Logic through Nature in Robinson Crusoe

February 16, 2010

The titular character in Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe has what would arguably be a natural reaction upon his discovery of being marooned on an island, separated from all other people in the world: “that for a while [he] run about like a Mad-man” (43), but this irrational act lasts for less than a complete sentence. Immediately, Crusoe begins to apply logic to his condition, looking for any resource he can find. Though he must fight back tears at the realization that the crew would have lived had they stayed on the ship, he immediately resolves to raid the wreck and take all the provisions he can from it. He is very methodical, listing every technique he uses and every item he takes. He is able to resolve what to do in his situation by carefully considering what he needs to survive.

In his quest on the ship, Crusoe has “three Encouragements, 1. A smooth calm Sea, 2. The Tide rising and setting in to the Shore, 3. What little Wind there was blew [him] towards the Land” (47). “Encouragement,” according to the OED, means “a fact or circumstance which serves to encourage.” In Crusoe’s case, however, encouragement comes not only from his circumstances but also from the calm demeanor by which he is able to face them. Truly, he is outside of the Hobbesian state of nature despite being completely surrounded by nature itself with no other human in sight. Without anybody else, nature is the only encouragement Crusoe has, meaning that it is not the state of complete cruelty that Hobbes envisions it to be. Crusoe does not live in “continual fear, and danger of violent death,” and though his life may be “solitary,” it is not “poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes).

Crusoe can thus find encouragement in nature by relying on the intellect within himself to improve his condition. As he continues his quest for goods from the ship, he remarks that “As [he] imagin’d, so it was, there appear’d before [him] a little opening of the Land, and [he] found a strong Current of the Tide to set into” (47). This passage implies that, though scientifically impossible, Crusoe’s own imagination, the power of his mind, has affected his surroundings in such a way as to greatly benefit him. Thus, the language of this text exalts the power of the human mind and its ability to work through nature. Robinson Crusoe stands in direct opposition to Hobbes, proving that if a human can simply apply his/her mind to a task at hand, then s/he can survive in the state of nature.

Works Cited

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. New York: The Modern Library, 2001. Print.

“encouragement, n.Oxford English Dictionary. Jun. 2006. Web. 14 Feb. 2010.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Internet Infidels. 1995. Web. 15 Feb. 2010.

Ownership in Oroonoko

February 9, 2010

In Aphra Behn’s  Oroonoko, there is a certain degree of commoditization of Imoinda, the mutual love interest of both the titular prince and the antagonistic king. To begin, Imoinda’s feelings display a concept of rightful ownership, as “what she did with [Oroonoko’s] grandfather had robbed him of no part of her virgin honour, the gods in mercy and justice having reserved that for her plighted lord, to whom of right it belonged” (94). In particular, “lord,” which has the primary Oxford definition of “master, ruler” is an odd word to use to refer to a lover, and it effectively turns Oroonoko into Imoinda’s owner. Thus, the king steals the maiden from the prince just as one would steal a wallet. The text furthermore states that “the old king had hitherto not been able to deprive him of those enjoyments which only belonged to him” (94). The wording here uses the term “enjoyments,” not any particular concept of love, making Imoinda into more of a thing to be enjoyed or, rather, a possession as opposed to an equal part in love.

Being under such ownership—the chosen sexual partner—of one the woman most deems fit is “a glory…aimed at by all the young females of that kingdom” (94). Imoinda, having been part of the king’s harem, knows only ownership as the outcome of her young life, and achieving this ownership is the goal of the women and the prize of the men. However, this concept of ownership is not capitalist by any means. Only a specific man can bear the right to the ownership of the woman, which is why, despite her marriage, Imoinda cannot be faithful to the king.

When Imoinda is sold as a slave, the lie Oroonoko hears of her death is less shameful for him than the truth, as her improper ownership has become shameful. Eventually, however, when  both lovers find themselves unable to escape slavery and resign to die, Oroonoko is “(grieved to death) yet pleased at her noble resolution” (135). Although he grieves her loss, Oroonoko considers The Variety of Male Desire in Aphra Behn’s Prose Fiction Imoinda’s decision to die “noble,” a word that Oxford defines as “illustrious or distinguished by virtue of position, character, or exploits.” As part of her character, ownership of Imoinda cannot simply go to the highest bidder; it must go to the most proper position. Therefore, Imoinda’s most distinguished and noble exploit is her ability to cancel out her improper ownership entirely by allowing herself to die. In the same way, Oroonoko, as someone who never intended to be owned in the first place (the implication, of course, regards gender roles), allows himself to die, even accepting his death at the hands of his captors. Thus, ownership in Oroonoko is acceptable only in very strict circumstances.

Works Cited

Behn, Aphra. “Oroonoko.” Oroonoko, the Rover, and Other Works. London: Penguin, 1992. 73-141.

“lord, n.Oxford English Dictionary. Jun. 2006. Web. 8 Feb. 2010.

“noble, adj. and n.1Oxford English Dictionary. Jun. 2006. Web. 8 Feb. 2010.

Wilmot’s Satyr Subversion

January 20, 2010

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester’s “A Satyr Against Mankind” is, put most simply, a poem about subversion.  The topic first shows up in the poem’s title, where “satyr” serves a double meaning. The word can convey itself as an alternate spelling of “satire” as well as the mythological creature. In the poem’s first line, the narrator makes the statement of “Were I (who to my cost already am) / One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man” (1-2), which implies that he is somehow both within the species and yet apart from it, just as a satyr of myth is both human and animal. He then furthers this point by claiming that he would “be a dog, a monkey, or a bear, / Or anything but that vain animal” (5-6) Therefore, if the narrator is a satyr, he is a subversion of both a subject within the human species and a subject examining it from the outside since he is both.

The key topic that the poem seeks to debunk is the value of human logic. One justification for the narrator’s hatred of human reason comes with regard to the differences in the justification of violence for humans and for animals, the latter of whom “For hunger or for love they fight and tear, / Whilst wretched man is still in arms for fear” (139-40). Once again, the narrator venerates beast but denigrates man. However, this example is just one of many that demonstrate a very deep-seated sense of logic that permeates the poem, forming yet another subversion of the man/beast dichotomy. He mentions that “Reason…fifty times for one does err” (11) and yet reason is the very tool he uses to debunk the ability that man holds so dear.

To complicate matters even further, the narrator has an opponent with a differing viewpoint who claims that “Reason, by whose aspiring influence / We take a flight beyond material sense” (66-7). Whereas the narrator gives the possibility of his being a satyr, the identity of this opponent is never revealed at all, which means that, as a being known only through the dialog that the narrator presents, this opponent can be nothing more than the other side of the satyr’s dual nature, one that represents man and is opposed to beast.

The poem ends with the line “Man differs more from man than man from beast” (225), which reflects the very logic of the poem. The narrator is forced to grant recognition to a dual nature within man just as he must accept the dual nature within himself as a satyr. Thus, a poem that claims to position itself against mankind simultaneously finds itself supporting it. In this way, the satyr subverts dichotomies.

Work Cited

Wilmot, John. “A Satyr Against Mankind.” John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester: Selected Works. Ed. Frank Ellis. London: Penguin Classics, 1994. 46-51.

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January 16, 2010

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