Friday, October 4, 2013

Revision 1 - Frankenstein Through the Walton's Lens

In "Frankenstein" Mary Shelley intended for the reader to primarily see the story through the lens of Victor Frankenstein. The novel begins from the perspective of Walton but soon the voice shifts to Victor for most of the remainder of the novel. From Victor's lens the reader is intended to have a direct understanding of the narrative through his or her experiences and understanding of the world. However, the intended lens can be shifted away from Victor and be placed on Walton. The reader must shift his or her perspective away from a direct understanding of the narrative and instead approach the basic events and motives presented by Victor as story-telling devices directed towards Walton. Specifically, Victor consciously employs flaws in himself as rhetorical devices. From here, we see that much of the content of Victor's narrative is nonessential to our understanding of the basic narrative because it is not necessarily true. The content of Victor's character flaws are then secondary to their effect on Walton.

Throughout the novel Victor exaggerates his narrative in order to fit with his intended effect. The primary lens of the novel, Victor's, asks the reader to see Victor's exaggerations as an inherent character trait that drives much of the novel. However, when read from Walton's lens these exaggerations shift from a character flaw to a conscious rhetorical device used by Victor. Victor is deliberately using these exaggerations to dissuade Walton from making his journey through the Arctic. They are conscious decisions made by Victor rather than elements of the narrative. The reader learns more of Victor's narrative process than of his character. Victor states on page 55 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). Through Victor's lens we see the exaggeration in this quote as a Victor's commentary on his regret in creating the monster, a direct plot point. However, when the lens is shifted to that of Walton's point of view the exaggeration is taken out of the context of the narrative and seen as a rhetorical device. Instead of explaining his disdain for the monster, Victor is now using the monster's ugliness as a way to explain to Walton that the creation was a mistake. Victor hopes to warn Walton of the consequences of obsessively and blindly chasing an objective. There is no end to this obsession other than death.

In addition to Victor's elaborate exaggerations within the narrative, Victor is also characterized by his extreme passivity. A perfect example of this passivity is when Victor neglects creating a companion for the monster for a great deal of time (Shelley 169). Victor knows that the monster must be enraged by Victor's lack of progress yet Victor spends his days sailing and ignoring the situation (Shelley 170). Victor's lens shows this passivity as a character flaw that drives his downfall. While this may be true within Victor's narrative, again the reader must be acutely aware of its rhetorical context. When moving away from the original lens and seeing Victor's narrative as being conveyed to Walton the reader sees that the passivity is much less important as a plot device. Instead, Victor is consciously shaping the way Walton sees the effect of his own actions through the narrative choices made. Walton uses Victor's passivity as a basis from which to reflect on his own passivity towards endangering his crew. After hearing Victor's story Walton writes to Margaret, "It is terrible to reflect that the lives of all these men are endangered through me. If we are lost my mad schemes are the cause." (Shelley 246). It is unclear if Victor actually embodies all of the traits which he claims but this is irrelevant. We see in this example that the traits were successful in influencing Walton's view of his personal journey. The goal of the narrative of the monster is not to portray the truths of Victor Frankenstein but to influence Walton in the most effective way. Again the content of the narrative is superseded by the emotional and cerebral reaction to the narrative.

The switch away from content and towards emotional context is important not only to the readers understanding of the novel but also to the novel's context within the Romantic movement. The Romantic movement is defined "by an emphasis on feeling, individuality, and passion rather than classical form and order" (OED). As a Romantic writer, Shelley situates Frankenstein perfectly within this Romantic ideal by urging the reader to read through the lens of Walton. Shelley abandons the classical form and instead is primarily concerned with Walton's emotional response to Victor. Victor's narrative takes up the vast majority of the novel and in a classical form the reader should perceive this narrative as the prime focus of the novel. However, we see a deconstruction of this classical form when instead the reader views the narrative through Walton's lens.

Mark McBeth further substantiates the priority of context over content in Frankenstein. He states that "Composition theory's prime concern with process rather than product provides an appropriate critique. Just as Dr. Frankenstein pieces together ancient knowledge and new scientific discovery and then sutures together disparate body parts, Mary Shelley crafts her novel from various forms: memories, traditional horror stories, and the burgeoning science and philosophy of her time." (McBeth). McBeth's argues that Mary Shelley is primarily concerned with process over content and he substantiates this well and his argument focuses on the content of Victor's narrative. The argument can be further extended by focusing not only the content on Frankensteins narrative but to Walton's reaction to this narrative. We achieve this level of focus by reader through Walton's lens rather than Victor's.

By shifting the lens to Walton the truths of Victor's narrative seem no longer to matter. Victor's character flaws presented as content in his narrative are secondary to Walton's interpretation of these character flaws. Victor Frankenstein's narrative is no longer a story of his struggle with his monster but instead it is a necessary mechanism being used to caution Walton of the consequences of his journey. The content of the narrative is no longer as important as the actions which it evokes.


McBeth, Mark. "Shelley's 'Frankenstein.'." The Explicator 57.3 (1999): 143+. Academic OneFile. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.

"romantic, adj. and n.". OED Online. September 2013. Oxford University Press. 4 October 2013 <>.

Shelley, Mary, and Lynd Ward. Frankenstein: The Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1934. Print.

1 comment:

Adam said...

The 1st paragraph is very interesting but not entirely clear. This sentence is a particular problem: "The reader must shift his or her perspective away from a direct understanding of the narrative and instead approach the basic events and motives presented by Victor as story-telling devices directed towards Walton." Are you saying that we *should* do that? That we are *intended* to do that? What requires that we "must" do this? I basically like what you're doing, but there's a strange fuzziness here.

I'm not totally decided, but I think that the 2nd paragraph is almost just a superior version of the 1st one. It's a good statement of your argument, but the two together (given their general, abstract level) are a little long. Make some narrative progress of your own!

Here's a question which might develop your already interesting argument: "After hearing Victor's story Walton writes to Margaret, "It is terrible to reflect that the lives of all these men are endangered through me. If we are lost my mad schemes are the cause." (Shelley 246)." Are you arguing that Victor's rhetoric has succeeded? I think that's what you're saying, and at some level you're obviously right - I'd sure like your take on the passage where Victor seems to reject all his own prior advice, though. I'd also like your take on Walton's interaction with the monster...

I very much like your turn to romanticism, but given Walton's own passion for Victor (twisting your argument, I might say his passion for Victor's rhetoric as such), I don't think the transition away from the conventions of romanticism has been made as neatly as you seem to think. Or are you arguing that the object of Victor's rhetoric is Walton's intellect, quite apart from the emotional connection Walton feels to him?

The essay as a whole is a effective, and you make strong, effective use of research within it. The introduction was a little long-winded, but more importantly you duck under the parts of the text which might challenge you most - Victor's late rebellion against his own rhetoric, and Walton's experiences after Victor dies. Your approach is sound; if you revised again, I'd want to see you focus mainly on addressing the end of the novel in all its complexity - including the critical fact that we really are in Walton's POV then.