Thursday, January 23, 2014

1931 Film vs. Book

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has been reproduced many times in the form of both book and film. The 1931 black and white film of Frankenstein has very few similarities to the original story written by Mary Shelley. From the very beginning of the film the differences are numerous— Victor Frankenstein’s name isn’t Victor in the movie— it’s Henry; Frankenstein has a hunchbacked assistance named Fritz; the brain of the monster is that of an “abnormal brain” which reasons for his destructive habits, rather than resulting due to the maltreatment of his creator, Frankenstein. Although these are all clear differences between the movie and book, one of the most prominent differences is the movie’s lack of layers and perspectives. The absence of narration by all three characters, Walton, Frankenstein and the monster, changes the movie entirely from the book making it less complex and less interesting. We lose the monster’s perspective, which entirely changes the viewer or reader’s perception of the monster.
            The novel by Mary Shelley begins with letters written by Robert Walton to his sister, Margaret Saville, recounting his voyage to the North Pole. During his voyage, Walton saves a nearly dead man, bringing him on ship and quickly forming a fairly intimate relationship with him. The narration of the story then switches to the perspective of Victor Frankenstein; the man who we find out was the man that Walton saved on his journey. The majority of the story is narrated by him, but later on also from the perspective of the monster. “But I consented to listen;” Frankenstein narrated, “and, seating myself by the fire which my odious companion had lighted he thus began his tale” (Shelley, 86). Thus begins the story through the monster’s point of view, which is entirely voided in the movie. Neglecting the monster’s perspective and attributing the monster’s destruction to his abnormal brain makes the monster seem less of a human and more of a scientific flaw.
            One of the main arguments in Frankenstein is whether the monster should be considered human, or if he is simply a man-made creation lacking human emotional qualities. By omitting the perspective of the monster, the movie leaves out the accounts that support the claim that the monster is indeed human, or obtains human qualities.  In the very first account told by the monster in the book, he reveals that he is human-like— telling that that he feels thirst, feels hunger, has human emotions in that he feels “half-frightened, as it were instinctively… so desolate” (Shelley, 87). The monster continues, telling Frankenstein that he “was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch….” and even that he felt, “pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept” (Shelley, 87). These are feelings and emotions that only humans are able to feel. In this first chapter of the monster’s account he truly becomes human to the reader by exhibiting human senses— “I felt light and hunger and thirst and darkness; innumerable songs rung in my ears: the only object that I could distinguish was the bright moon, and I fixed my eyes on that with pleasure” (Shelley, 88). While the book clearly has examples that support the argument that the monster is a human, the movie completely contradicts this. Rather than showing any human-like qualities, the movie makes the monster seem completely emotionless and dehumanized. The movie portrays the monster as destructive and cruel without any feelings, and all of this is attributed to the “abnormal” brain that Frankenstein used to create him.
            In the book, the monster finds shelter next to a cottage in which he acquaints himself with the cottagers through observation. He becomes fascinated by the way the cottagers communicate with one another by using strange sounds and a familiar language with one another. “I perceived that the words they spoke produced either pleasure or pain, smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers” (Shelley, 96).  The monster grows an understanding of their language and interactions. His desire and ability to learn and yearning to be loved prove to the reader that he could be and should be considered a human. The monster spends quite some time learning and loving the cottagers, but this entire scenario is forgotten in the movie. Nowhere in the 1931 film does the monster come in contact with a family of cottagers and because of this we don’t see his aptitude to learn, love or even speak. The monster doesn’t speak in the movie— he groans and stares, never showing any human linguistic ability. This difference in the movie and book is the difference between deciding whether or not the monster should be considered human.
            The exclusion of several perspectives in the 1931 film, Frankenstein, changes the story entirely. Inclusion of the monster’s perspective in the novel provided readers with a very different opinion and stance on his character. The monster’s perspective makes readers believe that maybe he should indeed be considered a human; while in the movie he seems hardly human at all.



Jessica Merrill said...

I like your thesis, and I completely agree with the point you are trying to make. One thing that confuses me, though, is your first body paragraph. It seems to recap the start of the book, and then the last sentence is just a continuation of your thesis, which is not backed up by the information in the paragraph. If you decide to revise this essay, I would suggest that you at least shorten this paragraph, and maybe add it to your intro, since they seem to be closely related.
Other than the first paragraph, you used quotes and evidence from the book very well. Just one proofreading thing in the last sentence of the last body paragraph -- you used difference twice. Maybe think about changing one of those.

Adam said...

Your focus is excellent, although your introduction get to it a little slowly.

Your initial argument is generally well made, although I do think there are problematic moments in the film which you could focus more upon. For instance, think of when the monster (shortly after his creation) makes a whimpering sound while reaching for the light. Or think of his fear of fire. I'm not saying that you're wrong, just that you are ignoring some possible problems or exceptions.

"The movie portrays the monster as destructive and cruel without any feelings, and all of this is attributed to the “abnormal” brain that Frankenstein used to create him." -- this is a good observation. If you revise, one interesting question is whether this dehumanizing of the monster is also a dehumanization of the person from whom the abnormal brain was extracted. In other words - does this dehumanization of the monster have wider consequences?

Your discussion of language is effective. A revision would need to broaden its focus to consider at least one of the sequels - Bride of Frankenstein (1935) - which was directed by the same guy.

Your conclusion could said more to connect your ideas. You choose very good examples from the film and text, but I think you ought to be able to say more about the monster's perspective as a whole, and what its absence means, after having discussed the issues of language and dehumanization.

I think I agree with Jessica's critiques, incidentally.