Ideas and Topics for Papers


1. In what ways does Robinson Crusoe attempt to “civilize” his environment? How successful is he in these attempts? How does his environment strip him of the veneer of civilization he has acquired through his upbringing?

2. Name some of the methods by which Defoe reveals Crusoe’s character to the reader.

3. Robinson Crusoe frequently credits or blames Providence for his experiences. Based on your reading of the book, how do you think Crusoe defines Providence? In what ways is Providence a major influence on Crusoe’s life?

4. Some commentators have argued that Crusoe is guilty of racism. Do you agree? Why?

5. Crusoe frequently mentions his great “sin.” To what sin is he referring? He also views many of his experiences as punishment for that sin. Which events in particular does he view as God’s warnings to him?

6. Robinson Crusoe has been called an adventure tale, a moral allegory, a handbook for survival, and an economics textbook. In what ways does each label fit the novel? Which label do you prefer? Why?


1. The true story of Alexander Selkirk, popularized in various narratives during the 18th century, is generally held to be the major source for Robinson Crusoe. Certainly there are parallels in the settings, the dress adopted by the two men, and the ways in which they spend their time in exile. Discuss the similarities and differences between the novel and the true story. In what ways does Defoe improve on the original tale?

2. Robinson Crusoe has often been adapted for young children. What elements of the novel remain in these children’s versions? What elements are changed or removed entirely, and for what reasons?

3. Like Robinson Crusoe, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) is the story of an average Englishman forced by circumstances to survive in unknown and often hostile territory. Compare the two books.

4. Defoe and many of his contemporaries believed strongly in Providence-the intervention of God in the affairs of human beings. They interpreted natural phenomena as the marks of divine approval or disapproval; they believed that natural occurrences were ordained by God as rewards for goodness or punishments for evil. In what ways does this idea of Providence contribute to Robinson Crusoe?

5. Robinson Crusoe and Friday are both products of their environments. Discuss the differences between the two men in the light of what you know about their early lives. Are there any similarities between the two men?

6. Find a copy of a film version of Robinson Crusoe and watch it carefully. Compare the film and the book. How much of the book is retained in the film? What changes have been made? Why are those changes necessary?

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