Thursday, January 17, 2013

RJ Sepich Frankenstein Essay - Prompt 2


In Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, I think it is important for the reader to remember that the entire book is through the voice of Robert Walton – not Victor Frankenstein. The novel begins with Walton writing a series of letters to his sister Margaret, and these letters give the reader enough details about Walton’s story and his personality that it should be impossible to disregard him as a crucial character. Then after four letters, the story transforms into a traditional, chapter-style novel about Victor Frankenstein, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t Walton’s story. Just before Frankenstein’s narrative begins, Walton warns his sister that this man he brought on board who he has befriended is about to tell him this incredible story about his life and how he ended up in the artic. He even tells his sister that he is anxious to write down everything his guest tells him: “I have resolved every night…to record, as nearly as possible in his own words, what he has related during the day. If I should be engaged, I will at least make notes. This manuscript will doubtless afford you the greatest pleasure” (Shelley 20). This leads me to believe, with confidence, that Walton never stops narrating the story.

With that in mind, I have read this entire novel so far as if I am reading it through Walton’s lens, and I think that significantly alters the underlying meaning of the story if you would contrast it to what it would read like if you assumed it was only Victor or another character’s story. I believe that Shelley intended for Walton to be known as the narrator for the entire book – not just the letters portion – and that she will return to his letters probably at the end to make the novel come full circle.

But more importantly, realizing that this is story is clearly through Walton’s words makes Victor Frankenstein an unreliable narrator if for no other reason than Walton himself said to his sister that he’ll try to write down what Victor said “as nearly as possible.” Thus, Shelley’s “Frankenstein” must be read as a second-hand sourced story. There were already several moments that I thought Frankenstein’s words seemed odd – like the passage I pointed out in my reading response where Victor suggests scientists shouldn’t let their passion for technology blind them, while at the same time he appears to be doing just that. But once I remembered that Walton could’ve very possibly be misquoting Victor in that passage or at any other point in the book, it gave me new understanding about what I was reading.

This doesn’t mean that an entire book written by a second-hand narrator is bad – I’m sure there are hundreds of novels that have achieved success with that very strategy. But recognizing that when we read Victor’s story, it isn’t 100 percent his story because it is coming from the mind of someone else helps define what this book is truly about (which I haven’t completely figured out because I haven’t finished the book yet, but I don’t expect the true meaning of this book to be Victor’s story). With Walton’s voice telling me Victor’s tale, I’m reading “Frankenstein” in a completely different, more open-minded fashion than I would have otherwise, and I believe that it will pay off at the end when I expect there to be a reappearance by Walton and a completion to his story.

2 comments:

Karen Knutson said...

Good Evening!

I feel like your essay is missing a "so what?" factor (or at least that's what I call it). You make points, and the points can be improved a lot about what we were talking about in class (the bro love), and I feel like your argument might make more sense with a more definite intro and conclusion. Paragraph number two could be expanded to help your argument, and can be expanded upon by things that seem weird or how Victor is portrayed as a god.

If you redo this one, it may also be helpful to go into the monster as well.

I think I just need something to tie your argument together, So Walton Narrates the story, it affects the truth value of the characters, but what do we learn from the novel?

Have a good weekend!

Adam said...

I'm glad I read Karen't comment before responding - it will save me some effort here. She is 100% right about what's missing: so what?

In other words, you touch on the 2nd-hand nature of the narrative, you explain that we're reading the whole thing through an unreliable narrator that way, etc. You assert that because you realize this, you read it in a more open-minded way. There's nothing wrong with any of this - but it's only a start.

How does the novel change for you, or what does it mean that's *different*, because you have this orientation/attitude toward the narration? Do you sympathize with the monster more? Less? Do you have different attitudes toward its (apparent) critique of science/technology? What about the ideas contained within the novel about crime and childhood? I'm not saying you should focus on any *particular* one of those things - I'm saying that to say that your attitude toward the novel has been transformed, without telling us in any particulars *how* it has been transformed, is rather backwards.

To put it another way: your assessment of Walton's narration seems to me to be fully correct. But there's no truth in it yet - you're not explaining why it matters, really, to understand Walton in this way.