Robinson Crusoe

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The plot of Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe is an Englishman from the town of York in the seventeenth century, the youngest son of a merchant of German origin. The hero of the novel is a middle-class man, Robinson Kreutznaer, anglicised Crusoe, who born in York in 1632 of a German father and an English mother. He, at the age of nineteen, decides to leave his family in order to look for adventures and to make his own fortune.
His first voyage leads him to Guinea and then back to England. The second voyage does not prove as fortunate: the ship is seized by Moorish pirates, and Crusoe is enslaved to a potentate in the North African town of Sallee. While on a fishing expedition, he and a slave boy break free and sail down the African coast. A kindly Portuguese captain picks them up, buys the slave boy from Crusoe, and takes Crusoe to Brazil. In Brazil, Crusoe establishes himself as a plantation owner and soon becomes successful. Eager for slave labour and its economic advantages, he embarks on a slave-gathering expedition to West Africa but ends up shipwrecked off of the coast of Trinidad, where he remains for 28 years. During this time he keeps a journal where he records what happens to him.
After twelve years of solitude, he finds a human footprint on the shore, and later observes cannibalistic savages eating prisoners. Once Robinson decides to attach them: in fact, Using his guns, Crusoe scares them away and saves a young savage whom he names Friday. Friday is extremely grateful and becomes Robinson's devoted servant. He learns some English and takes on the Christian religion. For some years the two live happily. Then, another ship of savages arrives with three prisoners. Together Crusoe and Friday are able to save two of them. One is a Spaniard; the other is Friday's father. Finally he is rescued and brought back to England, where he discovers that his plantation has made him rich.

The new middle-class hero
Robinson belongs to the middle-class which his father praises as: “…the best state in the world, the most suited to human happiness, not exposed to the miseries and hardships, the labour and sufferings of the mechanic part of mankind, and not embarrassed with the pride, luxury, ambition and envy of the upper part of mankind…”.
Actually, the story begins with an act of disobedience which, according to the Puritan view of life, implies God's punishment (the storm and the shipwreck), followed by repentance and salvation through God's mercy, with Robinson's final return to England and economic success.
What Robinson has in common with the classical heroes of travel literature is his restlessness, the search for his own identity in alternative to the model provided by his father.

The island
The best known part is the life on the desert island where Robinson shows all the features that make him the champion of the values of the middle class: in a situation which looks desperate and helpless, he finds a way not only to survive but to re-create on the island a primitive empire, thus becoming the prototype of the English colonizer. His stay on the island is not seen as a return to Nature, but as a chance to exploit and dominate Nature.
The island is the ideal place for Robinson to prove his qualities, to demonstrate that he deserved to be saved by God’s Providence.

The individual and society
The hero’s life on the island puts forward the issue of the relationship between individual and society, between the private and the public spheres.
Defoe shows that though God is the prime cause of everything, the individual can shape his destiny trough action. Man can overcome doubt and modify reality though his work and through the interpretation of his achievements in the light of the Bible and God’s will. Robinson has a pragmatic and individualistic outlook. He applies a rational method to every situation.

The style
Defoe concentrates his description on the primary qualities of objects, especially solidity, extension and number, rather than on the secondary ones (colour, texture, flavour). The languages is simple, matter of fact and concrete to reinforce the impression of reality conveyed by the first-person narration.

A spiritual autobiography
Robinson Crusoe is full of religious references to God, sin, Providence, salvation. The novel can be read as a spiritual autobiography where the hero reads the Bible to find comfort and guidance, experiences the constant conflict between good and evil, keeps a diary to record events to see God’s will in them. Robinson prays God to be freed from sin rather than to be rescued from the island.