An Analysis of Major Themes in Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Almost everyone has heard of or read Daniel Defoe's novel "Robinson Crusoe". "Robinson Crusoe" is an inspired novel of adventure: The story of a man's faith, courage and ability to survive on an uninhabited island facing all of the forces of nature and to emerge triumphant over hardships and adversity. Defoe's novel is a story of an English sailor marooned for twenty-seven years on a deserted Caribbean island surviving by his wits: hunting for food: rescuing a savage from a cannibals' feast and, finally, emerging as a symbol of man's ability to survive ultimate tests of nature.

What few people knew, however, is that Robinson Crusoe actually existed. His name was Alexander Selkirk and Daniel Defoe borrowed his real life adventure to create Robinson Crusoe. There are even some people today on the Island of Tobago in the Caribbean Sea that proclaim that they are the hereditary descendants of Crusoe. Alexander Selkirk's adventure did not take place on a deserted island in the Caribbean Sea.

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His lonely island was Juan Fernandez in the Chilean Sea far off in the Pacific Ocean.

Alexander Selkirk was born in the year 1676 in Largo, Scotland, the son of a fairly prosperous tanner and leather worker. Selkirk was an adventurer and defiant, and did not want to spend his life making shoes. In 1695 he ran away to sea and by 1703 was the Master of the Galley. Later he joined the famed William Dampier on an expedition in the Pacific whose sole purpose was preying on Spanish merchant ships.

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After spending time in the Pacific raking Spanish towns they were preparing to go home to England, but their ship had suffered considerable damage in battle. Selkirk felt they needed to repair the ship before setting off, the captain disagreed. In September of 1704 after a quarrel with his Captain, Selkirk refused to go any further and requested that he be put ashore on the, uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez, four hundred miles west of Valparaiso, Chile. Once he was on shore he realized what he had done. He thought others in the crew would join him, but none did. He then changed his mind and begged the captain to take him back. The captain refused, and he found himself alone on the island. It was fortunate for Selkirk because his ship later sank and most of the crew was lost, but at the time he didn't know that.

After about two years on the island he finally saw a ship and ran to the shore, he then realized it was a Spanish ship and they opened fire on him. They went ashore to search for him, but turned up nothing, and returned to the ship without him.

Selkirk was able to domesticate some goats and cats he found, and these were his only companions throughout his stay of almost four and a half years. Selkirk remained there until February of 1709 when he was discovered by Captain Woodes Rogers in the sailing ship "Duke" whose pilot happened to be Dampier. In spite of his long castaway, Selkirk was appointed Mate by Rogers and later given command of a captured prize ship.

Selkirk did not return to England until 1711 where he met the essayist, Richard Steele, who wrote up his story in a publication, "The Englishman" (1713). Selkirk became quite a celebrity in his hometown and although he married, he never quite recovered from his stay o the island. He spent much of his time alone, and didn't feel comfortable living indoors. He built a sort of cave behind his father's house that he stayed in much of the time. He also trained two cats to do tricks, like he had on the island. He lived the life of a recluse but later went to sea again. He died at sea from a fever off the coast of Africa in 1721 at the age of forty-five. At the time of his death he was master's mate on the English man-of-war Weymouth. 

Early 18th-century writers such as the British essayist Sir Richard Steele or Daniel Defoe might have related the story of his solitary adventure in their own stories.

Quick to try and capitalize on the potential tourist attraction of the name, the Chilean government changed the name of Juan Fernandez to Robinson Crusoe Island and a nearby island to Selkirk Island. In fact Selkirk Island is virtually a massive, rugged volcanic pile of rock uninhabited and Robinson Crusoe Island has only a small population of six hundred people, mostly working as lobster trappers. There are many hotels and tourist attractions on the island.

The island itself with its remoteness, rugged topography and mild climate has made it a paradise for botanists. Waterfalls trickle down the steep mountains. During storms, these often grew into raging falls, sweeping rocks and trees down the mountains with them. The water is very cold, the beach rocky and cold winds sweet down into Cumberland Bay, bringing frequent showers. To Selkirk it must have been very lonely and despairing.

Robinson Crusoe was first published in 1719. It tells the story of a young explorer who becomes marooned on a deserted island. His experiences of the island change his outlook on life. Defoe extended the stay on the island, and also moved the island from off the coast of Chile to just off the coast of Venezuela. Even though Robinson Crusoe is a fictional character, many aspects from Selkirk's life helped inspire the novel.

Daniel Defoe came from a poor family. Defoe was poor for most of his life and made his living as a butcher and a writer. Defoe mostly wrote short stories and political essays. Robinson Crusoe was a combination of two short stories. Many believe Defoe used Robinson Crusoe to portray himself in a certain ways. After his wife left him, he felt as if he was marooned on a deserted island.

The "story" takes place in the 1700s on a deserted island somewhere off the coast of Brazil. The island is fairly large in size and has a small shore. The interior of the island has many trees, wild pigs and other small animals and a small cave in which Crusoe stores food. “I walked about the shore lifting up my hands. Look around; I see nothing but water, a forest, and the remains of my ship. At first, I was afraid of wild animals but after some exploration of the land, the only animals I had seen were wild pigs, squirrels, and some small birds."

The only possessions that Crusoe retrieved from the remains of his ship were a small knife, a box of tobacco, a pipe, and a small book that would later become his journal. Robinson Crusoe was a young and stubborn explorer. He was tall and strong. His stay on the island changed him from a mean, stubborn person to an open-minded God conscience man. "Standing at six feet, two inches and having my long, thick brown hair back in a ponytail, I felt as if I was eight feet tall. Without the permission of my parents, I was still sailing away from the misery. I held the cargo box is my strong arms, waiting to board my beautiful ship."

Crusoe became a skilled craftsman and was an extremely religious man due to his stay on the island. Being the only man on the entire island, he established a faith in God. He also became more articulate from writing in a journal daily. Overall, his stay on the island changed Crusoe's life greatly.

When the story begins, Robinson Crusoe defies his parents and sets out to sea. Crusoe encounters a series of violent storms at sea and ends up in Africa. He sets out on another voyage and is captured by a group of pirates. Luckily, he manages to escape and board a Portuguese ship and sail to Brazil. While in Brazil, Crusoe purchases a large sugar plantation. After leaving Brazil, he encounters another storm in which his ship is destroyed, and he is marooned on an island as the only survivor. On the island, Crusoe gathers food and builds a small shelter. He writes in a journal to keep account of his stay. Crusoe becomes a skilled craftsman and begins to feel a spiritual connection with God. He also builds a small boat that he uses to sail around the island.

After living on the island for fifteen years, Crusoe discovers that savages had landed on the island and that they perform human sacrifices. Crusoe helps a prisoner escape from these savages. He names the prisoner Friday and teaches him English. Together, they build a new boat and attempt to leave the island. However, Friday learns his father is a prisoner of the savages. Crusoe and Friday return and rescue his father and a Spaniard. The four men board a passing boat and gain control of it. Crusoe sails back to his native land to learn his sugar plantation has made him rich. He sells the plantation and marries. Not much is mentioned about his wife and family. As the novel closes, Crusoe is persuaded to take a final voyage, back to the island. Robinson Crusoe is written using an English dialect. The narration of the novel is simple, informal and extremely easy to understand. However, Defoe uses longwinded descriptions for characters, but I found it to be very enjoyable. You are able to identify with the characters better. "He was a comely, handsome fellow, perfectly well made, with strong limbs, not too large, tall and well-shaped, and I reckon he was about twenty years of age. The color of his skin was not quite black, but very tawny; and yet not of an ugly, yellow, nauseous tawny, as the Brazilians and Virginians, and other natives are; but of a bright kind of a dun olive color that had in it something agreeable, though not very easy to describe.” This is a description of Friday. Defoe does an excellent job of introducing the character. This paragraph makes a clear picture of Friday to the reader.

The theme of the novel is that nature can change the way a man thinks and his outlook on life. Crusoe was a nasty young man who hated his family and his life as the story began. After being stranded on an island for over fifteen years, nature changed his outlook on life. Crusoe became grateful for what he did have and wanted to make the best out of it. He developed a stronger will power and became more opened minded. He also thought more about the better aspects of his life and developed a faith in God.

Updated: Nov 17, 2022
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An Analysis of Major Themes in Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. (2022, Mar 24). Retrieved from

An Analysis of Major Themes in Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe essay
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