Robinson Crusoe and British Imperialism

In Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, the author narrates a story of a lone British man stranded on an island for decades and how he came to be there, as well as how he was joined by an indigenous man years later. In this long tale of solitude and reflection, Defoe frequently switches back and forth between focusing on religion and focusing on materialism. The main character, Crusoe, would often have profound bouts of religious soliloquies, but then he would not act upon his words. This contrast of words and actions shows that Defoe was using Crusoe as an allegory for the ultimate British imperialist: nominally religious, but able to recognize the value of items and conquer wild or “unfortunate” (Defoe 105) places and people.

One example of how Robinson Crusoe represents British imperialism is despite the fact the Bible states “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (The Revised English Bible, Mark 10:25), Robinson Crusoe often displays extreme greed. The British Empire was nominally Anglican, but their rush into the industrial revolution showed how eager they were to gain money, even if it was at human expense. Crusoe illustrates this on page 205 when he discovers the dead body of a boy after he witnesses a shipwreck off of the coast of his island: “… to see the corps of a drowneded Boy come on Shore…He had nothing in his Pocket, but two Pieces of Eight and a Tobacco Pipe; the last was to me of ten times more value than the first.” This one quote shows one of many instances of Crusoe’s avarice, though it is one of the more surprising examples. This is due to Crusoe’s action in and of itself: he closely inspected the remains of a dead boy with relative nonchalance, in fact finding pleasure when he found something that could be a possible comfort to him. He does not mention the boy again, nor does he appear to honor his body in the traditional Christian manner. In fact, he appears to think less of the dead boy than the footprint that he found in the sand earlier in the novel (Defoe 176). Crusoe’s gluttony for material goods presents a stark contrast against his proclaimed religion.

In order for the readers to examine how closely this passage shows Crusoe’s similarities to Great Britain during this time, one must look at historical context. Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719, at a time when Great Britain was a rising imperial power and moving towards trade and industry as it entered the Industrial Revolution. During this time, the great ideas of British Imperialism were being planted, especially since Great Britain won colonies after the War of Spanish Succession in 1713 (Britannica). Great Britain would later go on to dominate the world, and the impressions left by their combination of religion and greed can be seen even today.

Robinson Crusoe represented Great Britain by his need for material goods and his use of religion to benefit himself. Defoe lived in a time where materialism was on the rise and riches in life often meant happiness. Robinson Crusoe became Great Britain when he had a chance to build a utopia on an island, and he designed it based off of the British ways of nominal religion and persistent greed.

Works Cited

Morrill, John S., and Nicholas A. Barr. “United Kingdom.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 Sept. 2018,

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Robinson Crusoe.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 6 Mar. 2018,

The Revised English Bible with Apocrypha. Oxford University Press, 1989.

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Edited by Evan R. Davis, Broadview Press, 2010.