Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel, "Robinson Crusoe," written when Defoe was 59 years old, is a multifaceted work whose layers of significance can easily escape those who read it in their youth. The English precursor to the survival/adventure/shipwreck narrative, "Robinson Crusoe" details the career of an errant youth who discovers hope and faith through experimentation. Crusoe's exploits are also important to a developing early 18th century notion of the ideal industrious middle class citizen, as well as reaffirming the growth of British Imperialism.
As a boy in a household already fractured by rebellious sons, Crusoe lives aimlessly with his father and mother, always desiring to leave the confines of his home for the sea. Against the better wisdom of his father, who advises him to remain where he is and enjoy the fruits of an easy-going middle class life, Crusoe takes to the ocean. A series of ill-omened occurrences, including shipwrecks and enslavement lead Crusoe to a deserted island off the coast of South America, where he is forced to provide and fend for himself.
Though Crusoe's spiritual awakening has been much noted in reviews, one important facet of his Christian moralizing in the novel that is noteworthy is the way the novel problematizes Protestant-Catholic relations throughout the novel. The vast majority of Crusoe's early encounters are among Spanish and Portuguese colonists and traders. It is interesting how Crusoe measures the English against them, and how that comparison extends into Crusoe's evaluation of the various 'savages' he comes across in the novel.
Another great layer of significance in "Robinson Crusoe" concerns its attitudes toward English history and colonial ventures. Note the language of possession, authority, and control that colour Crusoe's descriptions of himself and the uninhabited island he must learn to live on. I find especially telling, in accordance with his religious views, how England's 18th century colonial competitors, the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and French, are characterized by Crusoe.
I could also cite the often explicitly homoerotic undertones in the relationship between Crusoe and his Native American manservant, Friday, as a source of compelling interest in Defoe's novel. In the realm of the socio-economic, Crusoe's appropriation of utilitarianism in regards to raw materials, money, and even people is an important theme. For those who have read it a million times or never, Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" is entertaining and edifying, always worth reading and rereading