Conquering the Unknown, Crusoe vs. Frankenstein

     The ways in which the characters approach the unknown is where their differences lie. Robinson Crusoe is bothered by the “confused heap of goods”. To make himself comfortable he digs deeper into the earth, giving himself room to store his goods. He feels at ease once he has more room and has built his “necessary things”. The language of this passage reflects the systematic approach he took, “And here I must needs observe, that as reason is the substance and order of the mathematics, so 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.” The diction consists of words that are specific, yet simple. Being deserted on an island puts one out of their element. Robinson Crusoe made himself comfortable in this unknown environment through observation, reason, mathematics and rational judgment, the cornerstones of the Enlightenment movement.

     Dr. Frankenstein was attracted to the unknown, “No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane… Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.” (692) Both Crusoe and Frankenstein sought this “light” but they did so with different methods and attitudes. Crusoe was satisfied with his manual labor and reason that helped him to conquer the confusion. Frankenstein is pushed to “pursue nature” by an “almost frantic impulse” (692-693) Frankenstein’s work consists of hours of study and thinking rather than manual labor. He attempts to bring life to the lifeless and “pursue(d) nature to her hiding places”. The language reflects a less systematic approach, “My limbs now tremble, and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless, and almost frantic impulse, urged me forward”. This language is more decorative than that of the Crusoe passage. It reflects the Romantic’s desire for beauty and art rather than plain reason. The language and Frankenstein’s pursuit for life reflects the Romantics focus on imagination, emotion and beauty to expand their minds. Both the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement are intellectual movements, because of their search for truth. These movements remain distinct based upon their methods and goals.



2 thoughts on “Conquering the Unknown, Crusoe vs. Frankenstein

  1. Your analysis of Crusoe’s and Frankenstein’s actions is sound, but I am curious about the idea that Frankenstein’s work reflects the Romantic period, rather than rejects it. Frankenstein does attempt to bring life to the lifeless, but his success lies only in the most warped and repulsive of creatures. Frankenstein’s monster even finds himself to be abominable, wishing to die rather than go on in his unnatural state. The Romantic Era valued nature, thus it must have valued the natural order, which Frankenstein ignores. He says that he wants to bring life to the dead, to create life (which is unnatural, or supernatural, but not a power of man), but to do this he perversely pursues death. I would argue that although he is much more emotional and his language much more decadent than that of Crusoe, Frankenstein embodies the Enlightenment rather than the Romantic Era, with his monster demonstrating the latter.

  2. Some really nice distinctions and comparisons here between the Enlightenment and Romantic methods, as well as their sensibilities. Both of you are touching on the irony of Frankenstein’s pursuits. He is assuming a God complex in attempting to “breath life into clay,” ignoring what, as a scientist, he must know about the natural order. It’s the pursuit of mystery that distinguishes this Romantic scientist from his more rational (although no more reverent) Enlightenment forbears.

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