Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe

In both the excerpt from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and the excerpt from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, the main characters are describing their completion of tasks that involve nature. While Crusoe attempts to master nature by disrupting its original state in order to maximize his personal comfort, Frankenstein is more interested in working together with the natural life cycle instead of overcoming it. In the excerpt, Frankenstein states that, “…if [he] could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, [he] might… renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption” (692). This illustrates a desire for harmony with nature as opposed to a desire to completely dominate it– Frankenstein does not want to selfishly play God; he wants to deepen his understanding of the natural process of life. Crusoe, on the other hand, describes the industrious process of dominating nature: “…it was a loose sandy rock, which yielded easily to the labour I bestowed upon it”. There is little intellectual turmoil in this piece. Crusoe’s process of setting up housing on the island is systematic and unemotional, despite the trying situation in which he finds himself.

In addition to the way in which the characters interact with nature, the emotions they describe are completely different. Crusoe is incredibly calculating: “…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”. He does not address the way he feels about being shipwrecked and isolated from society. On the other hand, both Frankenstein in the first section and his monster in the second section express deep emotional distress surrounding isolation. Frankenstein is so compelled to complete his work that he holes himself up in his laboratory, fretting over his work and his lack of connection to the outside world. In addition, his monster illustrates extreme anguish because he is “solitary and detested” (693). The two completely different ways in which these characters respond to their isolation reflect the respective characteristics of the literary movements of their times. Defoe’s extreme focus on reason and invention juxtaposes Shelley’s emphasis on emotion and inspiration.

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2 thoughts on “Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe

  1. I definitely agree with your comments on the emotions shown in the two pieces, but I believed the reason, obviously the authors knew the way they intended their characters to sound, but Frankenstein for me read very Romantic, with ideals of beating death and life being controllable, and with the despair shown through Frankenstein. At the same time, while Crusoe isn’t outwardly showing his characteristics, he portrays such logic and reason and rationality to a rather irrational and devastating circumstance. They are the opposite in that sense, but so similar in the feeling of solitude.

  2. This is a good post, Elizabeth, but try to be more specific when you make general claims, as where you say the characters “reflect the respective characteristics of the literary movements of their times.” Well, what are those characteristics? How does Crusoe exemplify The Enlightenment and Frankenstein the Romantic Period? You’ve done a good job of teasing out the characteristics but they need one final articulation to make the argument complete.

    Also, food for thought: Does Frankenstein really work in harmony with Nature, or does his reversal of natural processes say something here?

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