Study Guide

Robinson Crusoe Before the Island

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Before the Island

  • The narrator tells us he was born in 1632 in York, England. His father was a tradesman, originally from Bremen, Germany.
  • The narrator is called Robinson, a name from his mother's relations. His last name was originally "Kreutznaer," which was then Anglicized to "Crusoe." (Hence: Robinson Crusoe.)
  • Crusoe is the younger of two brothers: one of whom died fighting with his Regiment in Flanders. The second brother? Well, he's not so sure what happened to him.
  • Crusoe's head is filled, from a very early age, with "rambling Thoughts" (5); he dreams of going on sea voyages. His father, however, hopes his son will go into law instead. (Yawn.)
  • It's pretty clear that Crusoe's desire to see the world on a ship will be his downfall. He writes that "there seem'd to be something fatal in that Propension of Nature tending directly to the Life of Misery which was to befal me" (5). In other words, Crusoe blames the bad things to come on his wanderlust.  But he clearly still can't help it.
  • One day, Crusoe's father calls him in for a chat: Dad advises him to abandon his "wandring Inclination" and be content with his station in life (5).
  • Crusoe's family is of the "middle state," which, according to his father, means that they are safely middle class and in the perfect balance between the two extremes: poverty and riches (6).
  • Crusoe's father suggests that calamity is always found in polarities. He implores Crusoe not to go wandering off on adventures like his now dead older brother did. (Major guilt trip.)
  • Crusoe's dad is very stern and says that if his son chooses to ignore the advice, God will not bless Crusoe, and Crusoe will rue the day he didn't listen to his father.
  • Crusoe, who is narrating these events retrospectively, interjects to tell us that his father's talk with him was, in many ways, prophetic. (Uh oh.)
  • Crusoe is at first very affected by his father's advice and decides to stay at home.  This doesn't last long, of course. At age eighteen, he resolves to run away without his father's consent.
  • Crusoe informs his mother of his intention to leave, who falls into a great fussing fit and also refuses to give her consent.
  • Almost a year later, Crusoe finally gets his chance to break free: a friend is leaving on a ship from Hull to London; he decides to ride along.
  • From his retrospective description of the event, we know this is a terrible idea. He says the decision was made "without asking God's Blessing, or my Father's, without any Consideration or Circumstances or Consequences, and in an ill Hour" (9).
  • On the boat, a storm strikes, and of course, Crusoe is scared out of his mind. He is hit with a series of "wise and sober Thoughts" in which he decides that he should go home immediately and finally listen to his father (9).
  • Crusoe bargains with God and makes a vow to never go on a ship again if God will spare his life.
  • Once the storm clears, however, Robinson forgets all about his so-called resolutions and his "deal" with God. (This will be a pattern for our dear narrator.) His friend finds him on the ship and offers him some tasty punch. The two decide to get rip roaring drunk.
  • Crusoe has a few twinges of his conscience about all those vows and promises he made to God, but "Drink and Company" keep him distracted enough that he doesn't feel too terribly guilty (10).
  • Due to contrary winds, the ship comes to an anchor at Yarmouth Roads. The ship stays there for several days and the wind gets worse and worse.
  • Eventually, a terrible storm hits the ship. Down in his cabin, Crusoe is scared out of his mind (again), especially because of all those promises he made to God during the last storm.
  • The master orders that the Main-Mast be cut away so the ship can weather the storm. Then the ship springs a leak, and Crusoe joins the men to help them pump out water.
  • The ship fires a distress signal, which scares Crusoe so much that he falls into a swoon.
  • Another ship sends a rescue boat. Rowing away, Crusoe watches the ship founder and sink.
  • The rescue boat lands on shore, and Crusoe and the men head first to Yarmouth and then to London. Crusoe writes that he probably should have gone home right then and there to Hull, but alas, "ill Fate push'd me on now with an Obstinacy that nothing could resist" (14).
  • Crusoe has a chilling exchange with the master of the ship, who warns Crusoe that the storm was a sign, and that he should not ever go to sea again.
  • Crusoe wrestles with these thoughts, but the terror of the storm soon fades (as it always seems to with this guy) and he decides to board a ship headed to the coast of Africa.
  • Crusoe is advised to buy goods ("Toys and Trifles," 16) to trade on the journey, and he does.
  • His description of the adventure, which turns out to be his one and only success, is short. He learns about navigation and a little bit about sailing, and then returns to London with gold dust, which he trades for a big wad of cash.
  • Crusoe sets out on the ship again headed down the same route, but this time disaster strikes: a group of Turkish pirates attack Crusoe's ship and Crusoe is taken prisoner and made a slave to the captain of the ship.
  • Crusoe longs to escape his captivity in the house of his master in Sallee, Morocco, where he looks after the garden and does other menial chores.
  • After two years, Crusoe finally finds a means of escape: his master's fishing boat.
  • Crusoe is able to get the boat stocked up with all kinds of goods like beeswax, guns, and twine.
  • One day, he is asked by the master to go out fishing with a Moor and a young boy. Crusoe manages to throw the Moor overboard (who them swims safely back to shore) and gain the allegiance of Xury, the young boy.
  • After days of sailing, Crusoe and Xury need water to drink. One night, they come close to shore, but the land is filled with yelping, howling beasts. Xury tells Crusoe they are "Lyons" (23).
  • In the day, Xury goes on land, finds water, and shoots a hare for dinner.
  • Without navigational instruments for a very long sea voyage, Crusoe decides instead to sail along the coast waiting for an English trading ship to take them in.
  • In the meantime, Crusoe and Xury kill a giant lion, whose skin they use for furry bedding. Xury also takes one of the beast's giant paws.
  • Crusoe and Xury sail southward looking for English ships; weeks go by and the land becomes more inhabited.
  • Crusoe reluctantly accepts food from the people on the shore (he characterizes them as "friendly N****es," 28), and in return shoots a big spotted leopard for them. He takes the skin for himself.
  • Crusoe and Xury reach the Cape de Verde Islands, where he sees a Portuguese slave ship. Crusoe talks to a Scottish sailor who is able to understand his English, and he and his goods are kindly taken on board.
  • The captain of the ship is headed for Brazil, and now so are Crusoe and Xury.
  • The captain buys Crusoe's boat from him and also tries to buy Xury. Crusoe agrees to let the captain have Xury, and the captain says he will set the boy free in ten years, so long as Xury converts to Christianity.
  • Twenty two days later, the boat lands in Brazil.
  • Crusoe buys a sugar plantation and over the course of a few years, gains enough profit to become roughly middle class on his own. Crusoe mentions that he could have had this kind of life back in England.
  • The Portuguese sea captain sets sail for England and is able to procure all of Crusoe's money and goods from back in England. Crusoe sells the English goods and makes a tremendous profit. Crusoe uses his wealth to buy "a N**** Slave, and an European
  • Servant" (33).
  • Soon, though, Crusoe is hit with another bout of wanderlust. At the same time, he's approached by a group of planters who want him to sail to Guinea to purchase slaves for them privately. He is offered his fair share of slaves as part of the bargain. Crusoe accepts.
  • Crusoe sets sail for Guinea on September 1, 1659, the same day that, eight years earlier, he left his mother and father at Hull. (Foreshadowing alert.)
  • The ship hits a series of storms and is blown off course. Eventually, though, the ship runs upon land, and the men are forced to abandon the vessel before it gets torn to bits by the waves.
  • Crusoe fights his way to the shore, but he's the only one who survives. As for the rest, Crusoe writes that they drowned, leaving behind "three of their Hats, one Cap, and two Shoes" (41).

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