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Frankenstein Essay

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FRANKENSTEIN ESSAY:
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is arguably one of the most controversial novels of the 19th Century. It discusses the concept of science verses human conscience in a technological world. The Gothic atmosphere of the novel reflects the dark feelings of society at the time, and Shelley utilised pathetic fallacy, her chosen form and imagery to suggest a twist on the real monster of her story. Shelley uses poetical language and perspective to emphasise how the monster is a model Romaticist, and to express the importance of belonging and communication to a judgemental society. Symbols, contrasts and ‘heavenly’ adjectives are used to portray Victor Frankenstein as a God-like figure; expressing how we must never interfere with nature’s course and take on God’s role to the knowledge-greedy culture of the 1800’s, which was consumed with the Industrial Revolution. Shelley has manipulated her writing to convey her personal ideologies, and to reflect her concern for a loss of ethics in a society fixated on the pursuit for answers.

Mary Shelley’s novel was published in a prominent period of the 1800’s known as the Gothic Era. A very dark and bleak time, where polluted British cities were filled to the brim with the diseased, overworked and dying factory workers, (Charles Booth claims about 30% of Londoners lived in poverty between 1887 and 1892) it was an opportunity for authors to express the widespread despairing and fearful emotions of the public through literature. As people started to oppose and question religious authorities that once dominated government decisions, schools and towns, a God-less society was formed. It was a time where people lived in the darkness of their homes with only candlelight to brighten the night. The flickering shadows the candles produced made the nights quite frightening; reflected in many haunting tales produced in the era. Mary Shelley’s novel is an explicit example of an author who incorporates these emotions into Frankenstein. The use of letters to begin the novel is an effective way to create the impending doom and set the eerie atmosphere. The very first sentence of volume 1 in Walton’s first letter immediately prepares the reader for a tragic tale with the use of words such as ‘disaster’ and ‘evil forebodings’. (Shelley, 1818, pg. 1). The setting of the freezing, lonely and unknown “icy climes” (IBID) is well suited to her story. By having Frankenstein narrate his tale to Walton, the reader can easily understand the tone of the novel through recognising the traditional form of oral ghost stories. Shelley’s use of pathetic fallacy all throughout the novel is an effective expression of the Gothic terror of the time. The horrific meetings between the monster and Frankenstein (after the death of William and before the monster relates his tale to Frankenstein) both occur in wild and frightful storms; “The storm appeared to approach rapidly,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 77), and, “The rain was pouring in torrents, (Shelley, 1818, pg. 99). The most stereotypical Gothic chapter of Frankenstein occurs on the “dreary night of November,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 58)- once again Shelley utilises pathetic fallacy- when Victor’s monster springs to life. Shelley’s choice of imagery creates the classic Gothic horror story, depicting the monster, or “demonical corpse,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 59) in hideous detail- “a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived,” (IBID). Yet Shelley’s true monster is a twist on the usual ghost tale- the real monster is her protagonist: Victor Frankenstein. Her concept is that over ambitiousness and selfishness can corrupt a human being- evident through the obsessive nature of Frankenstein and his inability to realise the brutality of his actions. To Victor, a graveyard was “merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 52) and his eyes “insensible to the charms of nature.” (IBID). Although the monster is the classic hideous beast one would usually find in such a novel, his baby-like innocence that Frankenstein, “with such infinite pains and care had endeavoured to form” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 58), is clearly a contradiction to his affectionate nature, demonstrated when Shelley writes from the monster’s point of view. As the monster tries to develop a humane conscience, so that he can belong as a sincere being and not a ‘monster’, his madman of a creator (who’s only selfish desire of success destroys life around him) degrades from a human to Shelley’s real monster. The chilling Gothic emotions channelled through her literary techniques prepare the reader for a horror story, but the way Shelley structures her writing help the reader see the true monster. This positions them to understand it is the actions one makes that make you a beast and not your appearance, and warns society to keep away from mad, selfish desire before it distorts the harmful decisions you could make.

Frankenstein’s monster can be seen as a classic romanticist of Shelley’s time. Writers and poets in the 1800’s spent time in nature to connect to God and reflect on their spirituality and emotions. The literature of the time was poetical and based on the emotional expression of characters. The Romantic Era saw the first novels written by women; it was a way for authors, such as Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, to create female characters who could express the feelings and stories that themselves and women in general had experienced to the sexist society of the time. The importance of nature and the ability to communicate are such ideas revealed by Mary Shelley through the monster. Frankenstein’s creation escapes the uncertainty of the real world, and develops a conscience and certainty of himself in the serenity and beauty of the forest. Shelley’s poetical descriptions and metaphors in the language of the monster, such as “little winged animals who had often intercepted the light before my eyes,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 106) reflect the goodness and innocence that he and other Romanticists see in nature. The monster’s baby-like innocence and personal development in the forest guides him to realise, “To be a great and virtuous man appeared the highest honour that can befall a sensitive being.” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 122). The author’s chosen form of writing in first person through the monster’s point of view) is the most suitable way to express the feelings, thoughts, desires and fears of the monster. It’s a technique that demonstrates that although personal reflection beautifully shapes the monster, he is however desperately in need of love and communication with others. The monster, “eagerly longed to discover [himself] to the cottagers,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 116), and all effort is put into learning language in the hope that it might, “enable [him] to make them overlook the deformity of [his] figure.” (IBID). A life of solitude is unsatisfactory to the child-like monster, who needs to express his suppressed emotion to others without them seeing him with terror. In his first meeting with his creator in the mountains, when Frankenstein is filled with terror from his “detested form,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 104), he places his hands in front of Frankenstein’s eyes to relieve him of his deformity; after Frankenstein pushes them aside fiercely he cries, “Still thou canst listen to me and grant me thy compassion.” (IBID). A life without understanding and any love from another soul pushes him to resort to violence and murder as the only way to express his feelings to mankind. Shelley positions the reader to consider how important it is to be able to freely express a person’s emotions. The tragic ending of the monster’s life-without-love encourages the sexist and racist society of the Romantic Era to see past appearances and never be prejudiced, biased or discriminatory to another person that they do not know.

At the time Frankenstein was published, the Industrial Revolution was at its peak. It was the age of inventors and explorers, and the world was engrossed in new technology. From James Watt’s powerful steam engine, to the small light bulb of Thomas Edison, or the many huge changes in textile manufacturing, these years were a time where intelligence brought fame, social power and wealth. This recently turned secular society evolved around scientific discovery, and scientists were starting to answer questions that many people had previously believed religion solved. The idea of electricity (which is considered the tool Frankenstein used to create life) was developing and people were fascinated with its possibilities. The grandfather of famous naturalist Charles Darwin- Erasmus Darwin- was a genius of the time, and his theories and experiments had a huge influence on Mary Shelley’s novel. In her introduction, she refers to her conversation Lord Byron and Percy Shelley about Darwin’s experiment, which caused a piece of pasta “to move with voluntary motion”. She wondered if “a corpse would be reanimated,” and that, “perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endured with vital warmth.” The terrifying power of science to society at the time caused Shelley to reveal her concept that we should never interfere with nature or the role of God in Frankenstein. Victor’s God-like attitude is represented in Shelley’s manipulated language, referring to things being divine and heavenly. He describes Elizabeth as “bearing a celestial stamp” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 36) and having a “saintly soul” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 39)- to him she is an angel, who “was to be [his] only.” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 37). Frankenstein struggles to appreciate the beauty of nature like the monster does, and instead seeks to master it through gaining more and more knowledge. He seeks both “the secrets of heaven and earth” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 39). Shelley reveals that this sort of desire for knowledge is dangerous, such as when she describes Victor’s “greatest diligence into the search of the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 42), demonstrating that this desire to not only know everything, but master nature is destructive to someone like Victor. She illustrates this idea symbolically in the scene when Victor is in awe of the power of lightning, describing the burnt tree stump as “utterly destroyed.” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 42). Shelley emphasises the theme that we should not compete with Mother Nature through the painful and forceful work of Victor on his creation- as if nature is working against him; “I was oppressed by a slow fever,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 57), and, “the fall of a leaf startled me,” (IBID). He craves for his creation to bless him, “as its creator and source,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 55), and he will not rest until he feels the satisfaction and happiness of being ‘God’, instead of seeking contentment through having a relationship with the real God. Similar to the Prometheus story, the heavens punish this interference and destroy his world; Shelley presents this through the monster, who ironically takes the life out of his own creator. Unlike a caring God, who gives its creation free will and love, Frankenstein hates the monster. Yet to the monster, Victor is the only being in the world who even communicates with him. Revenge, almost, becomes a distorted way of the creator and his creation bonding with each other. This relationship is presented with the use of an oxymoron, describing the monster as Victor’s “hideous guest,” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 62). Frankenstein seems almost to fear and hate his monster purely due to its “unearthly ugliness” that is, “too horrible for human eyes” (Shelley, 1818, pg. 102), yet maybe there is more to this blind hate of his. Perhaps Victor sees something more hideous deep in the monster and that cannot escape him: himself. The monster to Frankenstein is a physical symbol of Shelley’s to remind him that he is not, a god, that he is a failure, and that he is deformed inside. These feelings destroy his loved ones and his own life. Mary Shelley symbolically uses the monster as an example of how striving to perfection and trying to master nature can corrupt the way people think and act, and she uses Frankenstein to warn the science-obsessed society of her period.

Frankenstein was the first novel to address the concept of technology overriding God's will and causing humanity to pay the price- a theme that inspired many other science fiction stories to come (such as 2001: A Space Odyssey). Shelley uses foreshadowing techniques, imagery and the use of letters to present the Gothic monster as Victor, and not ‘the monster’ itself to the reader. Through point of view we see the childish nature of Victor’s creation, whose Romantic expression of feelings through imagery and descriptive language emphasises the importance of being accepted and understood. Shelley positions the reader to see Frankenstein as an imitator god with the use of ‘divine’ language, and symbols and oxymorons suggest the consequences of mirroring nature- encouraging society to reflect, that if we have the capability to do something, it does not always mean it is right to do it. We are asking these same ethical questions today in experiments such as cloning and stem cell research. The ideas Shelley portrays through Frankenstein are completely relevant to contemporary society, which is why her novel is acclaimed as one of the most influential science fiction pieces written in history

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