Thursday, January 16, 2014

Shelley's Purpose of Place

The complexity of place are essential to the context, characterization and plot in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Shelley creates scenes and scenarios in nature almost too abstract to deem believable, but the dramatization parallels with the characters and plot in which it interacts. The extremity of the places in Frankenstein reflect and plays a vital role in the emotion of the characters— mainly observed with the narrator of the story, Victor Frankenstein. 

Shelley is very explicit with her conjuncture of place and emotion as it is a frequent occurrence with the protagonist, Victor Frankenstein. Due to the thick description and development of the different places that places that Frankenstein encounters, his demise is extremely transparent. Shelley almost blatantly describes her intentions of using extreme environments to teach the reader about the nature and emotions of the characters. The narrator, Victor Frankenstein says, “The sight of the awful and majestic in nature had indeed always had the effect of solemnizing my mind, and causing me to forget the passing cares of life” (Shelley, 80). The severe natural places and environments affect Victor Frankenstein’s character emotionally. Thus helps the reader to understand his emotional stability or rather instability and ultimately self-destruction. 

Victor Frankenstein is infatuated with natural philosophy and the science of discovery dreaming of wealth and obtaining glory from invention.   He hints that he wants to alter the human frame and “render man invulnerable to any but a violent death” (Shelley, 23). This vision of his provides the reader with a sense of his excitement and simultaneous indication of corruption. The emotion we begin to observe in Victor Frankenstein’s character via his malign with science is then paralleled with a recollection of a horrible thunderstorm from his childhood. Frankenstein describes the thunderstorm, mentioning that he watched the storm’s progress with “curiosity and delight.” “The catastrophe of this tree excited my extreme astonishment… (Shelley, 24). The extreme place and scenario of the thunderstorm that Shelley describes charges Frankenstein with emotion and a feeling that the reader can then attribute to his character.

Rarely does Shelley seem to describe a pleasant scene that would provide the characters with a feeling of comfort. On page 38, Shelley describes the summer months, making the reader almost fall to believe she is going to give the characters a break from the dark, sullen emotions and insanity. “It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields bestow a more plentiful harvest, or the vines yield a more luxuriant vintage; nut my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature.” This place, for Frankenstein however, creates emotions other than what the reader wishes to believe, “And the same feelings which made me neglect the scenes around me caused me also to forget those friends who were so many miles absent, and whom I had not seen for so long a time” (Shelley, 38). Rather than feeling at peace, for Victor Frankenstein this particular scene plays into feelings of solitude and emptiness. Victor Frankenstein becomes anxious and nervous with the place around him. Although he finds enthusiasm in his surrounding environment, his character is so enthralled in his own glory and scientific conundrums that he “appeared rather like one doomed by slavery to toil in the mines, or any other unwholesome trade, than an artist occupied by his favorite employment” (Shelley, 39). The reader begins to realize, early in the story, that Victor Frankenstein is his own worst-enemy and furthers his own destruction. 

The use of extreme environments purposes as a source of emotional experience for Victor Frankenstein. The illustration of place works to magnify the emotions of the character as well as develop the story. “It advance; the heavens were clouded and I soon felt the rain coming slowly in large drops, but its violence quickly increased” (Shelley, 59). Shelley creates vivid imagery in the natural environment that acts around Victor Frankenstein, reinforcing both his character and simultaneously the context and plot of the story. 


Shane Bombara said...


I felt that you came up with a pretty well thought paper and explicitly linked nature and setting to the emotions of Victor Frankenstein. There are a lot of smooth transitions which I believe helped your paper be easy to follow along with. My only constructive criticisms lie in a few grammatical errors like “Due to the thick description and development of the different places that places that Frankenstein” – ‘That’ is repeated awkwardly. Some commas seem misplaced here and there, but nothing major structurally. The last sentence of the intro and first sentence of the second paragraph are somewhat redundant, at least to me. The second body paragraph you could probably do without the first quote, only because I didn’t feel that it made it flow well with the idea of setting/nature/emotions so to speak. There’s certainly more imagery throughout the story that you could find that would help with a possible future revision if you choose to elaborate on this. Overall, you did a pretty good job!

Adam said...

The first two paragraphs could have been combined and shortened greatly - it's all one introduction. Really, the first three paragraphs do kind of the same thing, it's just that in the third you finally produce an example. The example is good, but you should have done more by this point.

"Rarely does Shelley seem to describe a pleasant scene that would provide the characters with a feeling of comfort." -- This is very problematic. The text is full of counterexamples - some of them from the second half of the novel, but some from the first as well. For instance, you really needed to say something about Frankennstein's ascent into the mountains, as well as his relationship with Lake Geneva here. This passage, for instance, seems (to me) to do exactly what you say the novel doesn't do (it's from chapter 7):

"Fear overcame me; I dared not advance, dreading a thousand nameless evils that made me tremble, although I was unable to define them. I remained two days at Lausanne, in this painful state of mind. I contemplated the lake: the waters were placid; all around was calm; and the snowy mountains, 'the palaces of nature,' were not changed. By degrees the calm and heavenly scene restored me, and I continued my journey towards Geneva."

In short, your discuss of extreme environments is fine, but a little slow to develop/advance - and your claim that extreme environments dominate over more peaceful ones is problematic. Of course the use of nature in this text is very complicated -- all the more reason to focus on very precise arguments and then to use the text in detail.