Robinson Crusoe opens with an extremely quick rundown of Robinson's family life: he was born in 1632; his parents are German, and left their hometown of Bremen to settle in Hull, in England. They are middle-class, and Robinson's father strongly advocates a middle-class life for Robinson too, encouraging him to pursue law as a profession. Both of Robinson's brothers are missing -- one was killed in battle, and the other hasn't been heard from since he began a life of travel and adventure. Robinson wants to pursue travel as well, but is dissuaded by his father. In 1651, against his parents' wishes, however, Robinson leaves on a series of ill-fated voyages in search of indigenous non-Western peoples with whom he can trade. On one such voyage, Robinson's ship is captured by pirates and he is made personal slave to the pirate king. After two years, he manages to escape with a fellow prisoner -- a Moor, Xury -- and the two are taken in by a Portuguese trading ship and brought to Brazil. Robinson becomes quite friendly with the Captain of the ship and sells Xury to him on the condition that he free Xury in ten years (if, the Captain insists, Xury converts to Protestantism). Robinson sets up a plantation in Brazil, growing tobacco, and it quickly begins prospering. Though he could stay and continue to manage his plantation, however, Robinson is struck with the urge to take to sea again, and leaves on a voyage that will eventually lead to disaster. The ship encounters a huge storm, and Robinson is the only survivor to make it onshore a deserted island. He begins to make a life on the island, and will stay there for 28 years.
He keeps a journal early on cataloguing his activities, which include building a fort in which to sleep. He is very concerned that he will be found, either by people indigenous to the area, or by Europeans, and he does not want to surprised or caught off guard. He disguises his fort by walls and vegetation, and builds a ladder to get over the barricades. He also begins domesticating wild goats, building them an enclosure in another part of the island that he refers to as his "Country Seat." He kills some of them for food, but also milks them and makes cheese and butter. He teaches himself how to make earthenware pots, and even fashions a makeshift kiln for firing them. He plants corn and barley. He has a pet parrot named Polly, who is the only beast with whom he speaks English for much of the time on the island.
During the course of his stay, he makes his way out to his own shipwrecked boat, as well as to other boats that are wrecked, and ransacks them for their supplies. He eventually comes to live a relatively content, comfortable life that consists for the most part in tending his flocks, occasionally hunting for food, harvesting and gathering grain, and making things like baskets and pots. Late in his stay, however, he notices a footprint in the sand on the other side of the island. This makes Robinson extremely nervous. He begins imagining what sorts of men might have come to his island. He can't find evidence of where they might have come from, but he is nonetheless in a state of perpetual awareness, going out in the mornings to lurk and wait for visitors. After some time, however, no-one shows and Robinson begins to relax again. But just when he settles down, he finds a collection of bones and the remains of a fire on shore. He knows instantly that they are human bones, and he resolves immediately to kill the cannibals should they ever cross his path. He doesn't see any cannibals, however, for the next year and a half, and in that time he decides that since they haven't really done him any harm, he can't justify killing them. Soon after this determination, he spots five canoes full of cannibals landing on shore. They have two prisoners in tow. He watches one of the prisoners run up the shore and escape his three pursuers. When Robinson comes upon the prisoner he spares his life, even though he realizes that its likely that this man is also a cannibal. The man, who Robinson begins referring to as "my Savage," expresses extreme gratitude, and although they don't speak the same language, Robinson understands that the man will be indebted to him for the rest of his life. Robinson names the man "Friday," and the two live together on the island for the rest of Robinson's stay there. Robinson teaches Friday some English, and they spend much time debating the virtues of their respective religions. Robinson is determined to make Friday accept Protestantism, however, and lectures him at length about what he believes to be its superiority over tribal customs. Robinson claims not to own Friday like a slave, but of course the issue is complicated because he does believe Friday to be under a binding contract to do whatever he wants of him. The issues of slavery and bondage are extremely complex in this novel, and it is important to pay attention in these moments to the difference between what Robinson claims to be his attitude towards Friday, and how he actually regards and treats him. Giving Friday a European name, for example, might be understood as an implicit gesture of ownership.
Friday and Robinson finally escape the island when a British trading ship lands onshore and its sailors mutiny. Robinson befriends the Captain, and organizes himself and other sympathetic sailors together to win the ship back. Robinson has much stored firepower so they overwhelm the rebel sailors and in 1687, 28 years after he arrived on the island, they take off for Europe. At this point Robinson tries to return to his plantation but finds that he is uncomfortable with a life of luxury, so he decides to return to England. He determines to travel by land because he is afraid of his luck at sea. However, en route to England, his party is attacked by a wolf pack and Robinson is lucky to escape with his life. He appears to be settled back in Hull, but the novel closes with Robinson's wanderlust creeping up on him again. He can't stay away from the life of trade, and has decided, at last, to return to sea.
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