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Essay Comparing Candide and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Comparing Voltaire’s Candide and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Voltaire’s Candide and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein are classics of western literature, in large part, because they both speak about the situation of being human. However, they are also important because they are both representative of the respective cultural movements during which they were written – the Enlightenment and the Romantic Era. As a result of this inheritance, they have different tones and messages, just as the Enlightenment and Romanticism had different tones and messages. But, it is not enough to merely say that they are “different” because they are linked. The intellectual movement from which Frankenstein emerged had its origins in the intellectual movement from which Candide emerged. By examining each of these works from the context of these intellectual movements, the progression in tone from light-hearted optimism in Candide to a heavier brooding doom in Frankenstein can be explained as being an extension of the progression from the Enlightenment to the Era of Romanticism.

The Enlightenment had its roots in the scientific and philosophical movements of the 17th century. It was, in large part, a rejection of the faith-based medieval world view for a way of thought based on structured inquiry and scientific understanding. It stressed individualism, and it rejected the church’s control of the secular activities of men. Among the movement’s luminaries were Descartes, Newton, and Locke. They, among others, stressed the individual’s use of reason to explain and understand the world about himself in all of its aspects. Important principles of the Enlightenment included the use of science to examine all aspects of life (this was labeled “reason”),…

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…The need is never satisfied for the reader, for Shelley’s perception of society after the Enlightenment is a bleak place where human needs are supplanted by the monolithic focus on reason alone. This stands in sharp contrast to the ending of Candide. While the young man is constantly denied the company of his one true love, Cunegonde, throughout the work, in the end he finds her and finds satisfaction in a life near his friends as a farmer. The Enlightenment found optimistic hope in a dark age through the potential of the progress of human society, but to the Romantics, this improved world was less than optimistic if untouched by human elements such as love and imagination.

Works Cited:

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. New York: Bantam Books, 1991.

Voltaire. Candide. In Candide, Zadig and Selected Stories.Trans. Donald Frame, New York: Penguin Group, 1961.

The Character of Captain Delano in Benito Cereno

The Character of Captain Delano in Benito Cereno

Captain Amasa Delano is an interesting embodiment of white complacency about slavery and it’s perpetuation. Delano is a human metaphor for white sentiment of the time. His deepest sensibilities of order and hierarchy make it impossible for him to see the realities of slavery. Delano’s blindness to the mutiny is a metaphor for his blindness to the moral depravity of slavery. The examination of Captain Delano’s views of nature, beauty, and humanity, allow us to see his often confusing system of hierarchical order which cripples his ability to see the mutiny and the injustice of slavery.

After Delano believes that Benito Cereno cut his faithful slave on the cheek for shaving him improperly, Delano exclaims: “slavery breeds ugly passions in man.” (p. 77) This is an amazing claim for Delano to make, because Delano’s deepest sensibilities are supportive of slavery. We must understand that Delano meant the remark as an offhand comment about Benito Cereno’s misunderstanding of hierarchy and how to treat those lower than himself.

Hierarchy is important to Delano. As captain of a seagoing vessel, order and hierarchy are not only important, they are the key to his survival and supposedly to the survival of the ship itself. If order and hierarchy break down, mutiny could ensue. A ship’s captain, more than anyone else must have a sense of the value of hierarchy. It is important to understand that while Captain Delano has a rigid sense of hierarchy, he does temper it with an understanding of human nature:

“In armies, navies, cities, or families, in nature herself, nothing more relaxes good order than misery.”(p. 42)

So in this sense, Delano’s remark that “slavery bree…

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…lave] trades,” they “waft him to his grave.”

Again and again we see Captain Delano taking delight in what perceives to be the natural order of things. He proclaims the beauty of relationships of order and servitude, he sees them in relationship to nature and celebrates nature who, in his estimation fits into his hierarchy. He ignores the fundamental humanity of the slaves, categorizing them with animals and trade material – he only treats them with the amount of humane-ness that he would an animal. Captain Delano’s zeal might be described as a passion for order and hierarchy. In this light we can understand his assertion that “slavery breeds ugly passions in man” as an unconscious description of his own condition. A ugly passion to continue the moral depravity of slavery.

Works Cited:

Melville, Herman. Bartleby And Benito Cereno. New York: Dover, 1990.

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