Mary Shelley uses foreshadowing and irony in the beginning chapters of Frankenstein. Having already read Frankenstein (years ago), and being vaguely familiar with the plot, I was able to pick up on the hints. Victor Frankenstein on page 23 rants about his dreams with science and natural philosophy. In doing so, he reveals his obsession with glory, “…but what glory would attend the discovery, if I could banish disease from the human frame, and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death! (23, Shelley). This passage, I believe, is ironic and foreshadows what will happen once Victory Frankenstein creates the monster. Continuing on to page 24, Frankenstein remembers a violent and terrible thunderstorm from when he was about fifteen years old. Although this is just a reflection of his past, Shelley places this story in this particular spot to signify the horrible “storm” or the creation of the monster that is soon going to take place. Another moment of foreshadowing happens on page 36 when Frankenstein is basking in his own glory and excitement of creating a human being. He boasts, “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (36, Shelly). We begin to get the sense that Frankenstein’s knowledge and creation of a being will become a serious danger rather than a success.
Diving into the first week of reading I found it particularly upsetting the way Victor handled the problems he faced entirely throughout the first half of the book. Victor Frankenstein comes from a well-known and respected family. He’s an intellectual, educated man with limitless potential who will one day even have a prearranged marriage with his beloved Elizabeth. However, with all this positivity that surrounds him, his life is turned upside down with the death of his mother. He mourns the loss, but predictably still decides to flee to Ingolstadt shortly after her passing and begin his studies. I think, at least to me, with Caroline’s death we get a glimpse of Victor unable to rationally, and maturely handle this unfortunate event. Another instance of Victor’s inability to face consequences is when he creates the Monster and he seemingly does not want to claim ownership of it once life has entered this grotesque being. Victor was once referring to his creation as “beautiful” and now he is horrified by it. He then continues to run away to his courtyard, then to the town of Ingolstadt as if this will make the Monster disappear or even escape the internal anguish he is facing. Later, when Justine seems undoubtedly innocent, Victor feels guilt over what has occurred, but he’s still incapable of accepting his own wrongdoings and ultimately allows Justine to be executed. A reoccurring theme for me is the brutal ignorance he possesses while he continues to run from any issue he is faced with.
As instructed on the syllabus, I bought the Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition of Shelly’s “Frankenstein”. The illustrations fit the text extremely well. In general, the moods of the pictures are gloomy. The black and white illustrations are often mostly dark, especially in pictures that depict sad or emotional scenes in the novel. This can be seen in the picture of Justine crying, directly following page 90. One illustration that stood out to me was the one of three men’s faces, preceding chapter thirteen (page 83). Even though the other pictures depicting people have normal faces (pages 26, 27, 53), these men have almost monkey-like features, with many bags under their eyes. This picture precedes the chapter about Justine’s trial, so Ward may have been trying to make a point about how the men acted during the trial. It remains unclear to me why he would have thought of them this way, though. The illustrations are interesting to look at and are good interpretations of the novel, but do not have much of an effect on my understanding the content. They do not shed light on anything that I did not interpret myself. They add another kind of media to the narrative, but these additions do not add anything except for entertainment to Shelly’s novel.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an unapologetically Gothic piece literature that makes blunt references to its Romantic influences. As Wikipedia defines Romantic literature, “it was a revolt against… the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature.” This disdain for the Age of Enlightenment is personified and symbolized repetitively throughout the work. The characterization of the professors that Victor meets upon arrival at Ingolstadt shows the narrator’s preference for the natural world. M. Krempe, the professor for natural sciences, dismisses Victor’s studies of the ancient alchemists as wasted studies. Frankenstein, who is a self-professed Romantic by the reverence he holds for fine scenes of nature, takes an immediate disliking towards this personification of Enlightenment. A more likeable professor, Waldman, captivates Frankenstein with a view of modern science that implies technology can replicate nature. “They can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquakes, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.” (Shelley, 42) It isn’t until Frankenstein himself pursues and (more or less) succeeds in producing something of nature, that he finds the error of this thinking. This conflict is driven by the Romantic view that science cannot hope to match to power of nature.
From the onset of his narrative to R. Walton, Victor Frankenstein has shown himself to be a rather tumultuous entity. I would infer that Victor's eccentric mental profile is more a result of intrinsic neurological deviation as opposed to a 'reactive' phenomenon resultant from any of his explicit life events. His autobiography thus far is riddled with major psychological fluctuations throughout his childhood and young adulthood, possibly precipitated by his overwhelming tendency to jump from obsession to obsession. Chronologically, Victor first mentions his unstable personality traits as a teenager, admitting "My temper was sometimes violent, and my passions vehement... It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn"(29). His obsessive nature was revealed to me through his subsequent childhood endeavors in the 'pseudoscience'propagated by the works of Agrippa and Magnus, the spectacular and magnificent (although unsubstantiated) claims of which encapsulated every ounce of Victor's attention. When Victor began his studies in Ingolstadt, his teachers were quick to destroy his infatuation with pseudoscience, upon which he laments "I felt as if my soulgrappling with a palpable enemy...soon my mind was filled with one thought, one conception, one purpose.... I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers... I closed my eyes not that night. My being was in a state of insurrection and turmoil" (42). He had recklessly assigned more emotional valence to this perceived assault on his precious pseudoscience than had been previously elicited by anything in his life thus far, even more than such events as the death of his own mother.Victor subsequently (and rather abruptly, I might add), forgoes his obsession of his beloved pseudoscience in favor of an even stronger obsession with the discipline of natural science. The rise and fall of elation pertaining to knowledge, and depression owing to the realization of what said knowledge entails, is a rather regular and recurring theme for Victor. He clearly exhibits some classic symptoms of manic-depressive bipolar disorder. Without exhausting thesubject, I ask my classmates to draw out several manic-depressive cycles with relative temporal consistency (you can think on the order of weeks, months, or years); I found four that were particularly salient to me in the first half of the book. Can these be related to, or even symbiotic with the creature's own mental development?
Shelley focuses more on the character development through their own stories or the stories of others rather than a standard sequence of events. There are long lapses of time in which no discussion of prior events occur for extended periods of time throughout the book such as the specificity of events leading to the point where Victor finishes his creation as well as when Victor is reunited with Clerval while at the University, and his creation is absent from the writing for multiple chapters thereafter. I was often wondering about what was happening with multiple parts of the overall story at the same time while reading. Did Shelley use this for a specific purpose? Is it possible that part of this time lapse through the character of Victor is due in part to his mental instability through the creation process and the subsequent disowning of his creation after it's completion? Also, how much of the evil or demonic undertones are also associated with his state of mind and thoughts about his monster rather than being real? Is there a specific reason for this emphasis, even by the character of Victor claiming that his creation murdered William, when it goes in direct conflict with the character Victor's creation paints of himself while telling Victor his story about watching the cottagers? Ultimately, how much of the evolution of the story in this negative tone can be possibly thought of as inner turmoil in the mind of Victor directly as a result of his guilt and destructive pursuits he has placed on himself rather than the physical being of his "monster"?
Why didn't Victor kill the monster when he first created him? Is it just because he is a wimp? Or does he subconsciously care for the monster which he created? At the start of chapter 5 (page 53) Victor describes the night he infused life into the monster. On the very next page he goes on to say, "I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body... but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I created, I rushed out of the room.." (page 54) Really, Victor? After two years of working on this it didn't once cross your mind that your experiment could go horribly wrong? I would think the majority of people would have had some sort of weapon with them at the ready just in case. I know I would.
I can only assume that much like myself, many others in this class have previously read Frankenstein during high school or independently. Having read it before, the events or character developments are not as surprising as they were the first time around. Analyzing this book for senior year English, we ripped it through and through searching for foreshadowing and character development. Reading it a second time around, I have a deeper respect for the novel. In all honesty, I never was one for rereading a story because I saw no point. I was proven wrong in the case of Frankenstein. One of the favorite parts of the novel is the letters that begin the story. In the very first letter, Walton foreshadows the story about to be told; he discusses his adventure North with such optimism referring to traveling as "my enticements, they are sufficient to conquer all fear of danger or death" (Shelley 2). In my opinion, this first letter sets the reader up for a grand story.
Through the first half of the novel, it is interesting to see the how each man (Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the monster) yearned for companionship. While both Walton and Frankenstein strive to describe themselves as a powerful individual (Walton took the advised-against boat trip and set himself above ship’s crew, and Frankenstein with his solitary academic pursuits), both men craved the companionship of like-minded peers, which contrasted the individual goals they had set for themselves. Walton wanted to remain above his shipmates, but pined for a companion (Shelly, 5) and craved Frankenstein’s attention and Frankenstein saw his creation as a being that would love the creator as a child loves a father (Shelly, 49) , as well was being rejuvenated by the visit of Clerval (Shelly, 58). The monster seeks companionship without even comprehending what it truly means, he just sees it as a concept that would make one happy, in spite of the differences the monster is able to perceive between normal people and himself. It appears that Shelly thought companionship was a vital part of the human experience, the desire for which would trump most other considerations.Secondly, it was strange to see how far the actual description of Frankenstein’s monster differed from the pop-culture version of the monster, having never read the book before. The pop-culture version depicts the monster as a slow, dim-witted, green-grey in complexion, and looks that could be described as ogre-esque. The book is describes both good and bad qualities of the monster’s appearance (yellow skin, fine teeth, and black flowing locks compared to watery eyes and a black mouth (Shelly, 53)), but also makes the monster intelligent and quick. For one expecting more of a lumber giant than a well-spoken being, I was quite surprised. I wonder what drove cultural perception of the monster to be so far divorced from the actual literature.
One thing that I found interesting was the "nesting" of narrators. Each narrator (Robert, Frankenstein, and Frankenstein's creation) meet the next narrator and share their opinions on them before they become the narrator. Robert sees Frankenstein as a friendly, but intense man which makes the reader feel sympathy for him before he starts his story. Conversely, Frankenstein describes his creation as a daemon, a sentiment that the monster's own narration begins to reverse. The moment that struck me the most was when Frankenstein confronted the monster in the mountains and the monster responded with surprisingly eloquent counterpoints to his creator's accusations (Shelley 106). Until this point we had only been treated to Victor's views on the monster. On our actual meeting with the monster, we start to see a less biased description of events, even though Victor is still our narrator. I think that Shelley uses these shifts in narrator to give us context about who our narrator is before they dive in to their retelling.
Having never read Frankenstein before, I was a little skeptical that I would enjoy the story. All I knew about Frankenstein was the commercialized Hollywood version and the green monster's association with Halloween. However, the story is much easier to read than I had previously thought, and I'm actually enjoying it. I particularly liked the part when Frankenstein is describing his life to Victor. Frankenstein was like a baby born into an adult's body. He had no real understanding of the world except through his senses, and more difficultly, he had no one to explain the ways of the world to him. Unlike a baby however, he remembers, though somewhat indistinctly, his beginning: "A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt, at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses" (Shelley 110). Incredibly, Frankenstein is able to teach himself not only how to survive but also how to speak, all while he is shunned by others. I've never really read a description of coming to understand the world quite like Shelley's illustration of Frankenstein's beginning. I wonder what this experience would be like in real life. Her writing about this experience really captivated me.
Why did Shelley choose to write Frankenstein as a story within a story or rather a narrative within a narrative? Why does the novel begin with an ongoing letter correspondence between Margaret Saville and Captain Walton and then shift to the perspective of Victor Frankenstein beginning in chapter one? How would the novel change if the preface was omitted or was written through a single, linear perspective (of either Victor or Robert Walton)? Granted we have not finished reading the novel yet but what role do the characters of Captain Walton and moreover, Margaret Saville, play in the novel’s plot and themes? How does this novel relate to topics discussed last class – the interplay between technology and narrative?
Why didn’t Victor want to observe, analyze, and learn more about his creation? His interest in science and alchemy lead him to create the monster, but why did his disgust in the creature’s looks dismay him enough to completely ignore his results? My initial thoughts were that he really was disgusted by his creation because of what he had thought upon seeing his final results. Victor narrates, “. . . now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelly 54). Then I started to look at Victor instead of the monster. The obsession he had with his work drove him away from society and family. He was slaving endlessly on his project to the point it would have killed him if Clerval had not showed up. Perhaps when he saw the monster he was reminded of the monster he had become because of it. He had ignored everything and everyone, even his beloved Elizabeth. How could he desire to put more time and effort into a project that nearly consumed his entire life? This would explain his hatred for the monster in terms of hatred towards himself and how low he had sunk.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein undoubtedly contains meaningful and intentional shifts in voice, but what I found puzzling was her choice to remind the reader of these levels at two instances in the first half of the novel. The story changes narrator only a few times, each carrying a substantial portion of the story, but I question the choice to lift the reader out of the immersion that is the “story within the story” concept. Pages 21 to 109 are narrated by Victor Frankenstein in the context of a letter, and the story has considerably engulfed the reader when Frankenstein reminds us that the words are framed as him telling a story, not to us, but to the main character from the preface, Robert: “I see by your eagerness, and the wonder and hope which your eyes express, my friend… listen patiently until the end of my story” (Shelley 48). This eagerness as implied to be attributed to Robert, after the reader acknowledges the disruption in the flow of the story, also appears to be attributed to the reader. I, as a reader, was getting caught up in the plot of the story when the storyteller seemed to pull me back suddenly from the characters. So when it happened again on page 51 where Frankenstein excuses his tangent by saying, “and your looks remind me to proceed” (Shelley 51) it seems less startling, but still out of place. I will admit that the first instance made me self-aware as an engrossed reader, but the second example coupled with the infrequency of this type of aside made the story seem unnecessarily turbulent in those instances, and I wonder how their true intentions would be explained.
I think I may be in the minority here, but I have never read Frankenstein before. Right away, I was deeply intrigued by Robert Walton’s character. I saw in him what I saw in myself, a love for adventure, and someone who was “passionately fond of reading” (Shelley 3). He set out on his ship in order to see the world, but life often has a way of giving you more than expected. Walton met Frankenstein, someone who was very similar to him, but much more educated. Based on Walton’s character, is it apparent at the beginning of the story whether or not he will heed Viktor Frankenstein’s warning? If Walton had not crossed paths with Frankenstein, do you think he could have made a similar mistake? Possibly even one that could end in the deaths of multiple people? I also think it is interesting to note that Walton’s entire narrative is structured around letters to his sister, whom he appears to be very close with. Why do you think Shelley chose to present Walton's character in this way?
Before this assignment, the only exposure I ever had to Frankenstein was the typical Halloween costume stereotype. I was under the impression that Frankenstein was a large, green monster, who couldn’t speak, think or feel, and whose sole purpose was to scare and haunt people. You can imagine my surprise upon reading this prompt. Is Frankenstein human? Never even cracking open the book, my first assumption was, “Of course not!” Half way through the assigned reading, I realized that my original assumptions about Frankenstein were far from true. Although he was a being, created, not from love, but from science, he can comprehend, he can think, he can feel. He can do all things that humans are capable of doing. After reading half of the book, I quickly realized that this prompt was much more difficult that I first concluded. Naturally, I turned to the dictionary for a formal definition of the word, “human.” “Of, pertaining to, characteristic of, or having the nature of people,” and “the psychological and social qualities that characterize human kind, especially in contrast with other living things,” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/human?s=t) were two definitions that stood out. Neither definition includes anything that would make one conclude that in order to be “human,” you must look like or be an actual person. But does that make Frankenstein a human?In my opinion, after reading half of the book, and doing a little research, I feel that Frankenstein is indeed a human. Although he was not born from a human, he has all characteristics typical to humans. He has a human form; he thinks like a human, he learns like a human, he speaks like a human. He even has human feelings. The only difference between Frankenstein and a person, in my opinion is looks. This leads me to my last and final point; after studying the De Lacy family for months, Frankenstein finally decided to introduce himself to the old De Lacy. During their discussion, old De Lacy states, “By your language, stranger, I suppose you are my countryman; -- are you French?” (Shelley, 108) De Lacy is blind, and upon meeting Frankenstein, automatically assumes that he is a human because of all the cognitive features Frankenstein possesses. Therefore, one can conclude that if everyone were blind, Frankenstein would be accepted into society without a problem. Upon comparing these points with the definitions of “human,” I feel that it is clear that Frankenstein is indeed human.
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