As a boy growing up in 17th Century England, all Robinson Crusoe wanted to do was be a sailor. His parents tried to dissuade him -- it was a dangerous occupation, and certainly a middle class child like him could find a calling much safer and more comfortable. Naturally, he didn't listen, and essentially ran away from home, finding opportunities to sail on a few ships and encountering a few dangers until he finally reached Brazil, bought a plantation, and looked forward to that comfortable life of prosperity his parents said would be his if he'd only use his head.
But Crusoe is one to push fate. He embarks on a ship bound for Africa to collect slaves, and during a storm in the Caribbean Sea, the ship is wrecked and the crew drowned except for Crusoe, who manages to swim to the shore of a deserted island. Unable to get back to civilization, he salvages as many goods as he can from the wrecked ship and resolves to survive as long as possible in this new, unwelcome habitat.
Crusoe's resourcefulness is astounding. He builds a sophisticated hut/tent/cave complex to live in, hunts goats and fowl, harvests fruit, and figures out how to grow barley, rice, and corn, bake bread, and make earthenware vessels. After living this way for nearly two peaceful decades, Crusoe discovers that savages from a distant island are using his island for their cannibal feasts. He manages to save the life of one of their potential victims, a savage he names Friday, who becomes his faithful servant. With Friday's help, Crusoe realizes he now has a chance to escape the island once and for all and get back to civilization, although his plans don't proceed quite as he envisioned them.
"Robinson Crusoe" is a neatly woven adventure yarn, but under the surface there are several themes. The most apparent is that the novel seems like a morality tale -- i.e., hard work and faith in God will see you through bad times; virtue is rewarded and arrogance is punished. Another theme is that although nature can be a cruel foe, man is better off learning to work in harmony with it than struggling against it. Most interesting to me, though, is that reading about Crusoe's self-education in the art of survival is like witnessing the anthropological process of how civilization developed from savagery.