Friday, August 30, 2013

Prompts for Frankenstein Assignment, due September 4

Quick reminders:  pick one prompt, never more than one.  Essays are arguments, which use evidence effectively.  You should have one argument, developed from the beginning of the essay to the end.  Essays in this class should be your arguments, aimed at your classmates.  Your essays should be approximately 2-3 pages long.  If you have difficulty posting your essays (unlikely but possible), contact me for assistance.  I suggest reviewing the relevant sections of the syllabus, but this introduction does cover the basics.

Prompt 1: Characters as Lenses

Focus on one of the following characters: Clerval, Elizabeth, or Walton. Through paying close attention to the role and development of your chosen character through the first half of the novel, argue that we should understand the novel in a particular way through the lens of that character. To put it another way - what can we learn about what the novel means through focusing on one of these three characters? There is no specific argument in this prompt, but your essay should have a specific argument.

Prompt 2: The Purpose of Place

Being careful not to overgeneralize, and citing multiple examples from multiple chapters, discuss the role of place in the novel so far.

Example 1: We might argue that the use of extreme environments teaches us something about the nature of the monster, or reflects something about the nature of the monster.

Example 2: There is a great deal of water and ice in the novel, and a great deal said by Victor especially (although not exclusively) about that water and ice. What does the use of water and ice mean?  Again, my general prompt needs to become a specific argument.

Prompt 3: 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.

Prompt 4: Frankenstein and Women

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!

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