Robinson Crusoe is a youth of about eighteen years old who resides in Hull, England. Although his father wishes him to become a lawyer, Crusoe dreams of going on sea voyages. He disregards the fact that his two older brothers are gone because of their need for adventure. His father cautions that a middle-class existence is the most stable. Robinson ignores him. When his parents refuse to let him take at least one journey, he runs away with a friend and secures free passage to London. Misfortune begins immediately, in the form of rough weather. The ship is forced to land at Yarmouth. When Crusoe's friend learns the circumstances under which he left his family, he becomes angry and tells him that he should have never come to the sea. They part, and Crusoe makes his way to London via land. He thinks briefly about going home, but cannot stand to be humiliated. He manages to find another voyage headed to Guiana. Once there, he wants to become a trader. On the way, the ship is attacked by Turkish pirates, who bring the crew and passengers into the Moorish port of Sallee. Robinson is made a slave. For two years he plans an escape. An opportunity is presented when he is sent out with two Moorish youths to go fishing. Crusoe throws one overboard, and tells the other one, called Xury, that he may stay if he is faithful. They anchor on what appears to be uninhabited land. Soon they see that black people live there. These natives are very friendly to Crusoe and Xury. At one point, the two see a Portuguese ship in the distance. They manage to paddle after it and get the attention of those on board. The captain is kind and says he will take them aboard for free and bring them to Brazil.
Robinson goes to Brazil and leaves Xury with the captain. The captain and a widow in England are Crusoe's financial guardians. In the new country, Robinson observes that much wealth comes from plantations. He resolves to buy one for himself. After a few years, he has some partners, and they are all doing very well financially. Crusoe is presented with a new proposition: to begin a trading business. These men want to trade slaves, and they want Robinson to be the master of the tradepost. Although he knows he has enough money, Crusoe decides to make the voyage. A terrible shipwreck occurs and Robinson is the only survivor. He manages to make it to the shore of an island.
Robinson remains on the island for twenty-seven years. He is able to take many provisions from the ship. In that time, he recreates his English life, building homes, necessities, learning how to cook, raise goats and crops. He is at first very miserable, but embraces religion as a balm for his unhappiness. He is able to convince himself that he lives a much better life here than he did in Europe--much more simple, much less wicked. He comes to appreciate his sovereignty over the entire island. One time he tries to use a boat to explore the rest of the island, but he is almost swept away, and does not make the attempt again. He has pets whom he treats as subjects. There is no appearance of man until about 15 years into his stay. He sees a footprint, and later observes cannibalistic savages eating prisoners. They don't live on the island; they come in canoes from a mainland not too far away. Robinson is filled with outrage, and resolves to save the prisoners the next time these savages appear. Some years later they return. 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. Their reunion is very joyous. Both have come from the mainland close by. After a few months, they leave to bring back the rest of the Spaniard's men. Crusoe is happy that his island is being peopled. Before the Spaniard and Friday's father can return, a boat of European men comes ashore. There are three prisoners. While most of the men are exploring the island, Crusoe learns from one that he is the captain of a ship whose crew mutinied. Robinson says he will help them as long as they leave the authority of the island in his hands, and as long as they promise to take Friday and himself to England for free. The agreement is made. Together this little army manages to capture the rest of the crew and retake the captain's ship. Friday and Robinson are taken to England. Even though Crusoe has been gone thirty-five years, he finds that his plantations have done well and he is very wealthy. He gives money to the Portuguese captain and the widow who were so kind to him. He returns to the English countryside and settles there, marrying and having three children. When his wife dies, he once more goes to the sea.