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Chapter 1

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 1 of Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe.

Robinson Crusoe | Chapter 1 | Summary



Robinson Crusoe begins his story with his family's history: his father was a merchant who emigrated from Germany, made his fortune, and married his mother in York. Crusoe has two older brothers: the first was a soldier killed in battle and the second has lost contact with the family. Crusoe's father advises him to remain in York in comfortable circumstances, but his desire to travel overshadows his parents' wishes. At age 19, he boards a ship in Hull bound for London.

The seas on this voyage are extremely rough, and Crusoe suffers from seasickness so extreme that he vows to repent his disobedience of his parents and return to York if he survives the trip. He forgets this repentance quickly once the seas become calm. A second storm sinks the ship near the port of Yarmouth, and Crusoe and the ship's crew are lucky to escape with their lives. When he hears Crusoe's story, the captain pronounces him a jinx and urges Crusoe to go home. Instead, Crusoe proceeds to London, too ashamed to return to his family. Once he arrives in London, he begins looking for another voyage.


The cautions of his father, telling him to be satisfied with the comforts of his current state in life (what he calls the "middle station"), sow seeds of guilt that will haunt Robinson Crusoe for the rest of his life. Crusoe will lament his disobedience repeatedly every time a new calamity befalls him. At the same time, Crusoe clearly does not want an easy and comfortable life; he wants to make his own way in the world and pursue adventure. Mr. Crusoe's advice to his son falls on deaf ears because Mr. Crusoe fails to understand that Crusoe doesn't really want these comforts at the cost of a lifetime of boredom. As the events of the novel reveal, Crusoe does not want to suffer, but he also derives great satisfaction from his accomplishments. When Crusoe makes a seemingly impulsive decision to board a ship for his first voyage with no luggage and only the money he has in his pocket, he describes this decision by saying "I broke loose," a choice of words that indicates he feels trapped and oppressed in his home environment.

After a few days of rough weather and seasickness, Crusoe repents of his folly and swears to return home. His reaction to this hardship also reflects a pattern that will follow him through much of his life: he views these hardships as punishment from God, but when his conditions improve, Crusoe forgets about his repentance and continues to follow his own desires. His behavior is not an uncommon reaction to hardship among people of any faith—to apologize when things are bad, then go back to the same behavior that caused trouble in the first place—but it is meant to reveal a particular weakness in Crusoe's Christianity. When he finally arrives safely in Yarmouth, Crusoe claims he refuses the opportunity to return home because he is ashamed to go back and face his family, but his all-consuming desire to wander reveals it is more likely that he proceeds to London and beyond because he wants to.

In a telling conversation between Crusoe and the captain of the recently sunk ship, the captain tells Crusoe that "if you do not go back, wherever you go, you will meet with nothing but disasters and disappointments, till your father's words are fulfilled upon you." Readers may recognize this prediction as foreshadowing the adventures Crusoe will relate. Indeed, Crusoe himself as a narrator, who is looking backward to his childhood now decades in the past, reveals to the reader that his father's words are "prophetic."

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