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Dilation of Anthropocentrism

Author ZuoFuMin
Tutor ShenFuYing
School Shandong University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Daniel Defoe Robinson Crusoe anthropocentrism eco-criticism dichotomy
CLC
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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Daniel Defoe is one of the most famous novelists of the 18th century in Britain. His masterpiece Robinson Crusoe creates one of the most familiar and resonant myths of English literature. As the most typical adventure novel during that period, Robinson Crusoe occupies very important position in the English and even the world literary history.Robinson Crusoe has been variously read as an allegory for the development of civilization, as a manifesto of economic individualism, and as an expression of European colonial desires. It also shows the importance of repentance and illustrates the strength of Defoe’s religious convictions. Some critics attempt to analyze the spiritual and religious aspects of the novel and regard Crusoe as an embodiment of the enterprising, fearless economic man. The majority of critics, however, pay more attention to the analysis of Crusoe’s colonial consciousness from the perspective of postcolonial theory.In recent years, with the worsening of the environmental crisis and the rise of the worldwide environmental concern, many critics have tried to interpret famous writers’ outlook on nature. Eco-criticism focuses on the relationship between literature, culture, and the physical environment. The critical strategy of eco-criticism is to query and deconstruct the anthropocentric world outlook, which maintains that man possesses inherent value and is the yardstick of everything, that only man enjoys the privilege of survival and should receive ethical care and concern, and that nature is merely the dominated "other" to be conquered and exploited by man. The anthropocentric world outlook is believed to be the root cause for today’s global-scaled ecological crisis.From the perspective of eco-criticism the dilation of anthropocentrism in Robinson Crusoe will be analyzed in this thesis. Through this analysis, we intend to evaluate Daniel Defoe’s thinking on natural, social, and spiritual ecology respectively. And the examination of his hero—Crusoe’s action and reflection from the perspective of natural, social and spiritual ecology will be the focal concern.In terms of natural ecology, the dichotomy between man and nature in Robinson Crusoe will be analyzed. In this novel, though nature is not absent, but present, it is represented as background against which man expresses his aspirations, as stage on which man demonstrates his heroism and lordship, as foil of human, and as the marginalized "other" to be conquered and exploited by man. To demonstrate the dichotomy between nature and man, two aspects will be listed, that is, Crusoe’s attitude towards the island, and his attitude towards animals. And this dichotomy is especially reflected by Crusoe’s attitude towards the isolated island. In a sense, the conquer spirit is the primitive spiritual motive of the hero to explore the island. Crusoe transplants the hopeless island into a hopeful island, anyway, he is not happy and satisfied. From the very beginning to the end, Crusoe doesn’t appreciate nature and enjoy the beautiful scenery, though he had been living in it for 28 years. The author completely ignores the instrumental and inherent values of nature. In Defoe’s eyes, the only value of nature lies in its material aspect, is its usage, that is, what it can provide for man’s living and development. The relationship between Crusoe and animals is also separate. Animals are inferior and their rights of existence lie in the hands of man. Man can kill animals according to his will and like. So in the novel, Crusoe kills animals momentarily, sometimes only to show his power and ability.The domination of nature by human will reinforce the domination of human by human and vice versa. With regard to social ecology, Crusoe upholds slavery system and the selling and buying of slaves. The strong desire to dominate others makes Crusoe have a deep-rooted hierarchical thought. He wants to control others, lacking the respect of other’s liberty and equality. And this can be vividly showed by Crusoe’s attitude towards the colored blacks—Xury and Friday. Crusoe saves Friday, names him, teaches him language, forces him to give up his previous religious belief and becomes a Christian, and eventually trains him to be a loyal servant. On many occasions, Crusoe expresses his great satisfaction of his complete control of Friday. And the local people are depicted as savages with whom Defoe endows almost all evil and ugly elements. From the eco-critical point of view, women are like nature, passive, wordless, and dominated. The sense of superiority reinforces Defoe’s desire to dominate not only nature, the uncivilized people and culture, but the women. In Robinson Crusoe, there are no female characters, even mentioned several, they have not names. So females are absent and wordless and are also marginalized. Through the story of Crusoe, Defoe tries to convince the reader that the significance of life comes from the exploitation, conquest and accumulation of wealth. During this process, science and technology is the key to help man to obtain the goal. So in the novel, Crusoe praises technology in great admiration. To some extent, technology is elevated to the position of God with great power and might.In respect of spiritual ecology, Defoe shows to the reader that material wealth is the highest concern and that sufficient possession of material wealth can bring people true happiness. This is demonstrated by Crusoe’s motivation to voyage and his accumulation of wealth in his daily life. Crusoe is from a middle-class family, his initial motivation of voyage is to pursue his fortune. Crusoe’s swelling avarice for material things is vividly depicted by his attitude towards money. Through the novel, Crusoe writes down every material things especially money in great details. And he counts his gains and lost everyday. Wealth is the guidance that dominates Crusoe’s action.Then the reasons of Daniel Defoe’s anthropocentric world outlook will be analyzed. The social background in the 18th century especially the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment Movement affects Daniel Defoe greatly. As a bourgeoisie in his rising period, Defoe depicts Crusoe with all the typical qualities of a bourgeoisie. At the same time, the fusion and rapid development of science and technology makes Defoe have a misconception, that is, technological optimism, which holds that science and technology are omnipotent and can solve whatever problem. Another reason of Defoe’s anthropocentric idea is his life experience. Defoe was born in a businessman’s family, which is of the middle-class, and he was brought up in London, and he is a businessman in his lifetime. His life represents the real life of the many new rising bourgeoisies who have strong desire to make fortune and accumulate wealth, and totally ignore non-material things in life. The last reason for Defoe’s anthropocentric idea is the influence of Christianity. The teachings of Jewish-Christianity which regard man as the center of the universe has been dominating within people’s mind over thousands of years. So man takes himself as the supreme master of all the matters on the earth.In short, Robinson Crusoe is a classical work which sings high of anthropocentrism and presents and creates the dichotomy between man and nature, the hierarchical domination of human by human in society, the dichotomy between men and women, and exaggerates limitless power of science and technology. All these elements are anti-ecological thoughts. Now human beings have come into a new era, which requires the maintenance of the harmony between man and himself, man and society, man and nature, and nature and civilization. We should pay more attention to our physical and spiritual life, so as to reach the harmonious state of life, that is, a poetic-dwelling on the earth.

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