Defoe vs. Shelley

In reading Daniel Dufoe’s The Enlightenment & Robinson Crusoe and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s Frankenstein, I found there to be an overwhelming theme of isolation. Shelly begins by highlighting the very best parts of being a father. She emphasizes, “A new species would bless me as their creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.” Shelly is interested in this creation not because the main character wants truly to be a father but because he wants a creature to be indebted to him, he wants a creature to be the cure of his isolation. 

Robinson Crusoe’s isolation manifests in somewhat of a similar way. He first talks about the creation of something. Not the creation of a companion but a table as a mean to do the things which make him feel less lonely. “And now I began to apply myself to make such necessary things as I found I most wanted,” expresses, like Shelly, that he will go to whatever lengths to create the means which comfort him from isolation. Additionally, Defoe’s work also involves a heavy theme of reminiscence as a means to combat the overwhelming despair of isolation. In the section entitled slavery, Crusoe recalls events and ways of life throughout his time in Brazil which allows him to relate to the average person and therefore feel less isolated. The recollection of his past seems to serve as a survival tool. 

Playing God and Carving Caves

Robinson Crusoe’s The Enlightenment and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus have very many stylistic writing differences but their stories utilize similar themes. However, when these themes are introduced into the writing, they seem to diverge almost immediately into two different outcomes. Crusoe’s writing tone is a bit more relaxed and is impartially cold when he describes the labors to make the cave into a habitable and comfortable shelter. Crusoe talks about his daily tasks of “enlarging his cave” and making furniture to change nature. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly writes much more frantically, almost as if she wants to appear she herself is as insane as Dr. Frankenstein. The making of the creature was uncontrolled and not methodically done. The writing is also more full of life and exciting. MW Shelly describes the monster coming to life and how it was lifeless and was shocked to live so suddenly. 

In both of the excerpts deal with the theme of man trying to change his surrounds and change mother nature. In Frankenstein, the monster is made from scrap pieces of dead corpses from a cemetery. This is obviously not a normal capability but the ingenious doctor figures out a way to do it and play god. In Reason, Order, and Mastery of Nature, the narrator is doing something a bit more practical, but he is essentially controlling mother nature and changing her to accommodate his needs. He changes nature by deforming the caves to make them more suitable for him and also by protecting himself from the natural harm of beasts. Although the narrator in Crusoe’s writing is a bit more successful as his task, they are both successful in initially defying mother nature’s order and making their own order.


Music and Literature

Talking in class yesterday about the shift in literature from the ideals of the Enlightenment to the ideals of the Romantic period, I was reminded of the parallel progression that occurred in Western classical music.  We can tend to think of classical music and just sort of lump together all the big names (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart) and say that that‘s classical music.  And we wouldn’t be wrong; just like we can list off Dafoe and Shelly and say that that‘s English literature.  But we wouldn’t get the whole picture.  We wouldn’t begin to appreciate the distinctions between worldviews of people from different historical eras, and how those worldviews uniquely influenced the way that authors wrote and musicians composed.  Mozart was a Classical (big C) composer, so his music is much more rigid and strict and concerned with proper form and balance and symmetry, because those are ideals of the Enlightenment.  And yes, it is beautiful and majestic of course, but it is nothing like Beethoven’s music from the Romantic period, which gushes and soars and has contrast and is concerned especially with feelings and passion.  So visual art, literature, music, etc. are all influenced by the philosophical ideas that dominated the eras in which those works were created.

It’s almost comical to observe the contrast between the style in which Frankenstein is written and the style in which Robinson Crusoe is written.  Victor is no doubt a Beethoven, whereas Robinson is definitely a Mozart.  Victor’s self-narration is dramatic; it heaves, breathlessly, overcome with passion.  The opening sentence declares that no one could possibly understand the emotions he is feeling, and then compares those emotions to a hurricane.  The whole passage is just exhausting!  Life and death!  Light and dark!  Fathers and sons!  Failure!  Success!  Horror!  Regret!  Loathing!  Eagerness!  Like, calm down, Victor.  Crusoe, on the other hand, is calm, concise, clinical, confident, and his narration is driven in all things by a sense of victory.  The way he tells his story is orderly; it trots along neatly and steadily.  And yet, the stories themselves of both books are inherently exciting.  Robinson Crusoe is a story of a shipwrecked survivor grappling with nature in solitude on an island!  Frankenstein is about a mad scientist who sews a monster together from corpses and then brings him to life!  It’s the style in which they’re written that provides the contrast.

It’s interesting to me that both stories, in different ways, deal with man’s mastery of nature.  Crusoe is humming along, encounters a cave that he needs to be bigger, and spends the rest of the day exulting in man’s ability to use tools to shape nature to suit his needs.  Ya know, it’s like Descartes’s Discourse on Method in 1636, in which he explains how technology is the answer and how man can become masters of the material world.  Unlimited progress!  We just use our reason and logic!  Victor Frankenstein’s scientific purposes too are a sort of mastery of nature.  Human nature, perhaps—the ability to create life, to shape a human being.  He uses his reason, his logic, his science, his technology, and finally realizes that he’s created a monster.  So perhaps Frankenstein is kind of speaking out against Enlightenment ideals?  Like, guys, maybe we should slow down and think about this first.  Just cause we have all this science and stuff doesn’t mean we should use it, cause we might accidentally do some bad things—like make a monster.

The Fight For Life: Ode to a Nightingale vs. Robinson Crusoe

Throughout the excerpt from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe there is a major focus on order. Defoe also gives Crusoe the unshakeable will to live. In the excerpt from John Keats “Ode to a Nightingale” the speaker is numb to the world, and is envious of the Nightingale’s blissful ignorance. In the poem, the speaker has simply given up and wishes to just disappear from the world as opposed to Crusoe who is actively trying to survive. Crusoe spends time organizing his salvages, and making a place for him to put everything. The speaker in Keats however, fantasizes about drinking wine to escape, “O, for a drought of vintage!” (p. 911) and feels as if he is on drugs, “My sense, as though hemlock I had drunk.” (p. 911). The difference between the two characters is that the speaker in the poem is content with fading away into a drugged stupor and life passing him by. Crusoe on the other hand is still working toward getting the things he wants, “I began to apply myself to make such necessary things as I found I most wanted…” (para 2) despite being shipwrecked on the island alone.
Both authors use extremely different styles. Keats creates a psychedelic picture that makes the reader feel happy, wistful, and melancholy all at the same time. The poem makes the reader feel as if they are in the state in between sleeping and waking, when a person can still remember their dreams. Defoe paints a picture for the reader through logic and reason. He goes as far as to tell the reader the direction in which Crusoe is digging, and how he can’t build another raft “[Crusoe] found the sky overcast, and the wind began to rise, and in a quarter of an hour it blew a fresh gale from the shore.” (para 3). Defoe’s attention to detail in his writing paints a clear picture for the reader to imagine without much effort. When reading “Ode to a Nightingale” the reader has to access much more of their imagination to be able to picture the world through the purple haze of Keats’ words.

Salvaging the Situation: Robinson Crusoe and Victor Frankenstein

In both Robinson Crusoe  and Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus, the process of salvaging plays a fairly crucial role. For example, in Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe tells of his experience returning to the wrecked ship in order to collect supplies for his cave. While in the ship, Crusoe comes across money which he claims has “no manner of use” to him anymore. He furthers this idea of uselessnes by calling the money “a creature whose life is not worth saving.” Regardless of his personal opinion toward the money, Crusoe still salvages it in an attempt to sustain his own life. In other words, in the midts of the carnage of the ship, Crusoe seeks–and finds–sustenance and life. Similarly, Frankenstein seaches through his own version of carnage: human graves. In an attempt to sustain his own life, Frankenstein turns to the death that surrounds him. While Frankenstein’s salvaging is not done out of his own need to survive, it is done in an attempt to provide emotional fulfillment. He explicitly states this need for fulfillment when he explains his desire for “a new species [who] would bless [him] as its creator and source.” In other words, Frankenstein wants to play God, and he turns to death in order to bring about life.

Both of these passages seem to reflect a very realistic, yet simultaneously idealstic outlook on life. For example, both protagonists can easily identify their surroundings, whether it be a shipwreck or a cemetery. However, ethics aside, they both salvage enough resourses in order to sustain–or even create–life. While Crusoe is obviously much more successful in his attempt to sustain his own life, Frankenstein does successfully create and sustain life in the simplest, biological sense. This idea is very relevant, as the world is full of war, chaos, death, and carnage. The human condition is often bleak. However, like Crusoe and Frankenstein, the only option is to survey the situation, salvage what resources are available, and move forward.

Order in Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe

Although Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein contain many obvious differences, the similarities, at least in theme, are almost more striking. One of the more overt differences is the narration. There is a much greater level of intensity to the narration of Frankenstein, while the narration of Robinson Crusoe is much more humdrum, indicating a man who has accepted his condition and is fairly content to make the best of things. The key similarity seems to be the common theme of attempting to create order in a chaotic world.

Crusoe refers to his cave as having, “a confused heap of good,” so he immediately sets to and expands his space. Crusoe, in fact, becomes so good at creating ‘order’ that he feels that, “[he] wanted nothing, but [he] could have made it.” While Crusoe’s attempts to create order are fairly minor (and, thus, successful), the attempts of Frankenstein and his monster to create order are on a much grander scale, and are much less successful. The monster simply desires to be an accepted member of the human race: for ‘order’ to exist in his world, he would be “allowed to converse with, and acquire knowledge from beings of a superior nature,” but because the monster desires to fundamentally change society, the form of order he desires can never be successful. The type of order Frankenstein desires is even more intense than that of his monster, as Frankenstein basically wants to be God. He wants a “new species [to] bless [him] as its creator and source,” and although he does manage to create life, he is so horrified by what he creates that, “his eyes swim with the remembrance.” So he, too, fails to create what he perceives as order. If the two passages are taken separately they seem to indicate two different things. In Robinson Crusoe, it is clear that creating order, and a person being in control of his environment and his life, are things that are extremely plausible, while Frankenstein indicates that no one can create the order they desire. However, when the themes of the two works are combined, it seems to suggest that to a certain extent man can be in control of his life, but at the end of the day, there are certain things that humans will never fully control. Although we can attempt to create simple order in our world, we can never change the fundamental nature of society of overcome the certainty of death.

Compare/Contrast Defoe and Shelley

In the introduction to the idea of Romanticism, the idea of imagination is strongly discussed, as it is closely tied to the sense of the romantics. The idea of imagination described as “individual variations, subjective filterings, and the mind’s independence of physical realities” plays a significant role in both readings. The sense of Romanticism claims to be dreamlike or something out of a “drug trip” so much so, that the reader may feel as if the author has lost touch with the sense of the real world. In the character of Crusoe, we don’t see this as strongly as we do in Frankenstein, but we do see his grasp of reality slipping through the endless listing, and very particular details within the narration, as well as when Crusoe encounters the gold left of the ship and he speaks aloud to himself. ” ‘O drug!’ said I, aloud, ‘what art though good for?…’ ” The solitude Crusoe goes through gives him a sense of loneliness he fills by speaking to himself, and writing out his daily activities to himself is an idea that could seem, dreamlike, or “looney” if you will. In Mary Wollstenecraft Shelly’s Frankenstein: of The Modern Prometheus, Frankenstein is even more out of his mind, especially when discussing life and death, and the idea of creation. He speaks of creating “a new species” and that “life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through.” These statements are very Romantic, in the sense of the genre. The stories are also very much alike in their solidarity. Frankenstein is left with only himself, in a “solitary chamber, or rather cell” while Crusoe is left shipwrecked in “a cave.” 

Unalike in comparison, the structure of Robinson Crusoe as well as the tone throughout the story is much more realistic and governed more by reason and clarity, where as Frankenstein is much more romanitic, dreamlike, and emotional. While both read with a feeling of solitude, Frankenstein is more of a sense of abandonment, “but i am solitary and detested”, rather than misfortune.