Themes and Characters

Robinson Crusoe, narrated in the first person, is dominated by the title character. The other major character, Friday, appears after two-thirds of the narrative has been told.

Crusoe is adventurous by nature. Against his father’s “serious and excellent counsel,” Crusoe embarks on the seafaring career that he feels will satisfy his “wandering inclination.” Even late in life, after his return to England, where he marries and has three children and is later widowed, Crusoe once again heads out to sea for another long voyage that takes him to China.

Robinson Crusoe’s character is a study in contradictions. He is by turns an ardent capitalist and an introspective Christian; a wanderer attracted to adventure and a civilized Englishman who creates a cozy dwelling for himself; a believer in the dignity of the human being and a slave trader. Defoe portrays these contradictions as typical characteristics of a middle-class English Protestant tradesman of the period.

By contrast, Friday, a native of an island close to Crusoe’s, is depicted as a savage-a reformed cannibal. Crusoe sees Friday as his “faithful, loving, sincere servant”; in fact, the first English word Crusoe teaches Friday to say is “Master.”

Many of the important themes in Robinson Crusoe are embodied in the title character and in his interaction with Friday. Through the story of Crusoe’s sojourn on the island, Defoe comments at length on several social and philosophical concepts. The novel is an allegory for a progression from spiritual alienation to salvation in that Crusoe’s life moves from rebellion to punishment to conversion and finally to deliverance. But Robinson Crusoe is also an economic document, with its focus on the taming of a wild environment, its portrayal of Crusoe as a man who keeps a careful record of his projects and crops, and its depiction of the colonial impulse in Crusoe’s education of Friday. Furthermore, Crusoe’s journal contains several passages in which he reflects on time and labor and the acquisition of material possessions.

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