Many works of literature not readily identified with the mystery or detective story genre nonetheless involve the investigation of a mystery. In these works, the solution to the mystery may be less important than the knowledge gained in the process of its investigation. Choose a novel or play in which one or more of the characters confront a mystery. Then write an essay in which you identify the mystery and explain how the investigation illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.
According to critic Northrop Frye, "Tragic heroes are so much the highest points in their human landscape that they seem the inevitable conductors of the power about them, great trees more likely to be struck by lightning than a clump of grass. Conductors may of course be instruments as well as victims of the divisive lightning." Select a novel or play in which a tragic figure functions as an instrument of the suffering of others. Then write an essay in which you explain how the suffering brought upon others by that figure contributes to the tragic vision of the work as a whole.
Many writers use a country setting to establish values within a work of literature. For example, the country may be a place of virtue and peace or one of primitivism and ignorance. Choose a novel or play in which such a setting plays a significant role. Then write an essay in which you analyze how the country setting functions in the work as a whole. Setting is crucial in any given novel or play. However, in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the country setting is crucial in understanding the emotions, characters, and events to come featured in the novel. As a romantic herself, Shelley utilizes the images of several scenes of nature to emphasize particular themes and ideas. From the changing seasons, violent storms, and the mountain and lakes, the country shows a multitude of aspects that relate to the story of Viktor Frankenstein. The transition of summer to winter not only highlights Frankenstein's character, but is a useful tool for foreshadowing. Much like summer's bright and energetic characteristics, Frankenstein proves to be bright and energetic as well. As a child, Frankenstein had the love and affections from a happy family and a growing thirst for knowledge. This thirst for knowledge eventually thrusts Frankenstein into the University of Ingolstadt. It is here that Frankenstein's ambitions to surpass his colleagues and professors are highlighted. He soon becomes enveloped in his studies, which to him, is complete pleasure. He soon discovers the secret of animating a corpse and sets to construct a breathing organism. Frankenstein however, begins to describe the qualities of summer, where the days are long, and the nights are short. The long days serve to emphasize Frankenstein's happiness. Right now in the novel, Frankenstein believes to be doing great work in the field of science. However, when the creation of the monster becomes close, summer comes to an end. Frankenstein loses his previous optimistic character and his dreams become dark. The light begins to fade as darkness empowers it, much like Frankenstein's realization about his creation. Tortured by images of his creation, Frankenstein falls ill. But as both time and his illness pass, spring begins to emerge. Frankenstein's recovery and the emergence of springtime correlate to one another as it is a time of new beginnings. It is here that Frankenstein leaves the University of Ingolstadt and starts a new journey with his friend Clerval. A noteworthy characteristic found in the country is their violent storms. Shelley masterfully uses storms to emphasize ominous events and the emotions of characters. In several instances, the lightning of a storm represents the godlike power of creation. This is emphasized in the passage when Frankenstein witnesses a tree wiped out by lightning. The lightning gives Frankenstein inspiration to uncover the spark of life. It is here where his desire to control the same power as lightning is conceived. But just as the tree was destroyed, Frankenstein and his world around him will be destroyed as well. As the story progresses, storms become intertwined with the idea of destruction. This is first introduced in the Monster's rage towards the DeLacey family. After being refused love and affection, the Monster erupts into a terrible rage. Driven with anger, the Monster finally burns down the cottage where they had first lived. As this is done, Shelley describes the wind to pick up and the might of the storm to roar with the same anger shown by the Monster. With each death found in Frankenstein, a violent storm is quickly followed after. After young William is strangled to death, a storm erupts over Geneva. Frankenstein is outside to witness this and exclaims that this is his funeral. The storm represents the turmoil faced by the Frankenstein family with the passing of William. Next, a powerful storm is what brings Frankenstein to Ireland. This is where he is placed in jail to be tried against the murder of his best friend, Clerval. Finally, a storm flares up over Elizabeth and Frankenstein on the day of Elizabeth's death. This storm serves to show that she is soon going to die at the hands of Frankenstein's monster. Constantly through the novel, Mary Shelley uses storms to stress the black and sinister nature of the book.
In a literary work, a minor character, often known as a foil, possesses traits that emphasize, by contrast or comparison, the distinctive characteristics and qualities of the main character. For example, the ideas or behavior of the minor
Frankenstein, speaking of himself as a young man in his father’s home, points out that he is unlike Elizabeth, who would rather follow “the aerial creations of the poets”. Instead he pursues knowledge of the “world” though investigation. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that the meaning of the word “world” is for Frankenstein, very much biased or limited. He thirsts for knowledge of the tangible world and if he perceives an idea to be as yet unrealised in the material world, he then attempts to work on the idea in order to give it, as it were, a worldly existence. Hence, he creates the creature that he rejects because its worldly form did not reflect the glory and magnificence of his original idea. Thrown, unaided and ignorant, into the world, the creature begins his own journey into the discovery of the strange and hidden meanings encoded in human language and society. In this essay, I will discuss how the creature can be regarded as a foil to Frankenstein through an examination of the schooling, formal and informal, that both of them go through. In some ways, the creature’s gain in knowledge can be seen to parallel Frankenstein’s, such as, when the creature begins to learn from books. Yet, in other ways, their experiences differ greatly, and one of the factors that contribute to these differences is a structured and systematic method of learning, based on philosophical tenets, that is available to Frankenstein but not to the creature.
Frankenstein speaks fondly of his youth because his parents were “indulgent” and his companions were “amiable” (21). His parents’ policy in the education of their children is that there should neither be punishment nor “the voice of command” (26). Instead, they encourage their children to pursue their studies with vigor by “having the end placed in view”(21) and by having them discover the process by which to reach the end and not by making them learn tedious lessons. Frankenstein’s testimony to this is that he learnt better and retained his knowledge well. The approach to Frankenstein’s education in the home is strongly influenced by Rousseau, one of the most eloquent writers of the Age of Enlightenment. In his influential novel Emile, Rousseau expounded a new theory of education that emphasises the importance of expression rather than repression to produce a well-balanced and free-thinking child. His theory also led to more permissive and psychologically oriented methods of childcare. A child brought up according to these precepts is significantly more a free man than those who were not because part of the hidden syllabus allows for the constant discovery of new processes and methods and another part denies the past scholarly masters from having too strong an ideological and pedantic hold on the newer generations. It is a unique combination of structure and liberty that one finds here and it is this combination that produced the modern day disciple of Alberta Magnus and Paracelsus in Frankenstein, who forges his ancient fantasies with modern scientific tools.
The creature, on the other hand, is an untamed and extreme version of the free individual. Without the support and shelter of a family, and the systematic approaches of an education system, the creature nevertheless gains an education of sorts. And he does this by reacting to his basic needs for shelter, food, warmth and company. In her book, Mary Shelly: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, Anne Mellor argues that the creature is Mary Shelly’s allusion to Rousseau’s “noble savage” who is “a creature no different from the animals, responding unconsciously to the needs of his flesh and the changing conditions of his environment.”(47) In the debate on the importance of nature versus nurture, Mellor explains that Frankenstein shows nurture to be crucial because the creature “rapidly discovers the limitations of the state of nature and the positive benefits of a civilisation grounded on family life.”(48). This is the informal education that the creature experiences, which in modern society, is termed “socialization”. The De Lacey family is metonymic of the general population or the working egalitarian base of a society. The creature learns about the gentle love and respect that the members of the family show to each other; the division of labour among the able-bodied members that keeps the family alive; in Safie’s story and the De Lacey’s unfortunate past, he learns about the problems that society has its problems such as greed and corruption. Sadly, although he learns about the wonderful aspects of civilised life, the creature also learns of his own status in “the strange system of human society”(96). He has no history because he is ignorant of his creator and creation, he does not possess money, friends or property, and he “was not even of the same nature as man”(96). The creature’s discovery of knowledge led to his own self-knowledge and he finds that all his knowledge has somehow become part of him and his identity:
“ ‘Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has
once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock’” (96)
Like a lichen, knowledge also covers the mind and to look outward from the mind into the world is to see it through the colour and the thickness of the lichen. The principles that first gripped Frankenstein’s mind are those of prominent alchemists from as early as the thirteenth century. Cornelius Agrippa defended the status of “hidden philosophy” or magic and once set up a laboratory in the hopes of synthesizing gold. Albertus Magnus was a medieval theologian who, while maintaining that human reason could not contradict divine revelation, defended the philosopher’s right to investigate divine mysteries. Paracelsus was a doctor and chemist also concerned himself with alchemical knowledge like Agrippa but also defied the medical tenets of his time, asserting that diseases were caused by agents external to the body and that they could be countered by chemical substances. These writers were, as Waldman explained, “men to whose indefatigable zeal modern philosophers were indebted for most of the foundations of their knowledge”(31). However, not all their ideas were considered scientific or even socially acceptable because they contradict strongly held religious beliefs. It is Frankenstein’s father who tells him not to waste his time with these writers because “a modern system of science had been introduced, which possessed much greater powers than the ancient, because the powers of the latter were chimerical, while those of the former were real and practical”(23). Instead, he is extorted to take up the study of natural philosophy, the eighteenth century equivalent of the sciences like physics and chemistry. Although his first attempts at attending lectures were interrupted and not at all fruitful, he enjoys reading the works of Pliny the Elder and Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de, both of whom wrote extensive encyclopaedic books on natural history.
Frankenstein begins to build on his scientific knowledge and when he goes to Ingolstadt and finds a mentor in Waldman, he also starts to take his study of chemistry seriously. There, he becomes part of the new science that penetrates “into the recesses of nature, and shew how she works in her hiding places”(30). The sexual imagery of such as invasion of the female privacy cannot escape detection of course, but furthermore, throughout his education, he seems to have only male teachers. As he clearly states, “My father directs our studies, and my mother partook of our enjoyments.”(25). Frankenstein grows up in an environment where the intellectual side of things is controlled by men and women are delegated to be in charge of games or of nursing the younger members of the family. Furthermore, not only do the women, like Elizabeth, prefer poetry to science, their emotions overrule their reason, such as when Frankenstein’s mother insisted on seeing Elizabeth when the girl was ill with scarlet fever and contracted the deadly disease as a result. The author seems to show an overwhelming male presence in the Frankenstein household as the males are able to become surrogate parents easily, such as when Frankenstein becomes the instructor of his brothers. He also looks upon Elizabeth as a creature more fragile and unthinking in her carefree life than he is, and sees her a “a favourite animal”(21). Katherine Hill-Miller in her book, “My Hideous Progeny”: Mary-Shelly, William Godwin and the Father-Daughter Relationship, explains that even in his role as an overreaching scientist, Frankenstein can also be read as a father figure because “Part of his motivation in fashioning his creature, after all, is his desire to receive homage and the thanks of beings dependent on him for their generation.”(60). However, ideas are simply not enough to cause a young and intelligent man like Frankenstein to try to take on the role of the ultimate Creator and bring life to a corpse. Shelly shows us that the external or the society at large will always intermingle with the internal or the emotional and psychological makeup of the person. It is Frankenstein’s own “chimerical” makeup- a confidence in the male scientific ability, a belief in the male prerogative to control nature by the accumulation of knowledge, the absence of a tempering maternal influence and his own hubris, that leads him to “circumvent the natural channels of procreation”. His knowledge of the world is ironically one that is created in piecemeal; hence the creature can be seen as a physical representation of the terrible patching up of mismatched parts to make a whole. In trying to be more than he is, that is, a human being, Frankenstein finds himself wedged in between nature and God, becoming estranged from his immediate society as he becomes burdened with the tragedies brought about by the creature.
As Frankenstein’s creation, the creature is also exiled from the two important categories of existence known to society- God and Man. Unlike Frankenstein, however, who tries to put himself above other men, the creature is portrayed as being caught in between Man and animal. Yet, the creature seems to obtain an understanding of human life as a complex interwoven fabric from his observation of the De Lacey family and from the books that he reads. From the “Sorrows of Werter”, the creature becomes acquainted with the tremendous range of human emotions that he found “accorded well with my experience among my protectors”(103). By reading “Plutarch’s Lives”, he learns “high thoughts” and discovers that, through the processes of his mind and the examples of great lives of other men, he is able to be “elevated…above the wretched sphere” (104) of his own reflections. He also reads Paradise Lost in which ideas like free will and pedestination are discussed. The creature’s develops a critical insight into his own life as “Plutarch’s Lives” is not only a historical work but also a series of character studies which reveal a person’s morality. And in by reading Paradise Lost, he is able to put words to his own condition, drawing parallels between himself and Adam and exposing the differences. Unlike Frankenstein’s choice of a solitary life, the creature yearns for the support of a family and the companionship of a female. Hence, one finds that Frankenstein’s encyclopaedic knowledge is undermined by his lack of self-knowledge and of the nobler aspects of human emotional life, which, ironically, is compensated for in his creature which he rejects.
Not simply a stock symbol for a part of Frankenstein’s psyche, the creature also portrays a natural and innocent man who becomes the victim of his social conditions because he reacts to the adversity he faces with negative emotions. After being convinced of the De Lacey’s high level of nobility of character, the creature attempts to introduce himself into their lives with disastrous results. In their rejection, the creature witnesses and experiences the contradictions in human behaviour when Felix attacks him without asking him his story and Safie runs from the cottage without stopping to assist Agatha who has fainted. The creature, however, is not simply a victim of his socio-political circumstances. He also chooses to react in hatred and bitterness to his surroundings and to allow the full play of his feelings for revenge(113).
In Greek mythology, the Chimera is a monster that has the head of a lion, the body of a she-goat and the tail of a dragon. Sometimes it is also portrayed as having two heads. I find it apt as a symbol that represents the incomplete education of Frankenstein and his creature, and also as an image that draws our attention to the their conditions. Frankenstein possesses detailed knowledge of the physical world but lacks in that of the emotional world. He tries to combine the fantastic with the real and creates the creature who possesses a mind as human as any but is trapped in a body that is a tragic travesty of the human body. Both are chimerical and together, they form a chimera, linked to each other but in a monstrous way.
character might be used to highlight the weaknesses or strengths of the main character. Choose a novel or play in which a minor character serves as a foil to a main character. Then write an essay in which you analyze how the relation between the minor character and the major character illuminates the meaning of the work.
In questioning the value of literary realism, Flannery O'Connor has written, "I am interested in making a good case for distortion because I am coming to believe that it is the only way to make people see." Write an essay in which you "make a good case for distortion," as distinct from literary realism. Analyze how important elements of the work you choose are "distorted" and explain how these distortions contribute to the effectiveness of the work. Avoid plot summary.