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.


Eliot critiques education, isolation of individuals

Arnold believed that through education men could become (more) perfect individuals. As such individuals, they would be concerned with the social welfare of those around them and would work hard (within their respective classes and spheres) to better themselves and others morally and intellectually. In “The Waste Land,” Eliot presents the failure of this notion of culture. He depicts a place lacking in knowledge, and any kind of emotional attachment, occupied by isolated individuals.

The lack of knowledge, or the failure of education, is stated beginning on line 19: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stormy rubbish? Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images…/ And the dry stone no sound of water” (19-24). Here, education is depicted as being thoroughly inadequate; men have no notion of their history (symbolized by the image of roots), or even of themselves in the present time (symbolized by the branches). Rather than the real, useful, knowledge and education that Arnold believed in, Eliot depicts a world in which men have only “A heap of broken images” for guidance. The lack of knowledge is further seen in the lack of water (“no sound of water”). Eliot emphasizes this towards the end of the poem, saying: “If there were water we should stop and drink / Amongst the dry rocks one cannot stop or think” (335-36). As water is often associated with knowledge, the inability to find any spring, pool, etc. anywhere to drink from symbolizes the ignorance of the modern age.

The fragmentation of culture is also reflected throughout the poem in the lack of any kind of emotional connection between individuals. Eliot describes London and a crowd in that “Unreal City” (60), but as the crowd moves “..each man fixed his eyes before his feet” (65), suggesting that there is no connection and no desire for connection among anyone. Everyone is only interested in his own business. This is also reflected in the interaction between the typist and the “young man carbuncular” (231). They sleep together but have no real connection; the typist “is bored and tired” (236) and the young man “makes a welcome of indifference” (242). This scene presents both an emotional and a moral decay. Whatever culture these two are a part of, it has not made them better human beings.

The ignorance of the isolation together help to undermine any kind of culture that unifies individuals to become some “people” who work for the public good and ordaer. Instead, every human thinks himself a prisoner (“We think of the key, each in his prison / Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison” (414-415) ). In this manner, Eliot critiques Arnold’s notion of culture, showing that it leads only to confusion and the fragmentation and withdrawal of the individual from others.

Conquering the Unknown, Crusoe vs. Frankenstein

     The ways in which the characters approach the unknown is where their differences lie. Robinson Crusoe is bothered by the “confused heap of goods”. To make himself comfortable he digs deeper into the earth, giving himself room to store his goods. He feels at ease once he has more room and has built his “necessary things”. The language of this passage reflects the systematic approach he took, “And here I must needs observe, that as reason is the substance and order of the mathematics, so 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.” The diction consists of words that are specific, yet simple. Being deserted on an island puts one out of their element. Robinson Crusoe made himself comfortable in this unknown environment through observation, reason, mathematics and rational judgment, the cornerstones of the Enlightenment movement.

     Dr. Frankenstein was attracted to the unknown, “No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane… Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.” (692) Both Crusoe and Frankenstein sought this “light” but they did so with different methods and attitudes. Crusoe was satisfied with his manual labor and reason that helped him to conquer the confusion. Frankenstein is pushed to “pursue nature” by an “almost frantic impulse” (692-693) Frankenstein’s work consists of hours of study and thinking rather than manual labor. He attempts to bring life to the lifeless and “pursue(d) nature to her hiding places”. The language reflects a less systematic approach, “My limbs now tremble, and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless, and almost frantic impulse, urged me forward”. This language is more decorative than that of the Crusoe passage. It reflects the Romantic’s desire for beauty and art rather than plain reason. The language and Frankenstein’s pursuit for life reflects the Romantics focus on imagination, emotion and beauty to expand their minds. Both the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement are intellectual movements, because of their search for truth. These movements remain distinct based upon their methods and goals.


Textual Evolution of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species

Here is the link to Ben Fry’s visualization of the textual evolution of Darwin’s Origin of Species. It shows the additions and subtractions made to each chapter over time, color-coded for each edition. As you can see, Chapter 7 gets the largest input in the 6th edition (1872). Since the visualization provides a bird’s-eye view of the whole text, you can mouse over different parts to see exactly what it says there. It’s interesting that what we normally think of scientific theories as fixed and static, yet they develop along with their written expression over time. You can click on the Fast button (top right) to speed up the visualization.