Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Prompt 1 - Characters as Lenses

Blind Ambition: Reflection of Life’s True Monster
By Carl Santavicca


            Say the name Frankenstein to anyone and it will elicit visions, undoubtedly, of the Hollywood version; a large groaning monster with bolts protruding from his neck, created in a lab by an insane doctor and his hunchback lab assistant. However, Frankenstein is a truly more in depth story woven together by a series narratives wrapped in one another; most of which are told in the first person by the story’s three main narrators Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and Frankenstein’s monster and all which caution the danger of ambition and desire for that which they don’t have. Although many other characters present their stories in letters, journals, or by oral narration, it is Walton’s letters that indirectly provide the framework for the unfolding of events. From Walton’s point of view we can see how his story unfolds in relation to that of his newfound friend Victor. We can examine their similarities through the eyes of Walton himself. And we can also examine through Walton’s own words and actions how he also has remarkable similarities to Victor’s creation. And finally we can question the meaning from Walton’s point of view in relation to that of the tales told by the others.
            At first, when we encounter Walton his letter serves as a connection to his sister Margaret whom he evidently loves deeply: a love we eventually see between Victor and Elizabeth as well. We also see through this point of view that Walton possesses a deep-rooted desire to attain something more from his existence: “And now dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose? My life might have been passed in ease and luxury; but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path” (Shelly 4). This passage shows, like Victor, Walton desired to accomplish something that mankind had yet to accomplish, something that defies nature, something that borders on a mad obsession similar to that of Victor’s passion to create life. Both developed this passion at a young age; Victor by witnessing the power of lightning to desolate a tree, and Walton by reading books of sea voyages in his uncle’s library.  Both followed this passion for extended periods of time, causing great detriment to their health or wellbeing: “Six years have passed since I resolved on my present undertaking … I commenced by inuring my body to hardship”(Shelly 3). To this point of the story Walton has yet to hear the tale of Victor so he does not know of the dangers of pursuing such a course of action; dangers not only to himself but to those around him. Walton only knows the blind ambition that drives him, that puts himself and others at risk, and that drives him away from home and the sister he loves.
            Victor however, is not the only creature in the book that Robert Walton shares perspective and similarities with. Walton, whose education was neglected at a young age, begins to show his similarities with the neglect endowed upon Frankenstein’s creation. Robert also alludes to his self education and wild ways of his youth: “But it is still a greater evil to me that I am self educated: for the first fourteen years of my life I ran wild on a common, and read nothing but our uncle Thomas’s books of voyage.” Wild and self-taught by only a few select books, sounds remarkably like that of the first period of Victor’s monster’s life. A desire to interact with others also connects Walton to the monster. Walton wrote to his sister “But I have one want which I have never been able to satisfy; and the absence of the object of which I now feel as a most severe evil. I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment no one will endeavor to sustain me in dejection”(Shelly5-6). Compare this with the creatures desire to interact with the cottagers “The gentle manners and beauty of the cottagers greatly endeared them to me: when they were unhappy, I felt depressed; when they rejoiced, I sympathized in their joys”(Shelly122). Again, while addressing his concern to his sister these similarities were not yet evident from Walton’s point of view, as he has not yet met Victor and heard his monsters tale.

            Glory and recognition, in Walton’s mind, are the ultimate goal; his blind ambition is the driving force. He only seeks another soul like him to share in what he hopes will be his ultimate triumph. From his point of view he has found another like him, Victor. However Victor finally confides his secrets to Robert because he sees another life, similar to his on a collision course. What remains to be seen is will Walton see himself reflected in Victor and his creation? Will he recognize the monster he sees when he looks at himself; as the creature did when it gazed into the reflective pool, or will it be to late for him and those around him?


Adam Lewis said...


This is a very good blog with lots of great examples, kudos!

What struck me the most about the interaction (now having finished the book) between Walton and Victor is the stark contrast between Victor's words and his actions. He tells us the whole story, to that point, of how his ambition eventually destroyed his life and everything he held dear, but then almost immediately acts contrary to this warning! When Walton's men demand to turn around if the ship should ever break free of the ice, Victor is the one to call them cowards with no resolve. Not only did he just do a complete 180 compared to his cautionary tale, but what a hypocrite! As soon as Victor realized the mess he was in, he tried to run time and again from the consequences of his actions and yet he has the nerve to tell these men facing death they're cowards.

I think you will have much that you can add to this once you have finished reading the book. I'm trying not to spoil it for you if you haven't finished it yet, but I think you will be able to expand this greatly if you choose to make this one of your revisions. My challenge, if this were my blog that is, would be to turn the lens around a bit and perhaps look for ways the two are unique in spite of all their similarities.

Of course you also contrast this comparison with Clerval if you really wanted to add depth in a revision. The stark contrast between a Walton/Victor comparison and Victor/Henry could really serve to highlight the points in your first blog.

Adam said...

One interesting thing about your introduction is that you argue that Walton is akin to Victor's *monster*, although he more obviously wants to be like Victor himself. The introduction is otherwise conventional, although not thereby bad.

The next paragraph is a good exposition of the things that V and W have in common, although you ignore the ways in which they contrast (for instance, the love betwene W and his sister doesn't have that creepy dimension that V and E's relationship has, for instance).

Your discussion of Walton's similarities to the monster are smart. I don't disagree with them - they are worthy observations - but I'd also like you to think about the relatively minor degree to which they are true. Walton feels alone; the monster *is* alone. Walton feels like his education was negelected (relative to upper-class conventions); the monster *has* no education in the traditional sense. It's still a good approach and a good set of observations, but there is a way in which W is more of a dim shadow or a foreshadowing of the monster, without coming close to his reality.

I had trouble with your conclusion until I read the last sentence. It's a good question, and a legitimate end to an initial draft (despite whatever mixed feelings I might have about the rest of the conclusion), but it's clearly the sort of question which would need to be answered - and where you would need to integrate that answer throughout, rather than tacking it on to the end) if you revise.

If you revise, of course, it would be wise to focus especially on to what extent the connection between Walton and the Monster plays out through the course of the novel. Here, you are noting some connections, and that's good. But do they exist and develop throughout?