives, if there had been occasion for it, for me. It was remarkable, too, I had but three subjects, and they were of three different religions - my man Friday was a Protestant, his father was a Pagan and a cannibal, and the Spaniard was a Papist. However, I allowed liberty of conscience throughout my dominions.

Related Characters: Robinson Crusoe (speaker), Friday, Friday's Father, The Spanish Prisoner
Page Number: 190
Explanation and Analysis:

After having begun his time on the island entirely alone, Robinson now has a relatively thriving community around him. The irony is that he has spent much of the book learning to embrace his isolated existence on the island, even claiming its superiority to the temptations of society. But rather than attempt to create another kind of society once he has assembled a group of people around him, Robinson seems to recreate a social hierarchy, making himself the king and the others his subjects.

Robinson does consider himself relatively more enlightened than European monarchs, since he allows freedom of religion in his "kingdom" - not something that was historically common at the time. He thus shows more openness towards different peoples and customs than might be expected for an Englishman of his time and place. At the same time, however, Robinson has hardly let go of the cultural and social assumptions with which he began his stay on the island.