The Sources of Robinson Crusoe
The Adventure Story
Travel Literature
Conduct or Guide Literature
Spiritual Biography and Spiritual Allegory
Defoe Syllabus


Numerous sources have been proposed for Robinson Crusoe; the most compelling arguments have been made for the adventure story, travel literature, conduct or guide literature, and spiritual biography and allegory as models for Defoe's fiction and protagonist.

The adventure story.
            The purpose and the nature of adventure stories are obvious, to tell of risky enterprises and daring feats. Readers who see Robinson Crusoe as an adventure story generally find Crusoe's moralizing, religious conversion and consequent religious commentary as superficial filler or as digressions.

Travel literature.
            Travel literature describes unfamiliar lands, peoples, geography, animals, plants precisely and objectively, for their own sake. Chronology is a useful organizing device and usually has no other use, like achieving dramatic effects. Even extraordinary events like the rescue of
Alexander Selkirk, who is traditionally regarded as the model for Robinson Crusoe, are narrated without emotion or emphasis.
            From 1704-1709, Alexander Selkirk (1676-1721) lived alone on the Juan Fernandez Island. He demanded to be left there after a quarrel with Captain Thomas Stradling about the safety of the ship. His rescue by Captain Woodes Rogers and his return to England made him famous for a time; even Richard Steele wrote an essay about him. Defoe's habit of writing about or in response to current events is one reason for connecting Selkirk and Crusoe.

Conduct or guide literature.
            Popular from the seventeenth century on, guide literature pointed out how readers should live to achieve salvation. It warned about the dangers Christians faced from their own depraved natures and from living in a fallen world (a reference to the fall from the Garden of Eden and the loss of innocence). J. Paul Hunter identifies the common roadblocks along the path to salvation which were described by the guides: neglecting the ordinary duties of one's station or place, discouragement because of failure or afflictions, uncertainty because of conflicting advice, and the bad advice of companions. All wrong choices were perceived as an implicit rebellion against God's will, for they constituted a failure to follow God's providential rule over the world. For this reason, the guides stressed the need for proper guidance of the young. Defoe was certainly familiar with this genre. His work The Family Instructor (1715) can be seen as a guide book; it followed the spiritual history of a family, ending with the damnation or conversion/salvation of all its members.

Spiritual biography and spiritual allegory.
            The principles discussed by the guide books were given concrete form in spiritual biography and allegory. They narrated the Christian's journey or pilgrimage through the wilderness of a fallen world, where they were torn by the conflict between good and evil. The goal was, of course, salvation.
            The spiritual biography focused on real persons–a saint, a martyr, a particularly pious individual, or a notorious sinner who converted; even in the fictional Robinson Crusoe, Defoe insisted on the reality of Crusoe and his experience. The spiritual biography was shaped by the pattern of denying God, repenting/converting, and being delivered from sin by God's grace. John Bunyan (1628-88) wrote a spiritual autobiography during his twelve-year imprisonment for preaching without a license. Grace Abounding (1661) traced his journey from his birth into poverty through a sinful childhood and adolescence to repentance and conversion.
            In the spiritual allegory, the protagonist was representative of  humanity in general, and his experiences typified the pattern of the soul's struggle toward salvation, not a particular individual's. Often the spiritual allegory was presented as the author's dream or vision. In part I of Bunyan ‘s spiritual allegory, Pilgrim's Progress (1678), Christian fled the City of Destruction and passed through the Slough of Despond, the Valley of Humiliation, Vanity Fair, Doubting Castle, and the Delectable Mountains to arrive at, finally, the Celestial City. In Part II, his wife, Christiana, accompanied by her children and her neighbor Mercy, also journeyed to the Celestial City.


Day 1 (W, Sept. 4) Introduction
Day 2 (M, Sept. 9) Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, “Preface” - "I Build My Fortress"
    Overview of Daniel Defoe
    Overview of Robinson Crusoe
    The Sources of Robinson Crusoe
    Alexander Selkirk
Day 3 (W, Sept. 11) Defoe, Robinson Crusoe ,"The Journal" - "I Am Very Seldom Idle"
    Increase Mather, Remarkable Providences
Day 4 (T, Sept. 17)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "I Make Myself a Canoe" - "I See the Wreck..."

Day 5 (W, Sept. 18)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "I Hear the First Sound..." - "We Quell..."
Religion in Robinson Crusoe
Web paper due (1-2 pages)

Day 6 (M, Sept. 23)

Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, "We Seize the Ship" - "I Revisit My Island"
Robinson Crusoe as Economic Man