1. "I was born."
"I was born." through ".the Sequel of this Story" (pp. 4-15)
Crusoe narrates his early life, from his birth in York in 1632 through his first adventures at sea. Although his father intended that his third and youngest son study the law, Crusoe desired adventures away from home: "I would be satisfied with nothing but going to Sea." His father attempts to dissuade him from this plan, pointing out that Crusoe now enjoys all the advantages of a life in the middle class; and that, should his efforts at sea meet with failure, his family will not be able to help him. While his father's pleading's touches Crusoe, in a few weeks he resolves to run away. After a year, he does so. At Hull, on September 1, 1651, Crusoe boards a ship at Hull bound for London. He promptly experiences his first storm at sea; it is virtually nothing but an inconvenience to the more experienced sailors, but for Crusoe, it proves a nightmare. It tempts him to return home to his father. Once the weather calms, however, and travel continues uneventfully for a few days-and not to mention with the influence of a bowl of sailors' punch-Crusoe forgets all such plans: "I entirely forgot the Vows and Promises that I made in my Distress."
A little more than a week later, however, while anchored at Yarmouth Roads, the ship experiences a truly terrible storm, one that convinces even the ship's master that all hands shall be lost. Crusoe helps the crew pump water out of the hold; he is startled when the masters fires the ship's gun as a distress signal, and faints in a swoon. When he comes to, he finds the storm still raging, and the ship about to founder (to sink). The crew evacuates in a smaller boat, and sees their ship go down. Quartered safe ashore, Crusoe again considers returning home-"But my ill fate push'd me on now with an Obstinacy that nothing could resist," not even the master's warning that Crusoe should never again go to sea.
Crusoe journeys to London, where he boards a ship bound for "Guinea" (an obsolete term for Africa's western coast). He befriends the captain, who gives him free passage and who teaches him some of the sailors' arts-mathematics, navigation, and the like-during the journey. The voyage is successful, even though Crusoe is sick for much of it. When the captain dies after the voyage, Crusoe, who considers himself "set up for a Guiney Trader," decides to repeat the voyage himself, taking command of the captain's ship. The ship, however, is attacked by pirates, and Crusoe and his crew are "carry'd all [as] Prisoners into Sallee, a port belonging to the Moors" (that is, an important port on the Barbary Coast controlled by African Muslims). Crusoe becomes a slave.
Readers who believe themselves familiar with the plot of Robinson Crusoe from its many incarnations in popular culture may be surprised to discover that the story begins, not with Crusoe's shipwreck, but with his several previous sea voyages. Defoe, following the conventions of popular autobiographical travel narratives of his day, presents detailed information about Crusoe's early life and career in order to establish a sense of verisimilitude. It is a quality that accounts for much of the story's enduring popularity-it feels as though it "really could happen."
This section also introduces the question of Providence-one of the two dominant thematic concerns of the book. The preface has already told readers that Crusoe will relate his adventures to the theme of God's providence-the means by which, according to classic Judeo-Christian theology, God provides for the needs of God's creatures. The master's son in Yarmouth Roads, for instance, urges Crusoe not to "tempt Providence to [his] Ruine." The text sometimes seems to equate Providence with Fate: for example, "But my ill Fate push'd me on now with an Obstinacy that nothing could resist." Readers will therefore also need to ask whether Crusoe is the prisoner of Fate or an active and free agent who shapes his own life-and, furthermore, whether he is not ultimately the better for it. (And while modern readers may be tempted to believe the answer is positive, an examination of the intertwined themes of "savagery" and "civilization," as sketched below-and, in this writer's opinion, the second of the novel's two dominant thematic concerns-will necessarily introduce more ambiguity into the resolution of that question!)