When an author creates a story that lasts through centuries and has been recreated in all types of entertainment, one has to ask why? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is possibly most perfect example of this. In Lawrence Lipking’s essay “Frankenstein, the True Story; or, Rousseau Judges Jean-Jacques” he argues that Frankenstein is so popular, even today, because almost all the major ideas of the book are open to interpretation. This lets the reader take away from the book whatever he or she feels important because every major idea in the novel has no one answer to it.
Lipking proves the point that there is no one moral to Frankenstein, and no one way to interpret it, by taking some of the most widely argued about ideas in the book, and providing strong arguments to support both sides. After doing this it, it becomes pretty clear that for every argument that supports a specific idea, there is an equally relevant contradicting argument. This creates a balance in every important idea in the novel, a balance that can only be tilted by the reader’s own values and morals.
Since ones interpretation of the novel is supposed to reflect their own values and morals, the only way you can read Frankenstein the “wrong” way is if you are influenced by someone else’s interpretation of the novel. For example, if you are reading Frankenstein for the first time and you read somewhere that the creature is innocent and he is an example of how society corrupts people, you will read the whole novel with sympathy for the creature. You will get mad at Frankenstein when he does not create a mate for the creature, and you will feel that the murder of Elizabeth is almost justified. This exactly how I felt when I read Frankenstein for the first time after briefly looking through an article I found online to try to get a good grade on my first response paper. Now that I have read Lipking’s essay, I fell I definitely need to re-read Frankenstein with a clear mind.
Given this information, I feel it is obvious why some teachers may be criticized when teaching Frankenstein, however not all of them. In his essay, Lipking writes about a teacher who has “coached her students to read the novel with the eye of an eighteenth-century woman (Lipking, 318).” I personally feel that this analysis would only be relevant if you are an eighteenth-century woman. Based on my interpretation of the novel, that would mean putting my morals and values aside, which is hard as it is, but then picking up the values of a female more than 300 years ago. Given that I am guy in the 2000’s, that would be close to impossible. I feel that the only you can draw the most meaningful conclusions from this novel is if you read it through no one’s eyes but your own.
The second half of Lipking’s essay draws strong relations from Frankenstein to Rousseau’s ideas, saying that both of them leave questions to be answered. Shelley was a big fan of Rousseau, and given that some of the ideas discussed in Frankenstein are also discussed by Rousseau, it would be very hard to argue that he had no impact on Shelley’s writing. In one of Rousseau’s most famous works, Émile, he writes about how society is what corrupts man, and that man is good when he is first created. In his own words, “everything is good as it leaves the hands of the author of things, everything degenerates in the hands of man (Lipking, 322).” I feel that part of the reason Shelley wrote Frankenstein, was to further that argument. She created an extreme example of this idea where a creature was made and was absolutely rejected by society, and even his creator. Consistent with the rest of Frankenstein, Shelley offers no resolution to this question, however makes the reader think and come to their own conclusion. “The object of the debate is not to prove or refute or win but only to take part, translating the novel into one's own discourse (Lipking, 316).”
Rousseau’s ideas expressed in Émile also support how I feel...
Cited: Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Susan J. Wolfson. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, Or, The Modern Prometheus. Longman Pub Group, 2007
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