Conquering Nature

The main characters in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus are both men with an enduring need to conquer nature. However, their situations and backgrounds divide their internal thoughts.

“No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success, (Line 1)” says Dr. Frankenstein, a reflection into his deep emotions to be the first human to create another species. He craves the chance of pioneering a new future, like Prometheus before him. He gives every ounce of energy to fulfill his goals: “One secret which I alone possessed was the hope to which I had dedicated myself; and the moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding places (13-15).” Robinson Crusoe also conquers nature on the deserted island: “…so I set myself to enlarge my cave, and work farther into the earth; for it was a loose sandy rock, which yielded easily to the labour I bestowed on it: and so when I found I was pretty safe as to beasts of prey, I worked sideways, to the right hand, into the rock (3-6).” The earth before him is nothing more than an obstacle to be dominated, through a calculated and strenuous approach. Towards the end of digging his cave, Crusoe accomplishes his objective of building shelter, “…by stating and squaring everything by reason, and by making the most rational judgment of things, every man may be, in time, master of every mechanic art (14-16).”

However, Dr. Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe vastly differ in their minds. Crusoe is a systematic and observant character. He notes every little detail, even the ones that are seemingly insignificant, “I have already brought all my goods into this pale, and into the cave which I had made behind me.” Crusoe’s entire mindset is a reflection of his time, one heavily engrained into a system of established rationality, “…reason is the substance and origin of the mathematics (13-14).” Dr. Frankenstein would not agree with this kind of conformity to the norm.  In fact, he sees himself as an innovator in an unenlightened world, “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world (2-3).” He, unlike Crusoe, looks to break the established barriers of his society. Dr. Frankenstein doesn’t want to just dominate nature; he wants to do it in a way that has never been seen before.

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2 thoughts on “Conquering Nature

  1. I like the connection you made showing how they want to conquer nature in different ways. I never thought of it as Crusoe simply considering nature as an obstacle to dominate and Dr. Frankenstein wanting to inovatively conquer it.

  2. A little lobsided toward Crusoe here, since you don’t really discuss Frankenstein much. How does Frankenstein try to conquer nature through innovation? And more importantly, what does that mean in terms of the larger picture of these periods?

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