The novel’s protagonist and narrator. Crusoe begins the novel as a young middle-class man in York in search of a career. He father recommends the law, but Crusoe yearns for a life at sea, and his subsequent rebellion and decision to become a merchant is the starting point for the whole adventure that follows. His vague but recurring feelings of guilt over his disobedience color the first part of the first half of the story and show us how deep Crusoe’s religious fear is. Crusoe is steady and plodding in everything he does, and his perseverance ensures his survival through storms, enslavement, and a twenty-eight-year isolation on a desert island.
A twenty-six-year-old Caribbean native and cannibal who converts to Protestantism under Crusoe’s tutelage. Friday becomes Crusoe’s servant after Crusoe saves his life when Friday is about to be eaten by other cannibals. Friday never appears to resist or resent his new servitude, and he may sincerely view it as appropriate compensation for having his life saved. But whatever Friday’s response may be, his servitude has become a symbol of imperialist oppression throughout the modern world. Friday’s overall charisma works against the emotional deadness that many readers find in Crusoe.
Read an in-depth analysis of Friday.
The Portuguese captain
The sea captain who picks up Crusoe and the slave boy Xury from their boat after they escape from their Moorish captors and float down the African coast. The Portuguese captain takes Crusoe to Brazil and thus inaugurates Crusoe’s new life as plantation owner. The Portuguese captain is never named—unlike Xury, for example—and his anonymity suggests a certain uninteresting blandness in his role in the novel. He is polite, personable, and extremely generous to Crusoe, buying the animal skins and the slave boy from Crusoe at well over market value. He is loyal as well, taking care of Crusoe’s Brazilian investments even after a twenty-eight-year absence. His role in Crusoe’s life is crucial, since he both arranges for Crusoe’s new career as a plantation owner and helps Crusoe cash in on the profits later.
One of the men from the Spanish ship that is wrecked off Crusoe’s island, and whose crew is rescued by the cannibals and taken to a neighboring island. The Spaniard is doomed to be eaten as a ritual victim of the cannibals when Crusoe saves him. In exchange, he becomes a new “subject” in Crusoe’s “kingdom,” at least according to Crusoe. The Spaniard is never fleshed out much as a character in Crusoe’s narrative, an example of the odd impersonal attitude often notable in Crusoe.
A nonwhite (Arab or black) slave boy only briefly introduced during the period of Crusoe’s enslavement in Sallee. When Crusoe escapes with two other slaves in a boat, he forces one to swim to shore but keeps Xury on board, showing a certain trust toward the boy. Xury never betrays that trust. Nevertheless, when the Portuguese captain eventually picks them up, Crusoe sells Xury to the captain. Xury’s sale shows us the racist double standards sometimes apparent in Crusoe’s behavior.
Appearing briefly, but on two separate occasions in the novel, the widow keeps Crusoe’s 200 pounds safe in England throughout all his thirty-five years of journeying. She returns it loyally to Crusoe upon his return to England and, like the Portuguese captain and Friday, reminds us of the goodwill and trustworthiness of which humans can be capable, whether European or not.