Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Frankenstein Through Walton's Lens - Alex Quinn

In "Frankenstein" Mary Shelley intended for the reader to primarily see the story through the lens of Victor Frankenstein. It is clear throughout Victor's narrative that Shelley commits the story to be seen through the lens of Victor Frankenstein. The novel begins from the perspective of Walton but soon the voice shifts from Walton to Victor. From this new voice the narrative of Frankenstein's monster begins. Quickly the reader is shifted into this lens and remains uninterrupted throughout the remaining narrative. The reader is, from Victor's lens, intended to have a direct understanding of the story by analyzing the relationship of the narrative to his or her experiences and an understanding of the world. This intended lens, however, can be shifted away from Victor and be instead placed on Walton to illicit a different understanding of the novel. When looking at the novel through the lens of Walton, the reader must shift his or her perspective away from a direct understanding of the story and instead the reader will approach the basic events and motives presented by Victor as story-telling devices directed at Walton. From Walton's lens these devices are used not to develop Victor's narrative but instead to persuade Walton. The content of the narrative is then secondary to its effect.

An example of the effect of switching the character lens to Walton in the novel can be clearly seen when examining the role of exaggeration in Victor's narrative. The initial lens of the novel (Victor's) asks the reader to see Victor's exaggerations as a character trait which is bred in his childhood or through his obsessive mind. However when read from Walton's lens these exaggerations shift from a character trait and into a story-telling device. The exaggerations that a reader is led to believe are implicit in Victor's personality suddenly find new catalysts in Victor's motives for telling his story to Walton. Victor is using these exaggerations to dissuade Walton from making his journey through the Arctic. They are conscious desicions made by Victor rather than elements of the narrative. Another example of this can be seen when Victor describes his creation. Victor states that "no mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch...It became a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived" (Shelley 55). Through the lens of Victor we see this quote as a commentary on Victor's regret in creating the monster. The exaggeration of the monster's ugliness allows the reader to get a full grasp of Victor's horror in his own creation. However, when the lens is shifted to that of Walton's point of view the exaggeration is interpreted differently. Instead of explaining his disdain for the monster, Victor is now using the monster's ugliness as a way to warn Walton of the consequences of obsessive creation or adventure.

When shifting the lens to that of Walton's point of view the reader also must see a shift in the way authority is used in the novel. Authority from the initial lens is used to express how Victor sees the world around him. Victor's interactions with his parents, Elizabeth, and his professors all provide strong context on which the reader can build Victor's motivations for creating the monster. However when the lens shifts to Walton's character we see Victor's commentary on authority as a device used to exlpain the role of power to Walton himself. Victor is now consciously choosing to include certain narratives regarding authority figures to illicit a specific interpretation from Walton. An example of this is when Victor recounts Justine's last conversation with Elizabeth. Justine is quoted saying "Dear Lady, I had none to support me; all looked on me as a wretch doomed to ignominy and perdition" (Shelley 90). Through Shelley's initial lens the reader will percieve this recollection as Victor's regretful recollection of a struggle with power. From Walton's lens though the reader sees a different motivation. Instead, Victor is warning Walton of the dangers of power. The power that Walton seeks may cause unintended consequences.

By the shifting the lens to Walton the truths or motivations implied throughout Victor's narrative seem no longer to matter. The main narrative plays a secondary role to the importance of Walton's interpretation of this narrative. Victor Frankenstein's narrative is no longer a story of his struggle with his monster. Instead the reader views the narrative as a necessary mechanism being used to caution Walton of the consequences of his journey. The content of the story no longer seems as important as the feelings that it evokes from Walton.


Sarah Ayre said...
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Sarah Ayre said...

Thinking of Victor's story as a way to persuade Walton is an interesting way to view the story. It reminds me of watching someone tell a story to someone else, the reader must become an impartial 3rd party observer and not get too distracted by what the story teller is saying and focus on the devices the story teller uses.

To start I would suggest getting rid of the second sentence in your essay, it is redundant and you have just stated it in a more clear way in the sentence before.
When pointing out your first example, using a textual clue would be very helpful to strengthen your argument. I can get a vague sense of what you are talking about but using a quote to support your statement would clarify and solidify your claim. In your second example I believe adding one more follow up statement just further explaining what you mean by "the consequences of obsessive creation or adventure" would also be useful. What are the consequences of obsessive creation or adventure? That you will create a giant horrific creature? Just a little explanatory sentence here would be helpful to the reader.

The shift between the second and third paragraphs seems a bit abrupt. Maybe work on connecting the two paragraphs so they flow a bit easier? When you state: "Victor is now consciously choosing to include certain narratives regarding authority figures to illicit a specific interpretation from Walton" this seems like a good place to elaborate on what you mean. What reaction is Victor hoping to elicit from Walton? Maybe changing “An example of this is when Victor recounts Justine's last conversation with Elizabeth. Justine is quoted saying” to “When Victor recounts Justine’s last conversation with Elizabeth, Justine is quoted saying…” and go into your quote, following up with your interpretation, all in one sentence would be a way or explain your claim. Then you can go on in another sentence to fully explain what you meant. By providing the quote you are giving the reader an example of your claim, without necessarily needing to say that it is an example. Also, the next three sentences that follow as explanation are a bit choppy. Maybe try combining them or switching them up so as to make them flow better? As to the last sentence, again, try to avoid suggesting the unintended consequences without clarifying what those might be.

In your last paragraph I might suggest avoiding the use of “or” as much. What is stopping the story from being viewed as Victor’s struggle AND his way of warning off Walton? Part of your argument seems to be that the words that Victor says become unimportant, but on the contrary, the reader should focus in on what Victor says and what he may mean by that. The tools that Victor uses are as important and the words he uses to portray his meaning to Walton. Maybe try to combine the two in your ending rather than forcing an either or situation. I believe that might strengthen your overall argument.

Adam said...

Your first paragraph is a little long-winded, but it comes around to an interesting idea: content vs. effect. The concept of emotional affect is certainly deeply important in romanticism, so you are following an interesting path here. A minor quibble: "illicit" isn't the word you want. "Elicit" is.

Your second paragraph is very good. Basically, you view what seems to be a character flaw as a rhetorical device. I think this is an excellent reading, and that you can do a lot with it. That being said, if you revise/extend this, where does that take you? For instance, you might argue that other apparent flaws (say, Victor's ambition) are present more as rhetorical devices and less as things-in-themselves than they might seem. I'm not sure you'd go that far, but it does seem to be an interesting idea. In any case, I'd want your (greatly) extended thoughts on what the transformation of an apparent flaw into a rhetorical device means.

I'm not sure whether to read the third paragraph as a separate argument or not. In any case, I'd like to see a clearer continuity between #2 and #3. "Through Shelley's initial lens the reader will percieve this recollection as Victor's regretful recollection of a struggle with power. From Walton's lens though the reader sees a different motivation. Instead, Victor is warning Walton of the dangers of power." It's a good idea, but not fully developed, especially since we could argue that the two are really one: regardless of the lens we use, what the novel is engaging in is some kind of critique of power. Now, I'm not saying that you're wrong - but when we remember that Victor Frankenstein is himself very powerful, as is Walton, we need to ask how deep the critique of power is, and where it's going. Is Walton, for instance, seeing how Victor Frankenstein critiques the power of the state, for instance, but fails to understand Victor's (let alone his own) use/misuse of power. In short - this is good stuff, but it's very rough.

Your conclusion is fine, but a little mechanical.

Note that Sarah also picks up on the awkward transition between your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs (which are the only *real* paragraphs here) - they are two interesting lines of thought, but poorly reconciled. A revision would want to either abandon one, or reconcile the two more clearly.