Analyzing Mary Shelleys Narrative Effect English Literature Essay
Robert Walton was the first narrator of the story and gives an epistolary narrative. In his series of letters addressed to Mrs. Saville, he first explains his desire to explore the North Pole and eventually after heading north stumbles across a weak Victor Frankenstein.
The structure changes when Victor comes onto the ship, wounded, he begins to tell the account of his life; first describing his happy childhood and the events that lead him to create the monster. This makes up Volume 1 and Victor’s narrative then serves in turn to frame the creature’s narrative.
The monster is portrayed as a villain especially by Victor until his side of the story is heard. The reader now begins to have sympathy with the monster; Shelley achieves this as a direct result of her narrative style. He is an outcast and has no companion. He recounts his tale to Victor; about his creation and rejection and that of the De Lacy family
The narratives need each other to make them coherent and the technique of using three narrators make the reader ask the question ‘whom should I sympathize with’? and gives a better understanding of the narrative.
In every account the reader is forced to sympathize with the narrator as a result of Shelley’s compelling narrative. In the last volume you must decide whom your sympathy lies with.
An almost Prophetic Fallacy is used at the beginning of Chapter 5 to set a scene. This is the Chapter in which the monster is created. Gothic elements are more prominent in this chapter than many of the others. Such as ‘Dreary Night of November’
(To support the gothic them the word dreary which means dull and miserable. Also the way the story instills fear in the reader is another big part of Gothic writing)
Another example of gothic elements used in the chapter is ‘Dim yellow light of the moon’
Imagery such as this was effective as in Shelley’s time the idea of darkness conjured images of witch craft and evil, a common idea in 19th Centaury life.
Mary Shelley uses deliberate repetition and employs the use of powerful imagery to make the first part of the chapter gloomy and horrific, when the monster comes to life. She uses variations of words such as "dreary", "dismal", "horrid", "disgust", "miserable", and "wretched" so many times, and paints vivid images of ugliness and decay.
The eerie setting is boosted by the use of descriptive language that makes the surroundings more eerie, for example the eerie environment of Victor’s lab at 1 a.m. and Victor’s feeling of being followed. Using phrases like glimmer of the half-extinguished light, rain pattering dismally creates a somber setting.
From the outset the reader begins to feel a sense of foreboding.
When Shelley gives a grotesque description of the monster by saying how ‘His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness’ and also the fact that his eye is ‘yellow’ (which also suggests that this is an animal rather than a human) the reader becomes fearful. Juxtaposition is created by describing these horrifying features but then mentioning how straight and sleek his hair is. This is odd in the eyes of the reader and may in fact create as sense of fear.
Also we get a taste of how the monster will be treated when Shelley describes the monster as a ‘lifeless thing’. It gives an impression that the creature will be treated as worthless when he is ‘born’. We can really appreciate the true nature of Victor. In this chapter, Victor's scientific fixation can be compared to a dream in which at the conclusion is the creation of the creature.
He can appreciate how serious what he was done is as soon as the monster comes to life. The instant the creature's eyes open, Frankenstein's own eyes are opened to the horror of his project.
The creature is benevolent only wanting to feel a reciprocated affection between himself and Frankenstein; he affectionately reaches out to ‘his father’ as any son would, only to have Victor leave him. The monster is an innocent child. It is surprising he displays such callous behavior when he himself had been surrounded by the perfect family, a family who always showed him affection.
At this stage the monster enters into a phase of not knowing his place in human society; and without a Father or mother to guide him he begins to ponder upon the deep questions of character and who he is to ponder ‘his accursed origins’. Single-handedly, while suffering the pain of solitude and never seeing anyone akin to himself, he learns to read and to speak. How Shelley illustrates the monster and Frankenstein means that the reader is more inclined to see the link between them because she paints them as a manifestation of the other.
The book almost features a switch of roles, where in as the monster becomes more human and something emotionally recognizable as human, Frankenstein becomes ever more monstrous in the eyes of the reader, showing the creature as more benevolent and sympathetic.
The reader can now begin to distinguish how deeply unprincipled the nature of Frankenstein's endeavor is and of Frankenstein as a person. This is the way Frankenstein is equated to Prometheus.
Prometheus was a Greek Titan who, thinking his was doing something justifiably honorable, gave fire to mankind. Bringing fire did also bring death and destruction to mankind. Prometheus like Frankenstein had to suffer and give a good recompense for the actions. His creation will bring disastrous consequences to himself, his family, and others. The image we see of Victor in the chapter is not a very gracious depiction.
We realize how much Victor feelings have changed about creating the monster. In Chapter 4 we see his excitement and anticipation to accomplish his work and research, during saying this Victor feels ill and feels that the creation of the monster will make his illness go away
‘Sometimes I grew alarmed at the wreck I perceived that I had become; the energy of my purpose alone sustained me: my labours would soon end, and I believed that exercise and amusement would then drive away incipient disease; and I promised myself both of these when my creation should be complete.’
Of course we know his hopes are in vain and in fact his situation worsens.
Chapter 5 shows Shelley compare the creation of Adam to that of the creation of the monster, who he sees as disgusting and yet beautiful whilst in the story of creation labels Adam as “good.”
This is a display of theme of the dangers of playing God and how when the boundaries of science are crossed it can cause devastating effects. Further on, Shelley alludes to "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" to underscore Victor's feeling of loneliness and also his haunted state, feeling persecuted and chased by his creation. The use of the language helps the reader to appreciate the skill of Shelley’s work and how it causes the reader to think of Victor’s state of mind. In a distressed mental state, after creating the monster, Victor becomes sick in the hope of forgetting his creation momentarily and facing the consequences, which is a sign of victor's weakness which he obviously did not consider but his attempt is in vain.
Victor has a dream in which he sees Elizabeth walking down the streets of Ingolstadt, Elizabeth changes into his mother. He then sees worms start to crawl out of her. Victor, soon after, experiences extreme stress. He explains this as the cause;
“I imagined that the monster seized me; I struggled furiously and fell down in a fit.”
Henry becomes Victor’s caretaker for the next few months, whilst Victor suffered his delirium.
Looking back on Chapter 5 we now begin to see this importance and significance of Shelley writing the Chapter. Frankenstein’s experiment was important to Shelley because it was Mary wanted to do all her life; conquer death.
The Chapter is so effective as it uses all the Gothic devices such as :
Darkness and evil in human nature
Justice (or the lack of it)
Villain and hero
The pursued protagonist
Sense of misery and dread
Strong moral closure
The book has been so iconic for over 190 years because of how eloquently it has been written. Shelley’s skill has been praised since the publishing of the novel. The reader can identify with all the feeling and emotion featured in the book. She cleverly focus’ on different issues such as:
Society, Rejection and humanity
Life and death
Science, discovery and knowledge
Good and evil
Sexism and Sex stereotypes
These are the features that have kept Frankenstein in such high standing in literature...
These themes force the reader to think. Especially relating it to life in Shelley’s time (the 19th Century) and make the comparison to modern day life; how things and attitudes have evolved and how things are the same.
This is what makes the book timeless. Many themes can run throughout different periods in time.
For example the idea of society and rejection:
It is present in everybody’s life and everyone will encounter it. Society finds a way to label everything. Sometimes the labels are true, but most are misapprehension. The reader can relate to the characters in the novel. Society plays a big role in the book and it played a big part in Shelley’s life.
Whilst still a teenager Shelley experienced rejection and isolation from society, that nobody should have to endure.
One thing people looked down upon Shelley for was the fact she was an illegitimate child; Shelley’s’ mother was already pregnant with Mary when William Godwin married her. This is not such a serious issue in today’s modern society but in the 19th Century it was seen as shocking and morally unacceptable. This kind of behavior was seen detestable and taboo.
William Godwin (Mary Shelley’s father) had published the details about his life with his late wife, and this included the fact Mary Shelley was illegitimate this lead to a lot of stigma on Shelley even before her birth. Mary Shelley tarnished further her reputation when she ran away with Percy Shelley at 17 in 1814.
Percy Shelley was already married to his pregnant wife meaning that he left both her and his daughter to be with Mary Shelley. They had two illegitimate children. They got married after Harriet the wife of Percy, killed herself. Being a social outcast, Mary Shelley did not have many friends
The ideas and trends in society are evident in the novel. The creature is rejected and cast out and this becomes a catalyst to him becoming barbaric in his nature. One part of his rejection was the fact he did not have a name. The significance of the monster not having a name was that it deprived the monster of understanding who he was and his family origins. The fact the monster had no name or position in humanity, caused him such distress
‘But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days; no mother blessed me with smiles and caresses. I had never yet seen a being resembling me, or who claimed any intercourse with me. What was I?...’
‘I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me…’
Humanity or the lack of it now comes into play.
Victors lack of compassion might have possibly been because Frankenstein's fear at seeing his monster's eyes opened was a fear of himself, his own faults and what he had accomplished. It was his responsibility as the 'father' to teach the monster the ways of humans, about morals, values, love and kindness. But since Frankenstein didn’t do this for his creature he learnt hate and revenge.
Society wrongly treats the monster, presuming he is a monster at heart just because of what he looks like but what people fail to realize is that people would not act differently if the event actually happened in today’s society. It begs the question how humane are we? Are we the true monsters?
One view of humanity shown is that there is the very human desire to break out of humanity and become God. The idea of man being able to create life has a strong resonance - the ability to play God. People even to this day are astonished by what Victor attempted to do. Frankenstein is one such person by embarking upon creating a higher kind of creature, something that is considered even up to now beyond the responsibility of man, and considered the work of God. In Shelley’s day the act of attempting the creation of life was seen as blasphemous and would have caused great controversy.
Birth and creation have constantly been debated on ethical grounds. Relating to the idea of birth, the monster at the point of creation is a representation of a baby. Babies are easily influenced and a blank canvas in the sense that he grows according to the atmosphere and surroundings.
At the monster’s birth Victor felt sorrowful, woeful, and full of fear, possibly because of the fact that the creatures ‘birth’ was unnatural. At a natural birth there is usually joy.
Another key theme featured is the beauty of nature. People from Shelley’s time and the modern era can appreciate the beauty of nature.
The monsters grasp of natures beauty is so moving that it makes you want to side with him. You see his true beauty which makes you dismiss his passed errors but you are quickly reminded of them once again making his nature distasteful. This is a good representation of the theme of Good and evil in the novel.
Shelley’s time was a time when people wanted to discover more. the book was welcomed, For example, during the industrial period, which sparked the quest of knowledge throughout the entire world. The book challenged people’s imaginations and still does today but also warns of what too much knowledge can do to a person. Victor said:
‘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…’
Victors pursuit of knowledge proves disastrous, as it results in the death of everyone he loves, and because of Walton’s pursuit of knowledge he finds himself exploring the perilous plains of ice in the North Pole. While Victor’s loathing for the monster leads to his demise, cleverly Walton chooses to run away from his mission, having learned from Victor’s mistakes of how truly vicious the thirst for knowledge is.
Maybe the story teaches a man with knowledge doesn’t find as much joy as a man without as much knowledge.
‘Learn from me . . . 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’
The novel features women who not play significant role in the book:
This is odd as Shelley grew up in knowing of all the work of her extremely feminist mother. So why then did she make the women so passive? The characters Caroline Beaufort, Justine and female monster have such minor roles and are subject to many misfortunes.
Responsibility plays a key role in the novel. Victor as a father to the monster should have cared for his child and taken full responsibility, even after the death of some of his loved ones he still refuses to take on the role of a father and to guide his creation.
Later on in the book he starts to feel a small amount of responsibility but doesn’t act on it
‘I was seized by remorse and the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures, such as no language can describe’
All these conventions Shelley use make the book so effective, I think, because it makes the reader ask meaningful questions and be able to compare life in the time the novel was written to a modern society. Have things really changed?
In my view the novel is extremely well written and written with purpose and understanding. The novel include the Chinese box structure, stories within stories, but the clever part of the book is that the narratives interlink to create a more effective moral perspective. She plays with our feelings and emotions thought out the story and after reading the novel the reader must make up their own mind who they feel most sympathy for this is because it is not apparent who Shelley intended the reader to side with.
The fact that each narrator tells his own story brings insight into the feelings of each character and as a result brings sympathy.
In my opinion the monster deserves the sympathy of the reader. We see his loneliness and upset when he realizes nobody likes him.
‘ I am an outcast in the world forever’
This is why the monster is so barbaric in nature. He feels so angry that nobody loves him he retaliates, and so the reader can grasp why he is the way he is.
He says it is because of ‘the barbarity of man’ and he goes on to say
‘I am malicious because I am miserable’
Before reading the Monster’s point of view the reader sees the monster as a heartless murderer and dwells on the fact he is an outcast and should not belong to human society. Victor calls him ‘wretch’ and this implies he is horrible. In the eyes of Victor the monster is ugly and evil but when the monster tells his side of the tale we see he is clever thinking, and emotional.
The telling of the murder of William is a good example of the two perspectives.
The letter from Victor’s father recalls the event emotionally and focuses on evil of the act. The monster’s on the other hand focuses on the emotional circumstances. Even if the reader cannot fully sympathize with the monster, they can understand why he did it.
At times I myself felt sympathy for Victor I feel the monster would have been different if Victor had treated him as a son and not dismissed him as a person. His unethical treatment of his child made him what he is and is therefore entirely his responsibility. Victor appears almost passive in his behavior (although he is a key character) he seems a weak person a coward and idle. The feel I got from the book is that Victor was extremely selfish and does not want to go out of his way to help anybody; and that his sole purpose in life is to concentrate on his own affairs.
His neglect toward the monster is what leads to Victor’s demise.
For example the way he didn’t help Justine when she was accused of the murders made me feel a great dislike towards Victor, if he was a truly caring person he would have supported her even if he would have look mad for telling the truth. Because of this Justine lost her life which didn’t serve any purpose.
He may not be able to accept this but he is destructive without realizing it. He has been the antagonist of the book to me.
He brought this on himself, he said
‘You may torture m but I will never consent’
This almost dares the monster to kill his loved ones. The way he taunted the monster seems idiotic to me.
The story plays mostly on the idea of society and this, I think, is one of the most important themes in the novel.
The book I think is indicative of society, and presents to us an image of a creature that just needed to be wanted, valued and loved. Society as I have said before is supposed to be kind and understanding but displays great ignorance towards the monster. The De Lacy family is an example of this. It is tragic the way the monster turns out. I think it is society that is to blame; they made the monster what he is.
Though today we may criticize the people of that time we must realize although as modern society we also find difficulty in acceptance. So in a way people have not changed. Once again we should ask ourselves are we the true monsters?
The book is phenomenal; a 19 year old writer has made everyone that read her book think about the issues of life. This is why I love the book; the book after a while makes you look deeper into yourself and is not just any story. It has deep moral closure and this is why it will always be loved.
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