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In nineteenth century literature a lot of importance was given to passion and emotional appeal in preference to reason and logic. Creative writing and fiction were usually charged with passion and struck a chord with the readers. For any work of fiction or non-fiction the main content needs to have a reasonable plot, theme, structure and organization for it to be of sustained popularity and wide readership. The books included in this study, Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley have elements of both passion and reason even though a clash between these two elements is evident in both stories.
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“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much” (Paton 101).
In the above lines from the story, the writer brings about the struggle between the feelings of ownership and belonging of the protagonist, Stephen Kumalo, and the fear of his beloved country falling apart because of racial discrimination and racial hostilities between the whites and the blacks in South Africa. The other theme of clash is between the route to progress and development for the blacks in urban centers like Johannesburg at the cost of the breaking up of families and tribes in rural South Africa. The dichotomy is between progress and urbanization on the one hand and preserving traditions and strengthening relationships on the other. The main themes are of the clash between the privileged and the colonized, the haves and the have-nots.
In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley has drawn the reader’s attention towards the clash between science and the occult. Victor Frankenstein who creates the monster represents reason and the monster represents passion.
“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” (Shelley 50).
In the above lines, the author has tried to elaborate on the pitfalls that the mere quest for knowledge devoid of responsibility and control can have on mortal lives. So the struggle in this story is between reason in the form of science and scientific invention against the passion of the monster which is a creation of the scientist. Frankenstein is a story of an irresponsible scientist who in the pursuit of knowledge creates a monster that nobody is able to control and the monster continues to perpetrate atrocities and chaos. It is a lesson for the reader to bear in mind that curiosity and the mission to gain knowledge is good but the seeker of knowledge must also be capable of taking responsibility and have courage to bear negative consequences in case a need arises.
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There are a couple of common themes in both these novels. The colonizing of black people in South Africa and disbanding families and tribes in order to profit from cheap labor created the monster of racial hooliganism and lawlessness in Johannesburg. The whites created the black labor force but did nothing to ensure that they remain happy and rooted. The abject poverty and dire living conditions of the black workers created the rift between the rich mine and factory owners and the displaced black laborers. Similarly in Frankenstein Victor Frankenstein created the monster but did nothing to provide a sense of belonging and ownership which encouraged the monster to feel disowned and become wild.
The themes of colonialism and imperialism are present in both novels. It is the struggle between the white and black, the rich and poor, the rulers and the ruled in Alan Paton’s story while the theme of the creator and the created permeates Mary Shelley’s novel. Isolation and the sense of lack of belonging have created both the monster and Absalom. The monster seeks the love and acknowledgment of his creator while Absalom leaves his village, Ndotsheni, to seek knowledge and employment. So both the monster and Absalom feel isolated from their people and take to ways that harms others more than they can control.
Stephen Kumalo is the pastor of a small village in South Africa and lives in his own world, quite disconnected with the times and happenings in urbanized centers like Johannesburg. When he comes to Johannesburg to help rehabilitate his sister, Gertrude, he is brought face to face with the realities of life in South Africa. He realizes that his world was collapsing and that the main tragedy of his people was that things like relationships and innocence were breaking down and no one was doing anything to mend them. He says, “It suited the white man to break the tribe, but it has not suited him to build something in its place” (Paton 46). Stephen Kumalo is a man obsessed with a singular quest to seek his son and rebuild the community. Similarly, Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with seeking knowledge and acquiring power. He wanted to play God and test his “ability to give life to an animal” (Shelley 51).
The conclusion of both the stories engenders calm and relative hope. In the end Absalom realizes his mistake and is reconciled to his fate and Stephen Kumalo is able to bring his sister and Absalom’s pregnant wife back to the village to try and rebuild his tribe with the help of James Jarvis. The monster in Frankenstein grieves over the death of his creator and is reconciled to his self-imposed exile in the North Pole and subsequent death. He realizes that his atrocities in order to seek revenge did not yield the desired results and he continued to be abandoned and isolated. In both stories, there is a sense of catharsis with Absalom writing home to his parents and the monster grieving over his master. Even though both ends are tragic there is a faint ray of hope in both novels.
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