Humankind and Nature in Robinson Crusoe and Frankenstein

Compared to the passage from the Enlightenment writing Robinson Crusoe, the passage from the Romantic work Frankenstein focuses more on humanity’s incomplete and immoral control over nature. Robinson Crusoe is able to control nature, such as when he is able to make the cave he is in more spacious for himself, while also constructing furniture for his leisure. Crusoe remarks that “by making the most rational judgements of things, every man may be, in time, master of every mechanic art,” which demonstrates how the novel focuses more on how humans can control nature than nature’s control over humankind (Defoe). In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein has much of the similar initial view as Crusoe, but polarized to an extreme; he arrogantly states that “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world” (Shelley 692). Though Frankenstein is able to create his creature, seeing the creature disgusts him and shows how the laws of nature cannot be overridden by human desires.

Similar to how both novels focus on humankind’s relationship with nature, Frankenstein and Robinson Crusoe also are juxtaposed on the subject of slavery. Crusoe talks about trading for slaves as a commodity to be compared with beads, hatchets, and other material goods without questioning the morality of slavery (Defoe). In Frankenstein’s creature’s journey to understanding how he was created, the creature also views himself as a subject of whomever his creator is, but as the creature finds the doctor’s lab notes on his creation, he realizes that he is viewed as “odious and loathsome” (Shelley 693). While Frankenstein does not directly address slavery, it suggests that the creature is like a slave who is viewed as inhuman to his master, Frankenstein. It is evident that the creature feels like an atrocious creature below Frankenstein when he wants to ask “Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust” to his creator (Shelley 693). The novel contrasts with the novel Robinson Crusoe’s apathy towards slavery’s effects.

Sweetness and Light in “Dover Beach”

In “Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold describes a scene on the English Channel that illustrates his fears of anarchy found in Culture and Anarchy. The narrator begins by describing the French coast on the opposite side of the Channel, where a “light gleams and is gone” (1562). The light on the coast suggests that France was originally an embodiment of sweetness and light, the characteristics of Hellenism (1601). Despite France’s prestigious freedom of the mind, the French Revolution several decades before demonstrated how the inconsideration of the First Estate and the Second Estate for the population in general led to anarchy for liberty. Similar to France, England’s government needed to better work for the needs of the population overall instead of focusing on what individual politicians wanted to benefit their economic classes (1599). If England continued to ignore overall societal needs rather than individual wants, then it could be in a similar state of anarchy. Arnold also suggests in Culture and Anarchy that the government needs to prevent liberty from leading to anarchy by considering “the ends for which freedom is to be desired” (1597). On the beach rocks are pulled in and flung out by the current acting in a mechanical framework just as how Arnold described freedom as functioning in a valued way without any purpose (1562, 1597).

 

By incorporating Hebraism with Hellenism to direct actions to be moral and meaningful with passion behind them, England, Arnold argues, could avoid anarchy and achieve eventual happiness for most people. Arnold uses Hebraism, the primary focus of the time, with the notion of Hellenism in society to help solve social problems (1601-1602).  If those in power were to do this they could reach their best selves where they “are united, impersonal, [and] at harmony” with society (1600).  The narrator in “Dover Beach” also finds this sense of a beginning to solving social ills by describing his love as being true in a world without “joy, nor love, nor light, nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain” (1562). By breaking down the barriers between the self and others through curiosity (Hellenism) and  values (Hebraism), Arnold shows how the overwhelming social issues of the time could be overcome.