Isolation and the Fight Against Nature: The Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Period in Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein

Both of the passages depict narrators who are isolated from society and struggle against nature as a result of this isolation. In the case of Robinson Crusoe, the isolation is not sought after but rather forced upon him. As a rational product of the Enlightenment, his immediate recourse in his lonely state is to try to carve something resembling civilization out of the landscape. Not only does he work to make his cave into a safe refuge from beasts, he also “made… a door,” and determined that a chair and table were “such necessary things as I found I most wanted.” Helpless to save himself from isolation or escape nature, Crusoe imposes the presence of man and civilization as well as he can.

In the case of Frankenstein, the isolation is unnatural because it is self-imposed. Frankenstein is clearly aware that this isolation is bad for his health; he states that his “person had become emancipated with confinement.” However, he still chose to work in the “solitary chamber, or rather cell, at the top of the house, and separated from all the other apartments.” As in the case of Crusoe, the isolation from civilization, accomplished even though he lives in a city, allows him to pursue “nature to her hiding places” and impose the presence of human ingenuity and science where it was never meant to be imposed.

Herein lies the crucial difference between both passages interpretation of the relationship between man and civilization. Crusoe is upheld as a calm, rational man whose imposition of civilization on nature during his isolation is crucial for his survival. However, in keeping with the Romantic love of nature and distrust of the meddling of man and science, Frankenstein’s actions have dire consequences. He creates a monster who can have no peace either among man or nature, a monster who calls himself “wretched, helpless , and alone.” The monster lives in a hovel, not only isolated from men and civilization, but also disconnected from nature, God, and even Satan, who at least had “his companions, fellow-devils,” whereas the monster is only “solitary and detested.” For the Romantics, no good can come of man’s struggle to dominate and subdue nature. All of his efforts are destined to backfire and turn monstrous.

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3 thoughts on “Isolation and the Fight Against Nature: The Enlightenment vs. The Romantic Period in Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein

  1. I found the comparisons you made between the two stories to be very thorough and helpful in my own interpretation of them. I was curious, however, if you think that Frankenstein would have been successful in his quest to master nature if he had adopted some of the characteristics of Crusoe, or if you think he was destined for loneliness?

    • I think that since Frankenstein chose his isolation, he was probably destined for loneliness. Some people are born with a certain personality and nothing can really change that. Frankenstein might have secretly rejoiced at being stuck on a deserted island, provided, of course, that his equipment was stuck there with him.

  2. That’s a nice point about the irony of Frankenstein divorcing himself from civilization, in the midst of a city, in order to pursue Nature. It’s a perversion of the Romantic ideal I hadn’t picked up on before.

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