Friday, January 18, 2013

Prompts for Thursday the 24th

Option 1:  Frankenstein and the Human

I ask this with great trepidation, because it often leads to underdeveloped responses.  Here's the short version:  "Is the monster human?"  The reason this simple question often leads to weak or underdeveloped writing is that people tend to give very little attention to the great complexity and difficulty of defining what it means to be human in a way that will withstand scrutiny - especially in a novel that at some level challenges our preconceptions about what the word means.

So, here's the slightly longer version:  Answer whether or not the monster is human, where your definition  of "human" is clearly and articulately defined, and rooted in an outside, probably academic text (scientific, psychological, historical, philosophical, etc.).  You should be defining humanity not in a trivial or casual way, in other words, but using a well-developed theory of human nature.

Option 2:  Frankenstein and Gendered Viewpoints

This prompt is inspired by a former student.  Here's an excerpt from a post of hers for context:

I read Frankenstein about three years ago, and the English class was to direct attention toward the theme of the creation of a disaster. However, reading Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel a second time, I approached it by looking closely at the individuals characters. Overall, I find all of the characters to be passive. In terms of Victor Frankstein’s monster, I couldn’t classify his actions as passive, but because he hasn’t been nurtured and integrated into society, I’m not so sure he comprehends what it means to be passive. The females are the most passive of the novel, listening and agreeing with what men tell them. Victor Frankstein’s mother, she takes a more passive role as the husband swoops in to provide shelter and security to Elizabeth (Shelley 26). Elizabeth herself can’t even formulate her own opinions, listening to either what the police say or Victor about Justine Moritz role in William Frankenstein’s death. Justine Moritz is the most passive woman in the novel so far, welcoming death despite her not murdering William (Shelley 91). However, when I consider that the author of Frankenstein is a woman, this brings me to a question that relates to my insight: Is Mary Shelley telling the story from a man’s point of view? The story of Victor’s despair is told through Victor telling it to Robert Walton.

Your job is to answer one of the two following questions, in the form of an essay, both of which are inspired by and should be contextualized by the above quote.  DO NOT ANSWER BOTH - JUST ONE.

a)  Focusing on specific passages and/or characters (don't try to do everything), address what it means that Shelley is "telling the story from a man's point of view," also keeping in mind that Shelley was raised in an environment, unusual for its time, in which feminist thought was accepted and even welcomed.  Is there a strategy, or an implicit argument, to the dominance of male voices in the narrative?

b)  Are the women of the novel, in fact, passive?  What is the significance (political, intellectual, theoretical - you pick the kind of significance) of their passivity, or their lack thereof?  As always, support your argument with details from the text!

Option 3:  Frankenstein and Heidegger

Note:  this is the same as a prompt from last week.  The only change is that you are expected to to use the second half of the novel.  Any time when I reuse prompts form week to week, you are allowed to use them again unless I say otherwise.

Focus on the creation (or birth, if you prefer) of the monster at the beginning of chapter 5.  Use a specific idea from Heidegger to help interpret what the monster means, or what it is.  Example:  you might use Heidegger's concept of "standing-reserve" to argue that Shelley is imagining what happens when humanity becomes "standing-reserve", or vice-versa.  Cite at least one specific passage from both texts.

Note:  If you don't actually think Heidegger is useful for understanding Frankenstein, this really isn't the prompt for you.

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