When the story begins, the setting is England. Some of the action thereafter takes place at sea in various ships. Once the pirates capture Crusoe, the action moves to Sallee, a port in Morocco. After Crusoe's escape from there, the setting moves to the Canary Islands, until a Portuguese ship arrives. For the next few years, the novel is set in Brazil. Then Crusoe embarks on his ill-fated voyage. After the shipwreck, Crusoe washes ashore on an uninhabited island, where Crusoe spends the next twenty-eight years of his life; most of the novel takes place on the island during these years. After Crusoe is rescued from the island, the setting moves to England, via Lisbon and the land route through Spain and France to Calais.
Robinson Crusoe, born in York, is the third son in his family. His parents wish to make a lawyer out of young Crusoe, but Crusoe has other plans. His one great desire is to become a sailor and go to sea. The first foreshadows what lies ahead for the hero. Although his father refuses to give him permission to go to sea, Crusoe runs away to become a sailor. Although almost all of his initial forays into sea life are disastrous, Crusoe is not deterred. During one of his trips, the Moors capture his ship, and Crusoe is taken as a slave. He finally escapes in a boat with another young man. After some interesting adventures, he is rescued by a Portuguese ship. He next lands in Brazil, where his enterprising ways help him to succeed; he becomes a planter and prospers in a few years time. Still not satisfied with his success, he decides to become a slave trader in order to get cheap labor for his plantation. As he travels by boat to find slaves, a storm hits, and his ship is wrecked. All the sailors are drowned except for Crusoe, who is washed ashore on an uninhabited island.
The novel is basically about the life and adventures of Crusoe on the island, where he lives for the next twenty-eight years. Crusoe salvages as much as he can from the ship. He builds a home, strong fortifications, plows the land, cultivates corn and rice, and raises goats. His peaceful existence is interrupted when savages land on the island. Crusoe rescues Friday, one of the savages' prisoners, whom he educates and converts to Christianity. When the cannibals visit next, Friday and Crusoe rescue two of their prisoners, a Spaniard and a savage. The savage turns out to be Friday's father. An expedition is sent to the mainland in a canoe to bring back sixteen Spaniards who have been marooned there.
An English ship visits the coast, and a few of its crew come ashore in a boat. Crusoe realizes that the visitors are mutineers and that the captain and men loyal to him are being held as prisoners. With good planning, Crusoe and Friday subdue the mutineers and rescue the captain and his crew. When the ship sends another boat with men ashore, they are also tricked and captured by Crusoe's men. Now, all that stands in the way of Crusoe's deliverance is the remaining men on the ship. In a final assault, the ship is captured, and the rebel captain is killed. Soon Crusoe sails from the island in the capture ship and finally reaches England.
Back home, Crusoe finds that most of his family members have died. He also learns that his plantation in Brazil has thrived during his absence. As a result, he is enormously wealthy. The older, mature Crusoe is gracious in his new status and generous towards his old friends and the remaining members of his family. There are, however, some more adventures in life for Crusoe and his friends as they travel the land route through Europe to Calais. In the end, Crusoe settles down, gets married, and has three children. Many years later he visits his old island and finds it has been settled. He promises to send the inhabitants more essential things from Brazil. On this note the story ends.