Robinson Crusoe: Master of the Island

Master of the Island.  That is what Robinson Crusoe became at the end of his adventure.  In a sense, Dafoe has created in Crusoe, the perfect colonist.  I’ve read Robinson Crusoe once (abridged version) and kind of enjoyed it, though it tended to bore me at points.  Though I have to say that I found the first novel written in the English language rather tedious to read at times, I still have to say that it is a masterpiece adventure, with some interesting themes.

Crusoe, is a very complex character with a personality and a set of skills to match.  Its how he survives on the island.  He has a unique set of abilities to match his own unique flaws.  He does tend to be impulsive, building his house on the first fortifiable ground as opposed to the fertile plain and the incident with the canoe shows that nature.  Yet, Crusoe can at times, be very resourceful, able to find a way to make clay pots, grow his own food, tame his own animals.  These make him able to master the nature and environment on his island.  Crusoe can also be very paranoid, but this aids him, for when he faces the savages, he is ready and waiting.   That’s not all about Crusoe, but that’s what springs out to me.

The other thing that I noticed about Robinson Crusoe was it’s similarity to The Tempests, something without a doubt most of us have noticed.  One of the main things was the master-servant relationship.  Like Prospero, Robinson Crusoe has servants, nature and man.  Unlike Prospero, Crusoe seems to manage his servants better.  If Caliban represents the island’s natives, let the animals represent Crusoe’s Caliban.  Prospero doesn’t manage Caliban very well, letting him turn against him.  Crusoe tames the island’s animals under him and in the end, rules over them.  Like Prospero though, Crusoe has his own form of magic, that aids him in securing a faithful servant.  If Prospero had magic to free Ariel, Crusoe had firearms.  But the similarities end there, in my opinion Crusoe and Friday share a much better relationship than Prospero and Ariel.   Ariel constantly tries to rebel against Prospero, but Friday doesn’t.  Crusoe rewards Friday, (his form of reward), by converting him, teaching him some of his ‘magic’ (the use of firearms) and in return, is kept company.  There are times, when Crusoe has to assert his authority, but it’s quite clear he cares deeply for his servant.  If anything, I’d describe Crusoe and Friday’s relationship as a perfect master-servant relationship, Dafoe’s ideal.

The novel is scattered with contextual references and is heavily influenced by british views.  The idea of the master-servant relationship, the european mastering the savage and the savage island.  The book is primarily, a boy’s or man’s adventure.  There are no important developed female characters, which all do to reflect the times.  It does not detract on the novel, but it makes one wonder, that if the first novel contained so much views influenced by English government, how much of the first novel has trickled into our modern novels?



Tempest, on Monsters, Heroes and what is known and not.

Shakespeare’s tempest is a generally happy play.  There are some dark moments, highlighted by monstrous figures, but the play maintains an overall feel of comedy and lightheartedness.  The characters, Prospero, Ariel and Caliban are of most interest to me as their contrasting differences and interactions make for very interesting reading.

Prospero, is a good man, but similar to Odysseus, he is a bit of a trickster and can be quite cunning.  After all, he uses his magic to ground his brother onto his island and scatter them (though I admit, he did have good reason).  His conversation on servitude with Ariel at the beginning also shows that he can be very firm on some topics and is not afraid of using veiled threats or manipulating feelings of debt.  There are many times, when I think his cunning and magic are used very well.  Such as when he is spying on his daughter… which is a breach of the modern definition of privacy, but I interpreted it as necessary to see if his daughter was in danger.  Prospero has a good and an ugly side to him as well.  He punishes Caliban frequently to keep him in line.  Importantly though, most of this is justified as Caliban is definitely not an innocent creature, but I’ll get to that later.  At the same time, Prospero tends to be kind and forgiving.  He lets his daughter have the man she wants (something unheard of at Shakespeare’s time) and he does spare his brother.  The character that he may be most similar to is Joseph from Genesis, both essentially good characters, with some flaws and a bit of a nasty side.

Caliban… as I mentioned before, he’s not innocent, but he’s not exactly a scary monster.  He is most certainly a monster that should be looked down upon as he tries to violate Prospero’s daughter Miranda against her will, whose a very innocent girl that makes the audience look down upon Caliban even more.  At the same time, Caliban can articulate himself… to a degree unlike Grendel whose monstrosity comes from his lack of ability to communicate.  Caliban’s ability to communicate, makes him look more monstrous, because not only does he try to defend himself against Prospero’s valid accusations, it makes us able to get a better picture of his maliciousness.  But for a monster whose mind is so evil… he’s comedically pathetic and there is a sense of pity for him, not a lot, but there is.  His attempts, rather malicious attempts to oust Prospero   turn to nothing because he can’t get the right people to help him.  Also, Prospero’s killing of his mother does evoke some pity, for he’s essentially lost all that he could cal his identity.  How Shakespeare was able to turn such an evil minded creature into such a comedic character… is beyond my comprehension.

Ariel, is by the far the most interesting character of this play.  He’s not human… not monstrous… but he’s not exactly well… good.  Extraordinarily mischievous, yet mostly loyal at the same time, Prospero’s description of him as a spirit, is the most accurate.  He’s unknown, a lot like Grendel, but what we do know of him and his affiliation to Prospero makes us like him more than Caliban who we know more about, making the Tempest definition of monster different from Grendel and Grendel’s mother.

That’s all for now.


Machiavelli’s The Prince

I heard of the term Machiavellian villain many times and thus, when I read The Prince, I expected to see some villains and monsters.  However, what Machiavelli seems to have described is not a villain, but a way of ruling people and principalities during that time period.  Even in today, I think a lot of his theories and assertions can be applied.  Still, some of his arguments seem disturbing to my moral code, making me question if what Machiavelli is suggesting is monstrous and if it isn’t… what is?

Machiavelli’s arguments follow very pragmatic and yet ruthless lines.  He suggests very well reasoned out directions on how a ruler should react in certain situations.  Killing all your opponents before you gain power, or attacking boldly and not staying neutral.  I found myself agreeing with many of Machiavelli’s suggestions.  Having played strategy games such as Civilization V, the best way to win and to become powerful is to be decisive, to not hesitate.  Sometimes, ruthlessness is required or else one’s city will rebel and being neutral can lead to everybody else turning upon you in diplomatic relations.  The examples of history that Machiavelli offered only served to convince me.

That being said, I found myself at a crossroads when trying to see the monsters in Machiavelli.  Is he a monster?  I am not sure.  Popular opinion who know Machiavelli from the definition of a Machiavellian villain would say he is, but I disagree.  The Italian scholar promotes moderation of ruthlessness.  While he did say it was better to be feared than love, he also devoted a section of his argument to saying that if it is possible, a ruler should be feared AND loved.  His warnings on generosity are mostly directed to if a ruler is too generous.  Most of the examples he brings up are men of great stature and are still admired today.  Yes, Machiavelli is ruthless, but this is in a very pragmatic sense.  He’s suggesting the best way to rule a state, to seize and to hold onto power and these suggestions are very well thought out and in my opinion, would be extraordinarily effective if put into practice.  If Machiavelli is a monster, his silver-tongue would mark him to be completely unlike the inarticulate and unknown Grendel.

In reading Machiavelli, I began to understand the problems of kings and rulers, and also was opened to the idea that sometimes the most pragmatic decision may sometimes be monstrous.