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On the Limitations of Rationalism in Robinson Crusoe

Author LiWei
Tutor ShenFuYing
School Shandong University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Robinson Crusoe rationalism limitations
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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As the banner of the Enlightenment, rationalism fights against feudalism and religious obscurantism of the Middle Ages. It breaks down the spiritual control of medieval theology and lets the light of freedom shine in people’s heart. Attaching great importance to the value of human beings, it prompts people to pursue secular happiness. There is no denying that rationalism has promoted social development and the process of civilization. However, a series of problems have emerged in the course of modernization, such as personal alienation, utilitarian religion, and the conflicts between human and nature. The inkling of these issues has revealed itself at the early stage of the Enlightenment in western society.Robinson Crusoe was written when the Enlightenment was in its embryo. With the light of rationalism, this novel embodies the pioneering spirit of the rising bourgeoisie to seek freedom and change the world. With his strength, intelligence and boundless perseverance, Robinson Crusoe fights against the pitiless forces of nature. The demonstration of human’s value, the emphasis on science and technology, and the confirmation of secular pursuit are in accordance with the essence of the Enlightenment rationality. Nevertheless, Robinson Crusoe also reveals the limitations of rationalism. This thesis attempts to analyze the limitations of rationalism from the aspects of personal life, religion and the relationship between human and nature in Robinson Crusoe.This thesis consists of three chapters apart from introduction and conclusion, which are as follows:The introduction presents the general development of rationalism, literature review of Robinson Crusoe and the reasons for analyzing this novel from the perspective of the limitations of rationalism.Chapter One focuses on the limitations of rationalism in Crusoe’s life. Firstly, Enlightenment rationality breaks the fetters of medieval religion which has controlled people’s mind; at the same time, it also carries off their belief or spiritual support. Since rationalism cannot shoulder the responsibility of reorganizing or consolidating the social ideology, people are living in a spiritual void. Secondly, rationalism lays too much stress on the instrumental rationality and ignores the value rationality. This imbalance gives rise to social alienation. Thirdly, individualism, strongly advocated by rationalism, is expanding excessively. In Robinson Crusoe, the hero is put into a spiritual wasteland, tortured by the inner solitude and the sense of insecurity. His life is lacking in emotional ties and personal relationships. Therefore, he judges people only by their commodity value. Even the concept of family is of no significance to him. Nevertheless, Crusoe has an inordinate desire for power and profit, which demonstrates the unbalanced development of rationalism.Chapter Two discusses the limitations of rationalism from the aspect of religion in Robinson Crusoe. Firstly, religion is secularized with the influence of rationalism, but still serves as an instrument of spiritual control. Secondly, science and technology, which are held in high esteem by rationalism, are zealously worshipped and become the new religion. What is more, rationality, after entering the stage of history, turns to be the new king that oppresses and repels all forms of so-called "irrationality". In the novel, what Crusoe believes is the secularized religion. God does not stand aloof from secular world any longer, but is closely related to Crusoe’s actual needs. In order to maintain his authority, Crusoe also deifies the power of science and technology, trying to use them as the instrument to control others. He is proud to have rationality and uses it to oppress different thoughts, races and cultural modes.Chapter Three concentrates on the conflicts between human and nature in Robinson Crusoe, which include the disenchantment of nature, the conquest of nature and nature’s revenge. Rationalism causes the separation between the subject and the object, which results in the disenchantment of nature. People’s attitude towards nature changes from admiration to conquest. They believe that human beings can be the master of nature. Therefore, they intend to rely on science and subjective initiative to control nature. From the very beginning, Crusoe has put nature on the opposite side of human beings. He takes nature as the reservoir of resources to improve his living conditions on the island and spares no effort to struggle against, exploit and civilize nature. Facing human beings’ challenges, nature takes its revenge through natural disasters such as earthquake, shipwreck and so on. It is people’s distorted attitude towards nature that causes the deterioration of the relationship between human and nature and leads to ecological crisis in modern society.This thesis dialectically analyzes the limitations of rationalism in Robinson Crusoe from the aspects of personal life, religion and the relationship between human and nature. It demonstrates that the limitations of rationalism have revealed themselves in the literary works when the Enlightenment is still in bud. Through the analysis of Robinson Crusoe, we can have a comprehensive understanding of rationalism, avoid making the same mistakes and promote a sustainable development in modern society.

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