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Robinson Crusoe - the Castaway Classic

  • Mar 8, 2010

Published in 1719, Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” was one of the earliest novels in English. It’s a first person narrative that runs to almost 300 pages without division into chapters – I guess chapters were invented later. Defoe probably found inspiration for his tale in the real life ordeal of Alexander Selkirk, a Scot who spent 4 years as a castaway on a South Pacific island. The place described in the novel probably is the Caribbean island of Tobago, a short distance from Venezuela at the mouth of the Orinoco River.

Despite his father’s protestations, young Crusoe pursues sea-faring life. His first experience at sea in 1651 ends in a ship wreck, but he survives and makes it back to the coast of England. Still, he persists in pursing a sailor’s life. On his next voyage, he is taken prisoner by pirates and enslaved. He manages to escape by sea, is befriended by a Portuguese captain off the coast of Africa, and ends up a plantation owner in Brazil. You’d think he’d be ready to settle down, but instead sets sail for Africa to bring back some slaves. This time, when his ship is wrecked near the mouth of the Orinoco River in September 1659, he is the sole survivor. Having been cast up on an uninhabited island, he spends his first night sleeping in a tree. Over the next few weeks, he is able to recover some supplies from the ship before it falls apart and sinks. He builds a fort and excavates a cave for himself, hunts and subsists on various fowl, goats, turtles and turtle eggs, and dries grapes to make raisins. He marks time by carving notches in a wooden post. One day, he sees a footprint in the sand and is horrified to think there is someone else on the island. It turns out that natives from the mainland periodically come over to the island in canoes with prisoners for human sacrifice and cannibalistic rituals. During one such visit, Crusoe saves one of the captives from the other natives and names him “Friday” for the day he found him. On another visit, Crusoe and Friday save two more prisoners, one of whom miraculously turns out to be Friday’s father. The other is a Spaniard from another crew shipwrecked on the mainland. Friday’s father and the Spaniard go back to the mainland to bring back the others, but before they return, a mutinied English ship arrives and the mutineers try to maroon their captain on the island. Crusoe, Friday, the captain and a few loyal shipmates retake the ship and instead leave the mutineers on the island. Crusoe thus leaves the island in December 1686 – 28 years, 2 months and 19 days after he arrived – and makes his way back to England.
“Robinson Crusoe” is a story of human loneliness and survival in an unknown and dangerous environment. Crusoe is a product of his English background and the island becomes his own little British colony. His only book is a bible from the ship, and he reads it daily bringing his Christian beliefs to bear on the reader (and ultimately on his man Friday). At one point, Crusoe comes to understand that religious beliefs and practices are relative. He realizes he has been wrong to desire vengeance against the “savages” for their primitive rituals because they have no concept of his civilized Christianity.
Ultimately, Crusoe is resigned to life on his island. At one point, when he ventures off shore in a hand-crafted canoe, he is carried out to sea by a fast current and nearly is lost. He makes it back to the island, which has now become precious to him: “Thus we never see the true state of our condition till it is illustrated to us by its contraries, nor know how to value what we enjoy, but by the want of it.”
As an early classic of English literature, I’m glad I finally got around to reading this book. However, unless you are a fan of adventure stories, you may find it tedious. The early 18th century English prose can be a real chore, and Crusoe’s archaic Christianity and British colonialism get old quickly.
Robinson Crusoe - the Castaway Classic

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More Robinson Crusoe reviews
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
Old time classic, much better in depth and vision than the modern books, or movies such as "Castaway"
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
Good relaxing adventure. Transport yourself to the island with no facilities but with a big desire to live and survive every day.
Quick Tip by . July 14, 2010
Read the original...all the movies made of it have been garbage.
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
Though sometimes a slow read it is still captivating. Don't go by the movies to tell the true story.
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
Was a little bit boring at the beginning. But after - you can't stop reading it. Adventures. Admires how man can stay alive alone for so many years!
Quick Tip by . June 09, 2010
Robinson Crusoe is one of my all-time favorite books. I've probably read it at least 8 times over the years. If you love adventure stories about people who have to survive on almost nothing, carving out a life where none has existed before, you'll really love this classic story.
About the reviewer
Steve DiBartola ()
Ranked #153
I was invited to join Lunch by one of the developers, who apparently read some reviews I posted on Library Thing. My interests are books, music, and movies. I enjoy both classical and contemporary fiction, … more
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