Ackland Paintings

The Ackland Art Museum located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina is filled with a wide variety of paintings and works of art that are rich in culture and history. Along with the original intent of the artist when they created their artwork, much of the paintings are open to interpretation by the person viewing it, which is one of the qualities of art that makes it appealing.

The first painting that we looked at was Solomon van Ruysdael’s River Landscape with Fishermen. This painting depicts the landscape of a very serene river with small boats and a town in the background. Overall, this represents the very simple lifestyle that the Dutch people partook in during the 17th century, as trade and other economic activities started to be on the rise. At that time there was a large separation between the wealthy and the poor so this is probably what it would be like for the less economically stable group.  A good portion of the painting also has dark clouds pushing out the nice white ones. Although there is no way of knowing Ruysdael’s true intention when he painted those clouds, this could be his way of foreboding troubles that may be occurring in the near future as a result of these new economic activities of the Dutch. Another aspect of this painting that stood out to me is that no one is in the canoe alone. Even if these people don’t seem to have much, they have other people around them that can make a hard days of work a little easier.


The second painting we looked at was Howard Hodgkin’s Looking at the Sea. One of the biggest differences between this painting and the one that was previously looked at, is that this one is more abstract; therefore, it is open to much more interpretation. The brushstrokes and the varying shades of blue make the painting look very chaotic, but the small slivers of gold paint highlight the beauty in all the messiness. The red/orange paint along the edge of the painting make the waves and sea seem more powerful and sort of aggressive. This painting definitely brings the sea to life by giving it a personality. At some parts, like the top of the painting, the sea seems very calm and approachable, while at other parts, like the bottom corner, it seems full of drive and anger.

The first two paintings that we looked at fit into the book of Robinson Crusoe by relating to the idea of the sea. Crusoe was so fascinated with the sea that he willingly threw away his previous life to travel and explore it with no real intention in mind. While one painting is more abstract, the other one clearly shows a real-life scene. I think that these paintings capture the juxtaposition that was consistent throughout Crusoe’s time on the island. At certain moments he was at peace and knew exactly what he was doing on the island, while at other times, it was total chaos in his mind. In the book, there were times when it was almost as if Crusoe had come to accept the island as his new home and the fact that he would probably be lonely for the rest of his life. In contrast, there were other times when he longed for a companion and thought about building a canoe and venturing outside the confines of his island. In a similar fashion, the people in the first painting seem to be okay with their way of life. They seem content with the simple lifestyle they have and don’t appear to be worried about the future. On the other hand, the more abstract painting captures the more adventurous side of Robinson Crusoe who has the motivation and drive to go out and change his condition, even though he doesn’t really take action until other people stumble upon his island and in a way forces him to.


The Importance of Family in Frankenstein

Throughout her 1831 novel, Frankenstein, Mary Shelly frequently comments on the importance of family in keeping a person sane and the detrimental effects of either neglecting family or being neglected by family. When Victor Frankenstein first starts telling his story, he comments on how “no youth could have passed more happily than [his}” (21). His parents loved him and he had great companions that were all very supportive of his endeavors. He was free to live his life as he pleased and carve his own path, which was a luxury that most kids were not given. Once he left for school and started to pursue his independent studies, he was so consumed in this work of his that he completely stopped talking to the people who had raised and loved him all those years and played a huge role in making him the person that he is. This eventually led to his downfall as the project that he was so consumed in ended up killing most of the people he loved, both directly and indirectly. This may have been Mary Shelly’s way of warning the reader that it is important to allocate time for family before it is too late. After the completion of his project, Frankenstein finally returned to having contact with his family members, but their happy days were numbered as they started dying one by one at the hands of the creature and Frankenstein frequently fell sick. If Victor had maintained connection with his family throughout his time in Ingolstadt, perhaps he would’ve somehow realized the extent to which his project would be detrimental and could’ve tried to keep the same quality and happiness of his previous life while he was away at school.

In contrast, the creature that Frankenstein created was not given a happy, nourishing environment early on, like his creator had received. He was shunned from the very beginning, which impacted him deeply as he exclaimed to Victor that “you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us” (68). The creature even tried to create a family with people that weren’t his creator by attempting to be a part of the family that he had been secretly watching for months because he felt a close connection with them, even though they did not feel the same way. Unfortunately, the creature was never able to find a group of people that would accept him as a family member because of his outward appearance.

Although there is a contrast between both their situations, there also exists a similarity between the creature and Frankenstein. They both did not suffer in the same way, but they both felt some type of suffering from not having anyone to openly talk to about what they were going through. Victor neglecting the family he had in order to focus on work, left him very weak and ill. He had to deal with all the guilt he felt for creating the creature internally, which ended up affecting his physical health. On the other hand, the creature’s lack of companionship and inability to relate to anybody else, led to him taking out his anger with violent measures.

Mary Shelly understood the importance of family since much of her family life was marked with death. Her mother died giving birth to Mary and Mary’s first child died a few days after her birth. Also, two of her extended family members and her husband died later on in her life. Because Mary Shelly did not get enough time to spend with her family before their passing away, she uses Victor Frankenstein and his creation as a way to highlight the importance of maintaining healthy relationships with family members.

Colonialism in Crusoe

Shortly after Robinson Crusoe crashed on the island, he longed for a companion, someone who he could talk to and someone who could keep him sane. After over twenty years of isolation, Crusoe finally had an island full of people – first Friday, then the Spaniard and Friday’s father, lastly the ship full of Englishmen. Instead of thinking of these people as friends that he had to share the island with and express his worries and concerns in, Crusoe immediately associates feelings of superiority in which he rationalizes that this is his island and everyone else who crashed upon it after him are his subjects. Crusoe beings to reflect on “how like a King [he] looked” and that “[his] People were perfectly subjugated…ready to lay down their Lives, if there had been Occasion for it, for [him}” (250).  These immediate feelings of superiority may be a result of all his years of isolation. Robinson Crusoe grew so accustomed to having nobody that he no longer needed someone to confide in. Instead, he craved power and the ability to assert his accomplishments on others. Crusoe spent much of his life trying to figure out how to build the necessary shelter and obtain the food that would sustain him for years to come without the help of anyone else. Since he had no one to share in the struggle with, Crusoe felt as if a connection could not be made with the other people who crashed upon his island so he had to assert his dominance as best as possible by immediately setting up the dynamic where he is the “savior.” He goes from having to constantly look out for his own life to now having a whole group of people looking out for him. Defoe writing Crusoe in as a superior, rather than one who is on the same level as those who just crashed on the island may be his way of commenting on the colonialism that was taking place at that time. Defoe made it seem as if Crusoe had the right to treat Friday the way he did, as well as all the other castaways.

Similarly, Defoe may have believed that the colonialism that was taking place when this book was written was justified. The Europeans had created a society with what was considered modern technology at that time, so it was only right that they take control of the Americas and use it to spread this technology since they were the ones who first acquired it. Especially when it came to Friday, Crusoe was more overbearing and believed that he was the superior one because he was unfamiliar with the culture and language of Friday. By asserting his dominance, Crusoe basically exploited Friday to gain resources and tried to get him to convert to Christianity, much like the colonists did. Just like the people who were colonized by European countries, Friday willingly subjected to the rule because he thought that Crusoe was helping him.  The flip side to this can be seen in Foe. Although Susan Barton is grateful towards Crusoe for taking her upon his island and giving her the basic necessities for survival, she is unwilling to submit to his colonist-like actions because she knows better. If a similar situation were to happen today in which a man crashes upon an island and spends years there trying to figure everything out, but then he suddenly finds someone of a different culture with different practices upon his island, this man would be expected to act very differently than Crusoe. It would be assumed that his first instinct would be to try and work together with this unfamiliar person to get off the island, instead of subjugating him to his rule. In this way, it can be said that the story of Robinson Crusoe not only highlights the negative effects of isolation but does so in a way that allows Defoe to promote colonialism.