Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Importance of Family in Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein"

It is hard to believe that “The Curse of Frankenstein” is based on Mary Shelly’s novel, since they differ in numerous ways. The most important change happens at the beginning of the movie. It begins with the flashback to Victor Frankenstein’s life, and one of the first things he says is that his father died when he was only ten years old; that he is the last of the Frankenstein family. He has no brothers, no Elizabeth (until later, and in a different manner), and no parents. The absence of family has a major effect on his morals. In the novel, Frankenstein’s family and friends keep him happy and at least a little bit grounded, but also drives him crazy. Without them, he can more easily focus on his passions and be uncaring about the consequences of his research.
At the beginning of Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein”, when Victor tells of his childhood, he speaks of two things: his family and his love of science.  On science, “Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember” (Shelly 28). This shows his passion for science started early and intensely. On the other hand, he spends most of these introductory chapters talking about his family, Clerval, and their interests. He speaks extremely fondly of his childhood, “No human could have passed a happier childhood than myself” (Shelly 28). Throughout the novel, he always finds comfort when he is surrounded by one of his family, such as when Clerval joins him at Ingolstadt or when he retires home during and after Justine’s trial. When with Clerval, Frankenstein’s depressed mood and hysteria are temporarily lifted. In addition, his thoughts of marrying Elizabeth comfort him and will him to continue with whatever his engagements, “For myself, there was one reward I promised myself for my detested toils – one consolation for my unparalleled sufferings; it was the prospect of that day when, enfranchised from my miserable slavery, I might claim Elizabeth, and forget the past in my union with her” (Shelly 173). Frankenstein’s family keeps his scientific passions and emotions in check.
 While pursuing his passions, Frankenstein returns back to thoughts of his family. Their support and general existence make Victor think of the consequences of his actions. Frankenstein would have never kept or even created the monster in his home for fear of the effects on his family. In “The Curse of Frankenstein”, Krempe warns of the possible evil of the monster, but Victor perseveres because his studies are more important than anything else. In Mary Shelly’s novel, Frankenstein’s family is his top priority, and he would never dream of putting them in danger. The threat to his family is part of the reason that Frankenstein is driven mad by the monster. He is worried about what his monster is capable of after its creation, but only becomes engulfed by his emotions towards it after it kills his brother William. Upon his discovery that the monster was the murderer, he thinks, “I considered the being whom I had cast among mankind, and endowed with the will and power to effect purposes of horror, such as the deed which he had now done,…, and forced to destroy all that was dear to me” (Shelly 77). This is only the start of the guilt and terror that Frankenstein feels about his monster. Because of the threat to his family, the creation on the monster drives Victor mad. Without a family to worry about, the evil of the monster can run rampant without having any negative effects on the scientist.
Victor Frankenstein’s family has both a positive and negative impact on his life. Their presence creates joy and some distraction from the turmoil that is his mind, but the idea of them also adds to his worries. In the movie, and therefore in the absence of family, Victor focuses only on his studies and creates something even worse. He does not care the effects that the monster will have on anyone, since he has no one he cares about more than himself and his studies. Frankenstein’s family makes him a more emotional and caring character.

2 comments:

Courtney Elvin said...

Jessica,
I’d like to start by saying that, while I have not seen that version of the movie, I think that you’ve chosen an interesting difference to look at, and the topic itself is intriguing, as it’s hard for me to even imagine the story without that facet.
That being said, there are a few technical concerns I have. First, I think there should be a citation in the form of a bibliography or works cited at the end of your post for both the book and the movie if you reference them in the paper. Additionally, if you were to take another look, the author’s last name is spelled “Shelley”, and you consistently left out the “e”, both easy fixes, though.
Depending on your audience, this next comment may or may not be valid, but maybe in your introduction you could give a little more information about the movie. While I thought your explanation of the specific change you were addressing was good, I might have preferred a little more information about the film (most specifically the year it was released or whether it was specifically adapted from the novel, as I know some of the other films adapt off other forms of the story).
I think you provided very good textual support for the point that he is happy when surrounded by family/friends from the novel. However, your last quote I feel is almost inaccurately used. Victor has mixed feelings about marrying Elizabeth, and isn’t always relieved when thinking of his union with her. I might suggest swapping that quote out for an example where he is so comforted by her presence or demeanor, even just the thought of her in a platonic sense, and move away from the marriage issue, as that opens up a whole other debate altogether.
While I absolutely commend you for supporting his relationship with his family in the novel very solidly, there is almost no analysis of the movie or what the change did for the movie as the prompt asks for. There is little analysis of what this change means, and where it does exist is primarily in your conclusion paragraph from what I can tell. If you were to expand upon this post, I would suggest incorporating some examples from the film, maybe find the script and quote the movie or at least reference a scene that supports your idea that Victor is less concerned with the implications of his actions. What makes him seem self-centered in the film? What shows that he is not concerned with the effects of his creation? Why is this significant? How does it change his characterization? I think you start to get at some of these ideas in your very last paragraph, but these would be the ideas to flesh out and really address the “why” and the significance of your observation.
If though, you wanted to focus on the change and how it is significant as an element solely in the novel, I think you need to still expand upon “why” this is significant to what actually happens in the novel. You support the idea that his family gives him comfort, but what does this do for/to him as a character and emphasize why this is such a significant part of his personality as intended by Mary Shelley.

Adam said...

I like your focus very much, and you introduce it well.

"Frankenstein’s family keeps his scientific passions and emotions in check." -- except, of course, that they *don't* ultimately keep his passions in check. The concept of domesticity is there, but it isn't enough. Why is that? Why does Victor fall (or rise?) in spite of having the necessary domestic infrastructure?

"Without a family to worry about, the evil of the monster can run rampant without having any negative effects on the scientist." -- I think your analysis of the movie is good and straightforward, which makes me curious about *why* you think the movie makes the choices that it does, and/or why you think (again) that Victor does what he does in the book *in spite* of not being set up to care about nobody & nothing.

Overall: What I ideally would have liked, and what I think you need to do if you revise, is ask and then answer some questions about why the two works do the things they do. Why the streamlined vision of Victor without the complications of family? Why isn't family enough in the novel? Does the failure of family in the novel lead to its omission in the movie? Etc.

Courney does a good job of addressing these difficulties in depth: the question of *meaning* here is largely absent, although I think that you are more or less on the brink of beginning to ask those questions.