Robinson Crusoe: the Novel

The Fascinating World of "Robinson Crusoe": An Overview of Genre, Title, Characters, Settings, Themes, Symbols and Narrative Techniques

Robinson Crusoe is a realistic novel written by Daniel Defoe and published in 1719. It tells the story of a young Englishman named Robinson Crusoe who becomes a sailor and goes on a series of adventures, eventually becoming shipwrecked on a deserted island where he must learn to survive on his own. The novel is considered the first realistic novel in English literature, and Defoe based the character of Crusoe on the real-life story of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who was marooned on an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean for four years.

The novel was published during the early 18th century, a period known as the Augustan Age in English literature. This period is characterized by a focus on reason, order, and classical influence, as well as the emergence of the novel as a popular literary form. Some of the notable authors and works of this period include Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, John Dryden, Samuel Richardson, and Laurence Sterne.

The full title of Robinson Crusoe appears on the title page as "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." This lengthy title summarizes the entire narrative of the novel, while also providing several factual details such as Crusoe's background, the duration of his experiences on the island, and the location of the island. The title page credits Robinson as the author of the book, which was originally published in 1719. This, along with the inclusion of a foreword by an "Editor" who claims that the story is a "just history of fact," helped to convince readers that the book was a travelogue, or an authentic first-person account written by a real person. Defoe used these techniques to support the illusion that Robinson Crusoe was a true story.

Robinson Crusoe is structured as a first-person narrative, with Crusoe telling the story of his life and adventures. The original version of the novel, which was published in the monthly magazine "Bentley's Miscellany", contained three books and 63 chapters. Later editions of the novel included more than 50 chapters. The novel follows Crusoe's journey from his early years as a seaman and merchant, through his time as a castaway on the uninhabited island, to his eventual rescue and return to civilization. Along the way, he faces numerous challenges and adventures, including encounters with cannibals, pirates, and wild animals.

The main characters in Robinson Crusoe are Crusoe himself, who is the narrator and main protagonist of the story, and Friday, a native. Friday is saved by Robinson from the cannibals who had brought him to the island to eat him. That's how Friday becomes Robinson's servant and companion. There are also several minor characters in the novel, including pirates and a captain of a mutinied ship who rescues Crusoe at the end of the story.

Robinson Crusoe is set in a number of different locations, including Brazil, the Caribbean, and Europe. The main setting of the novel is the uninhabited island on which Crusoe is stranded for 28 years. The island is located off the coast of South America, near the mouth of the Oroonoque River in what is now modern-day Brazil. The novel also includes scenes set in Europe, including England, Portugal, and Africa.

In terms of setting in time, the novel covers a period of approximately 28 years, starting with Crusoe's early years as a sailor and ending with his rescue and return to civilization. It is important to note that the concept of time here is different from the concept of time expressed in works from the Renaissance. The passing of time was shown through the description of the seasons or human decay. In this novel, instead, time is concrete: it is counted to be used. Robinson keeps a calendar and keeps a diary in which he annotates all of his thoughts and actions.

The action of the novel takes place in the early 18th century, during the Age of Exploration and the period of European colonization. Once again we have to point out the concept of place differs in the Renaissance compared to the same concept in the Augustan Age. In the Renaissance, places mirrored the stability of the social classes. The setting in place is clearly indicated in Robinson Crusoe, with geographical and topographical information, longitudes and latitudes, and names of real countries, oceans, and rivers.

There are several themes in Robinson Crusoe, including survival, self-reliance, and the encounter between European and non-European cultures. A further theme is the process of European exploration and colonization, with the island representing the new territories being explored and colonized by Europeans and Crusoe's efforts to impose his own way of life on the island representing the way in which European powers sought to assert their control over these territories and their native populations.

Robinson Crusoe also explores themes of religion and redemption, as Crusoe faces questions of faith and the purpose of his suffering on the island. He ultimately comes to see his time on the island as a test of his faith and a chance to repent for his past sins, and he becomes a more devout Christian as a result of his experiences. The novel also portrays the theme of colonialism and the effects of Westernization on non-Western cultures, as Crusoe's encounter with Friday reveals the ways in which European colonization impacted the lives and cultures of native peoples.

Some symbols in the novel include the island itself, which stands for Crusoe's isolation and the challenges he faces, and Friday, who represents the encounter between European and non-European cultures. He becomes a symbol of the impact of Westernization on non-Western cultures. The tools and weapons that Crusoe uses to survive on the island can also be seen as symbols of the technological superiority of European culture and the way in which it was used to assert control over other parts of the world.

Here are a few quotes from the novel that illustrate these themes and symbols:

  • "I had now been...eight and twenty years upon this island, and had never yet seen any human creature" (Crusoe's isolation on the island)
  • "I was now an absolute monarch...all the world was my own" (Crusoe's colonization of the island)
  • "I had a great mind to kill him, but I had a curiosity to see how he would behave" (Crusoe's encounter with Friday)
  • "I was here delivered of all the people I had been so long with" (Crusoe's isolation and survival on the island)
  • "I had been so long in this way of living, that I seemed to have been born to it" (Crusoe's self-reliance and adaptation to life on the island)
  • "I began to think of making me a canoe, that I might go round the island" (Crusoe's resourcefulness and determination)
  • "I began to consider that God Almighty was come down to this place to save my life" (Crusoe's encounter with Friday and the beginning of his spiritual journey)
  • "I reflected upon my past life with such horror" (Crusoe's realization of his past sins)
  • "I began to be very serious in the main affair of my soul" (Crusoe's growing devotion to Christianity)
  • "I was nothing but a poor ignorant, unhappy wretch, a prisoner" (Crusoe's recognition of his need for redemption)
  • "I began to consider myself as a human creature, cast upon that dreadful place as surely as if I had been thrown from the drawer of a ship" (Crusoe's colonization of the island)
  • "I gave him bread, and tried to make him understand me, that he should go to the boat with me" (Crusoe's efforts to "civilize" Friday)
  • "He had been in the boat before, and knew the word boat" (Crusoe's introduction of European words and concepts to Friday)
  • "I began to be a little proud of my cave" (Crusoe's use of his skills and resources to create a comfortable home on the island)
  • "I had now got all the tools I wanted" (Crusoe's use of European technology to survive on the island)
  • "I began to think of making me a canoe" (Crusoe's resourcefulness and determination in using his tools and skills to adapt to life on the island)

This presentation is not exhaustive and only expands on a few of the key aspects of "Robinson Crusoe". There are many other interesting and important elements of the novel that could be further expanded upon, including its themes of religion and redemption, its portrayal of colonialism and the effects of Westernization on non-Western cultures, and its use of symbols such as the island, Friday, and Crusoe's tools and weapons. Additionally, the novel's portrayal of the encounter between European and non-European cultures and its themes of survival, self-reliance, and resourcefulness make it a timeless and thought-provoking work that continues to be widely read and studied today.

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LnT Read the first page of the novel. It's fast, it's easy (there is a wordlist).

LnT The first page of the novel divided into sections to help you to make an efficient summary.

LnT "Robinson Crusoe": Title Page

LnT "An Overview of Realistic Novels in the Augustan Age: Characteristics and Elements”

LnT Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders: two realistic novels from the Augustan Age

LnT Brewer, John. "The Americanization of Daniel Defoe." Modern Language Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 4, 1983, pp. 395-413.

In this article, Brewer examines the ways in which Defoe's portrayal of Crusoe's experiences on the island can be seen as reflecting the process of European colonization in America and the encounter between European and Native American cultures. Brewer argues that Defoe's depiction of Crusoe's encounter with Friday can be read as a metaphor for the encounter between European and Native American cultures, and that Crusoe's efforts to "civilize" Friday can be seen as a metaphor for the way in which European powers sought to impose their own ways of life on colonized peoples.

LnT Kewes, Paulina. "The Uses of the Past in Robinson Crusoe." Eighteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 9, no. 3, 1997, pp. 271-287.

In this article, Kewes examines the ways in which "Robinson Crusoe" engages with the theme of the uses of the past, both in terms of Crusoe's personal past and the historical past of Europe and the New World. Kewes argues that the novel can be seen as a commentary on the role of history and memory in shaping individual and collective identity, and that Defoe uses the character of Crusoe to explore the ways in which the past is both used and misused by individuals and society.

LnT Hulme, Peter. "Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492-1797." Routledge, 2013.

In this book, Hulme examines the history of European colonization in the Caribbean and the encounters between European and Native American cultures that took place during this period. He discusses the ways in which these encounters shaped the development of European and Native American societies, and the legacy of colonialism in the Caribbean region.

LnT Watson, Nicola J. "'The First Experiment in English Prose Fiction': The Authority of Experience in Robinson Crusoe." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, vol. 36, no. 4, 1996, pp. 725-741.

In this article, Watson discusses the ways in which Defoe's portrayal of Crusoe's experiences on the island can be seen as reflecting the process of European colonization in America and the encounter between European and Native American cultures. Watson argues that the novel can be seen as a commentary on the authority of experience and the role of individual subjectivity in shaping knowledge and understanding.

LnT Leist, Susanne. "Religion in the English Novel, 1660-1800: An Overview." Religion in the English Novel, 1660-1800, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, pp. 1-14.

In this book, Leist provides an overview of the ways in which religion was depicted in the English novel from the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 to the end of the 18th century. She discusses the ways in which religious themes and symbols were used by novelists to explore questions of faith and the role of religion in society.

LnT McKeon, Michael. "The Origins of the English Novel, 1600-1740." Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

In this book, McKeon traces the development of the English novel from the early 17th century to the mid-18th century, examining the ways in which the form evolved and the factors that contributed to its emergence as a distinct literary genre. He discusses the social, cultural, and historical context in which the novel developed, and the ways in which it reflected and responded to the changing world of the early modern period.

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Daniel Defoe

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