Comparing and Contrasting Shelley’s Frankenstein and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

The passages from Shelley’s Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe both present similar overarching themes, such as humanity, but differ in their perspective of this idea. Each novel also addresses the awareness of one’s humanity, with Frankenstein’s creature having studied his “accursed origin”, while Crusoe states how “making the most rational judgment of things” results in fulfillment of one’s goals.  Both pieces mirror ideals from the Enlightenment period, one of which includes mastery of nature.  Shelley’s Frankenstein comments on how if he is successful, then he can “renew life where death” (692) has taken over.  Similarly, Defoe’s Crusoe commits himself to construct “such necessary things as I found most wanted” from what natural resources he has available to him.  Additionally, both men appear to be inventors, but through different means; Crusoe builds because he must in order to survive, but Frankenstein does so out of a pure desire to create a “new species” which had previously never existed.

Contrasting elements between the two works include differing perspectives on the value of life.  Crusoe “smiled to [him]self” upon seeing money which he had no use for, but still found that he could appreciate it because life only has the meaning one gives to it.  Whereas Frankenstein’s creature believes that his life is devoid of any significance as he has no relationship with his “cursed creator” or any other sort of companion.  Also, even though Frankenstein’s creature and Crusoe are alone in the world, their attitudes differ a great deal.  The monster believes his “solitary and detested” existence is reason for self-pity because he can not connect with another single soul.  Crusoe, however, revels in his isolation and does not see it as an excuse to abandon the “few comforts [he has] in the world.”  Our humanity and sense of self are warped by our perspective.

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2 thoughts on “Comparing and Contrasting Shelley’s Frankenstein and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe

  1. I think it is interesting that you interpreted Crusoe as reveling in his isolation. For one, I felt that he was unhappy with the situation but refusing to express this because of the denial of emotion that we discussed in class, but after rereading it through the scope of your interpretation, it does seem that he is content with his newfound life on the island. This being said, I think it is hard to know exactly Defoe’s intention using this short excerpt from the story. Both of our interpretations seem plausible here.

  2. Some good analysis here from both of you. Given that we’re not reading these two works in their entirety, it is indeed plausible for both your interpretations to be correct. Meghana, I’ll say that Frankenstein’s need to create the monster is driven primarily by the deaths of his mother and other loved ones. It’s true that he’s obsessed by the scientific ideas around “Galvanism.” However, that deep mourning sparks an irrational need to create life and precedes the scientific inquiry. That’s a major feature of Romanticism: dark emotions stem from natural urges as opposed to an abandonment of religious faith, and are just as human as reason. Unfortunately, we don’t read about the full biography of Frankenstein in the small passage of our textbook, so none of this could have been gleaned from there.

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