Thursday, January 17, 2013

Blog 1 - Prompt 3, Example 2

Water and Ice in Frankenstein
Janine Talis

Throughout the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, there is a noticeable reoccurring motif of ice and water. Ice surrounds the ship Walton inhabits when he meets Victor Frankenstein. Victor screams into the wake of a torrential storm. Ice covers the peaks in the land the monster eventually comes to inhabit. In the whole of literature, both great and small, water (and to a slightly less extent ice) is a popular symbol because it can be thought to mean an almost exhausting number of things, concepts, ideas, and feelings. In the case of this novel, at least three may be seen, and will be discussed.

“No one can conceive the anguish I suffered during the remainder of the night, which I spent, cold and wet, in the open air.” (Shelley 77). Victor stands in the rain, consumed with pain over the loss of his dear brother, when he sees his monster bound away becoming convinced of the creature’s guilt in his brother’s murder. The heavens crash and cry above him, reflecting the inner turmoil Victor feels in this moment. A storm is more than just water falling from the sky. It is also dark clouds, strong winds, and high pressure. Similarly, Victor’s emotional torment is more than just his sadness over his brother’s death. He is angry at his monster for supposedly performing the murder, and he feels guilty for creating the monster in the first place. All of this represented by the water, and by the rain. Later on when Victor visits Arveiron, he surrounded by ice when the monster tries to reason with him to listen to his story. One of the most observable characteristics of ice is its coldness. Much like the ice, Victor is cold to his creation. But ice is also rigid, echoing Victor’s stubbornness of thought. “For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator toward his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness.” (Shelley 109). Victor has already made up his mind about the creature, even while seeming to relent to a kindness toward him.

The average adult human body is at least half water, and the majority of the earth is covered by it. A person can only several perhaps a week without water. It is a necessary element need for survival in the majority (if not all) of the living things on this planet. Water is one of the most fundamental units of life. In this story, Victor gives life to another. The monster’s eyes are even described as “watery.” (Shelley p. 53). If water could be a symbol for life, than ice could be a symbol of death. The cold of ice could be so extreme that extremities literally die. But the cold may also preserve that which is dead. This resonates not only with the creature’s conception, but also the location of his home by the time he meets up with Victor again. The monster is a mash up of dead parts, preserved and reanimated. If Victor spent the better part of two years perfecting his craft, and finding body parts that would work well and proportionally together, he must have kept them from rotting somehow. By choosing to reside among the ice, it is almost as if the monster is still trying to remain preserved.

Water and ice are the same substance, just in different phases. Water and ice both have the same chemical structure. Water freezes into ice at 0 degrees Celsius and below, while ice begins to melt at this point as well. It is very easy to notice how different things are, even when there are a greater number of similarities. It is the same case with Victor and the monster. Upon observing them with the eyes only, an onlooker would perceive the two “men” as wholly different. Yet they are merely both in different phases, Victor in the phase of the living, and the monster in the phase of the dead. Both are made of human sinew. Both of exceeding intelligence, both mastering new material in a short period of time: the monster with speech; Victor with natural science. “As I applied so closely, it may be easily conceived that my progress was rapid.” (Shelley 45). Both are drawn to beauty. Victor picked each part of the monster for their alleged beauty, and the beauty of his cousin her most repeated trait. The monster drawn to the beauty of nature around him as he tries to figure out and survive his newly given life. Taking this into consideration, these men are as different as water and ice.

Water has the transformative quality of becoming whatever the author (or the audience) of a book wants it to be.  In Frankenstein, water and ice are both a means of revealing. Whether it be a character’s character, their feelings, or even their birth in the novel, all is reflected in the water.


Taylor Hochuli said...

This essay brings up a very interesting contrast. The essay a very unique point that is argued very well. I personally have a hard time pulling a truly "unique" argument from a general prompt, but you did it beautifully here.

I notice that sometimes quotations could be used and and explained better. For example, using the main quotation for water in the first sentence of the first paragraph does make the water theme more apparent, but without a lead in the reader does not know how the sentence connects back to the main argument. This happens again with the other quote at the bottom of the first paragraph as well with only one sentence explanation as to how it relates back to the point.If either style or the brevity of the paper accounted for this, it is understandable. Otherwise, the quotes could either be more abundant and/ or explained more.

Also, some sentences seem a bit short and could easily be combined with others like a combination of "Both are made of human sinew. Both of exceeding intelligence, both mastering new material in a short period of time: the monster with speech; Victor with natural science." to "Both are made of human sinew and are of exceeding intelligence,mastering new material in a short period of time: the monster with speech; Victor with natural science."

Once again, if it just a stylistic choice, than it is not a problem since it was intentionally done. Otherwise, these are just nitpicks of a great and unique essay. Great job!

Brian DeWillie said...

I thought you came up with some very good comparisons between Victor and the monster by noting the similarities and differences of water and ice. I also really liked how you looked at the multiple facets of a storm and how Victor's grief is a combination of of many things. I personally thought your use of quotes was good and that they were well explained.

Something I think you could improve on is your paragraph structure. It seemed odd to me to just start off a paragraph by listing facts about water and ice. I just think in some instances I felt like you prove your point before you identify the point you are trying to make.

Overall it was a good essay with coherent arguments to back it up.

Adam said...

I like that you begin with the fact that the meaning of water is likely to be highly unstable - I'd like it better, though, if you pushed on in the introduction to articulate what you think it means *here*.

The second paragraph, on how water and ice reflect Victor's inner state, is a good beginning (was the first paragraph really necessary, if this is your topic?). Your discussion of the rigidity of the ice bothers me, though, especially since he is specifically interested in avalanches, glaciers, the movement of glaciers, etc. From *my* point of view (it's not my topic - I'm just giving you initial thoughts) it seems like Victor is exposing the instability which is *really* present in the seemingly stable ice. In any case, I'd like to see you deal with the passages that touch on the motion of the ice. Note also that, if you're arguing that the ice reflects Victor's attitude toward the monster, that attitude does change, if only very temporarilty, after he hears the monster's speech...

The paragraph on ice and death seems like a completely different topic. It is interesting, but underdeveloped. Note that the idea that the monster is assemebled out of dead parts is really substantiated in the book - that's an idea from the movies, although Victor certainly *works* extensively with dead body parts, it's far from clear that monster is assembled from them (and it really seems that the female monster that he is assembling for next week's reading is clearly *not* made from dead body parts).

Your discussion of the phases of water as indicating that Victor and the monster are like two different phases is both awesome (I really want to read this essay) and completely unsubstantiated. It's a strong idea that could be developed, but you rely on generalizations instead. For this idea to work, you'd probably need to devote a whole essay to it.

Your ending is vague - that vagueness reflects that you are trying out several ideas here, without really committing to one. I like all of the ideas, but you need to commit to one and explore it throughout the text for this to really succeed.

Note that Brian's comment about paragraph structure and Taylor's comment about unexplained quotations relate to (or cause) the lack of a single main argument here.