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Literature / Robinson Crusoe

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Written by Daniel Defoe and first published in 1719. Probably inspired by real-life castaways Pedro Serrano and Alexander Selkirk. Depending on who you ask, it might be the first true novel written in English.

Robinson Crusoe is a classic novel about the title character's various adventures, the primary one being his shipwreck on a deserted island off the Caribbean coast of South America. After a tumultuous early life at sea, Crusoe is stranded on his famous island, where he learns important survival skills, fights off cannibal natives, saves a native prisoner (Friday, who becomes his loyal servant and friend) from being eaten, and so on until his dramatic rescue. It was an immediate success after its first release, which inspired a whole lot of imitators and stories using similar plots.

There was also a sequel, The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, and a collection of essays/part 3, Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe, and well... since the story has become public domain, quite a few recycled versions IN SPACE! and the like.

Robinson Crusoe provides examples of:

  • The Aloner: Until he rescues Friday from the cannibals, Crusoe is alone as an inhabitant of his island.
  • Barbarian Tribe:
    • Played straight with the cannibals, but briefly inverted when Crusoe muses that the Spanish are themselves guilty of horrible atrocities in the New World to the extent that the cannibals almost seem innocent in comparison. But he quickly goes back to seeing them as worthless barbarians.
    • In the second book, Robinson would come to see pretty much anyone who is not a Christian as a barbarian. Africans, Chinese, various other Asians, you name it.
  • Berserk Button: Cannibalism is this for Crusoe. However, he is barely able to restrain himself and eventually almost able to excuse the practice... until he sees a white man about to be eaten.
  • Bittersweet Ending: When you take the lesser-known sequel into account. He is eventually rescued and returns to civilization a rich man. But in the next book Crusoe finds he has trouble acclimating and Friday later dies.
  • But Not Too Black: Some critics (including J.M. Coetze) have noted that Crusoe describes Friday as having generally European features: small nose, thin lips, a brighter skin tone than "other natives of America," and overall "all the sweetness and softness of a European in his countenance, too."
  • Captured by Cannibals: One of Crusoe's biggest fears. He's even convinced that Friday's people will eat him if he ventures over to them, despite Friday's insistence otherwise. Actually happens to the Spaniard they later rescue.
  • Clothing Damage: After nearly 10 years on the island, the clothes that Crusoe had been wearing began to wear out, forcing him to create new clothes from animal fur.
  • The Cavalier Years: The time period.
  • Darkest Africa: During his pre-island days, when Crusoe is fleeing Moorish slavery in a boat along the African coast.
    But it is impossible to describe the horrid noises, and hideous cries and howlings that were raised, as well upon the edge of the shore as higher within the country, upon the noise or report of the gun, a thing I have some reason to believe those creatures had never heard before: this convinced me that there was no going on shore for us in the night on that coast, and how to venture on shore in the day was another question too; for to have fallen into the hands of any of the savages had been as bad as to have fallen into the hands of the lions and tigers; at least we were equally apprehensive of the danger of it.
  • Dated History: It's since been established that reports of cannibalism among the Carib Amerindians were hugely exaggerated, if not outright fabricated. Most of the myth seems to have its roots in the tribe's practice of keeping the bones of their ancestors in their homes so that their spirits would watch over them. Furthermore, there has been no archaeological or anthropological evidence of cannibalism ever found in the Caribbean.[1][2]
  • "Day of the Week" Name: Friday.
  • Deserted Island: One of the most famous examples.
  • The Everyman: Robinson himself. His character is studied as one of most prominent examples in Western literature.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": With the exception of Friday, Xury and the mutineer Will Atkins, most characters are never given names. Instead we have "the Spaniard," "the captain," "Friday's father," "my wife," etc.
  • Film of the Book: Several, beginning in the 1920s.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Friday is really devoted to Crusoe.
  • Heroic BSoD: Crusoe has one when he almost dies of disease, but eventually snaps out of it.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Crusoe and Friday.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The cannibals who briefly visit the island, and from whom Crusoe rescues Friday.
  • Improvised Clothes: Crusoe learns to make clothes out of goat hide.
  • Informed Flaw: Friday is supposed to be from a savage, wretched cannibal tribe. Except we never see him as anything but handsome, kind, intelligent, brave, and loyal - hardly qualities anyone would connect with a "savage."
  • I Owe You My Life: Friday becomes Crusoe's devoted servant after Crusoe saves him from being eaten by cannibals.
  • Keet: Friday, occasionally. Is prone to singing, dancing and jumping around when happy.
    As soon as I saw the place I called for Friday, and asked him if he knew where he was? He looked about a little, and presently clapping his hands, cried, "Oh yes, Oh there, Oh yes, Oh there!" pointing to our old habitation, and fell dancing and capering like a mad fellow; and I had much ado to keep him from jumping to the sea to swim ashore to the place. "(From the sequel, when they return to the island.)"
  • The Last Man Heard a Knock...: In a variation of this trope, Crusoe, after some twenty-odd years alone on his island, comes across a man's footprint in the sand. It's actually a genuinely creepy moment but ultimately paves the way for the introduction of Friday.
  • Long Title: The Life and strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, where-in all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver'd by Pyrates. Written by Himself.
  • Made a Slave: Crusoe is briefly enslaved by the Moors, but eventually escapes.
  • Naked on Arrival: Friday, being an ignorant, wretched savage and all. The novel associates nudity with savagery to the extent that Crusoe refuses to ever go naked despite being all alone on a tropical island. Giving Friday clothes is one of Crusoe's first steps towards "civilizing" him.
  • Noble Savage: Friday. Though completely subordinate to his master, Crusoe nevertheless admires Friday for his honesty and loyalty, as well as his devotion to his father. He also considers Friday to be a much better Christian than he himself is.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. Robinson encounters several people with the same first name, even another Robinson.
  • Paranoia Fuel: Invoked when Crusoe finds the mysterious footprint. For all he knows, the person who left it is still on the island. He freaks out and even wonders if it might have been the devil. He ends up reinforcing his fortifications as a result.
    How it came thither I knew not, nor could I in the least imagine; but after innumerable fluttering thoughts, like a man perfectly confused and out of myself, I came home to my fortification, not feeling, as we say, the ground I went on, but terrified to the last degree, looking behind me at every two or three steps, mistaking every bush and tree, and fancying every stump at a distance to be a man. Nor is it possible to describe how many various shapes my affrighted imagination represented things to me in, how many wild ideas were found every moment in my fancy, and what strange, unaccountable whimsies came into my thoughts by the way.
  • Plot Hole:
    • There's a very famous one involving Crusoe swimming out to the ship naked... and then filling his pockets with biscuits.
    • In the same scene he has to climb up over the side of the ship on a rope, but manages to get heavy boxes of goods down over the side onto his rickety raft without dropping them into the water.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Public Domain Character: Well, it's been 300 years since it was first published, so this is to be expected.
  • Robinsonade: Trope Namer and originator of the genre.
  • Salt and Pepper: Crusoe and Friday, sort of. Of course, Friday is not black in the original book but is often believed to be, thanks to frequent Race Lifts. Still, as a straitlaced, rather stodgy white man with his more vibrant, flamboyant brown sidekick, Crusoe and Friday can probably be considered the Ur-Example of this trope.
  • The Savage Indian: The cannibals, being identified as Carib Indians. Includes Friday, until Crusoe reformed him.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: There are no women, with the exception of Crusoe's widow friend at the end. At the end of the first book, Robinson describes how he would eventually send the remaining castaways some cows, sheep, hogs - and women.
  • Small, Secluded World: The island is essentially Crusoe's entire world until his rescue.
  • Sole Survivor: Crusoe himself. Also Friday, who is the only one of the cannibals' prisoners to escape.
  • Turn to Religion: Crusoe spends his life being mostly indifferent to religion and God until he becomes stranded on the island. When he comes down with a fever, he awakens to religion. After Crusoe recovers, he often prays to God and thanks Him for giving him what he needs to survive.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The Ur-Example of the trope. Having experience traveling through Spanish territories, the author likely based the novel in the tales of Pedro Serrano, who was marooned in the Caribbean, and Alexander Selkirk, who did so in the Juan Fernández Islands.
  • White Man's Burden: After rescuing Friday and taking him in, Crusoe views teaching him to become a good Christian convert as his duty.
  • You No Take Candle: Friday's English is pretty butchered and never improves, even after (in the sequel) he's been with Crusoe in England for several years. Also Xury, Crusoe's companion when he escapes the Moors.