Yesterday evening I wondered if I’m out of my mind. My friends wrote me: “Really?” I don’t know if I can rely on my creativity. Do I trust myself with this project? It is a lot different now. All those words that I’m writing will be out there the same day I wrote them. That’s terrifying. But I know you are a gentle group of readers.
Last night I finished “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. What a book! I was impressed by it, I loved it. It fits quite well with the season. I spent most of Halloween listening to the audiobook. It created that amazing spooky atmosphere. Now let’s get into depth.
The book opens with the letters of an Arctic explorer, Walton, who writes home. He sees a man on the ice with a dog sledge – Victor Frankenstein. Yep, Frankenstein is not the monster! Turns out that even on the book’s cover, Frankenstein has power over his monster.
Frankenstein begins to tell his friend about his journey and a new narrative perspective is introduced. He grows up in Geneva in a loving family and moves out to go study. His interests are in old science books and knowledge that is not valid anymore. His professors laugh at him. He begins studying chemistry and the human body. In his lab he collects body parts and with the help of electricity turns them into a functioning creature. He is overwhelmed and disgusted by his monster. He runs away and falls ill for a long time. When he finally returns home he finds that his younger brother was killed and he knows that it was his monster. Justine, a woman who the family had brought up because she was not wanted by her own family, was accused of the murder. Frankenstein does not speak up. Justine is hanged.
Frankenstein meets his monster in the mountains and is surprised that he is able talk. The monster tells him his own story and opens up the third narrative perspective. It is the longest one and the most interesting. When he discovers his senses, he is filled with love and joy but when people see him they run away or threaten him. He hides in a small stable and watches the inhabitants of the nearby house for a long time. He learns to speak and read and confronts them. First the old blind man to get the respect of the family. When the others come home they are terrified and chase him out of the house.
In his rage the monster tries to find one living soul to love him. He does not find anyone not even Frankenstein’s little brother. He kills him. His demand to Frankenstein is to make him happy, to give him a mate. His words are convincing and Frankenstein agrees to do so. He leaves for England with his friend and after long journeys he settles down on a small island to make a new creation, this time a woman monster. For the first time he thinks about the consequences and rips his work into pieces while the monster watches. The monster kills Frankenstein’s friend. Devastated, Frankenstein returns home and marries his cousin who is killed that very night. His whole family is destroyed. Frankenstein chases the monster around the whole world, ending up in the Arctic Sea, where the tale ends.
The story was written by 18 year old Mary Shelley when she, her husband, Lord Byron and some others spend the year without summer together in a house. Locked all the doors and wrote spooky stories. What is it that you did when you were bored in the 1800s? Write a book. What is it you do when you don’t have that much free time and have many other interests in the 2000s? You start to write a book in a month.
When many try to find the interpretation on a biographical basis, I want to focus more on the questions the book leaves open. I want to describe to you what I loved about the book.
There are three different narrators. They influence each other in a significant way. In the beginning one might think: This is about Frankenstein, why is there an Arctic explorer? He is on the same quest as Frankenstein was. The search for knowledge. He wishes to explore these regions, come home, be celebrated. They both fail in their searches for wisdom. Walton returns home and Frankenstein dies, terrified by his monster.
It is important to acknowledge that it is a very one-sided tale. Frankenstein doesn’t know anything about the feelings or thoughts of his monster. When he gets to know them he feels sympathy for him. He finds it much harder to hate the monster once he has heard his story.
We do not have the capacity to look into each other’s brains and therefore we have to ask! We have to talk to people about their feelings to make decisions. It’s an essential part of being human. Otherwise, we think of anyone different than us as a monster.
The most inspiring and interesting part for me is when the monster learns to speak and write. He sits in a small shed the whole day and watches a family. He learns their words and manners, their values and actions. Just like a child. Frankenstein fails to be a “parent” for the monster. The monster has to search for it somewhere else. He is patient and learns a little more every day. However, he is still not recognised by the family. As his speech and reading skills develop, his only thought is that he wants to be part of this family. He wants their respect. Isn’t it fascinating how through seeking knowledge and the ability to talk, even monsters become human?
In the beginning the monster just feels happiness, he says. He is rejected by society again and again. This creates the real monster. Frankenstein did not. Which leads us to the question of nature vs nurture. How much did he put into the body of the monster? How much is upbringing? People are terrified by his looks. However, the old man, who does not see him, respects him. What does that say about society? Isn’t it also applicable to today’s society? Where you can be discriminated against when you are different?
The moral status of the monster changes. In the beginning, one might feel sympathy for him. No one loves him. He tries so hard. He reads books! He doesn’t even have a name! It changes when the monster becomes violent. Kills other people. But we can’t hate him. It’s not his fault! Frankenstein neglected him! The monster says that it didn’t like the killing. He is self-reflective, especially in the end when he apologises to Frankenstein. Which is too late. But the strength of his words has the power to impress others.
Let’s look at another moral challenge. Frankenstein’s bondage to his monster is the end of both of them. The scientist creates something and soon realises what he has done. He wants to build a female to save his whole family. He becomes aware of the consequences. He will create a whole family of monsters who might destroy the earth. The monster might not be honest. It is family vs society. Who does he want to save? He decides for the sake of mankind. His family is murdered and he also dies. Nevertheless, he saved the world of monsters! Which he created… Was it his responsibility to act in that way? What is the relationship between creator and creation? Does he have the right to destroy his monster because he made it?
Another central question is what made him do it. Why did he create such a being? He wanted recognition, he wanted to seek knowledge. What are the responsibilities of a scientist? Where does curiosity end and where does he have to stop? In Walton’s case it is exploration vs death. In Frankenstein’s case it is creation vs death of his whole family or society. When the crew on the ship wants to turn around and go back to England, Frankenstein appeals to their honour and courage. Is that worth so much more than life? For Frankenstein it is. He wants to chase his monster until it dies or he himself does. He has nothing to lose.
One of the most impressive scenes for me was when the monster approaches the little brother of Frankenstein. He is alone in the fields and thinks to himself that this small boy can’t be spoiled yet. He doesn’t know about whom to respect and whom not to. But the monster is wrong. The child is terrified of him and threatens the monster to tell his dad. Education starts early on. We learn from what our parents do, we imitate their actions. It is therefore not surprising that the little boy is frightened. He has learned to react that way. The killing of the boy is wrong, no doubt. Killing is always wrong. However, it was not the boy the monster wanted to kill. It was a projection. In that child he saw what he had experienced from every human he ever approached. Hate and fear. Which made him the monster that he is.
The question remains – who is the real monster here? The one who created or the one who killed? The one who abandoned or the one who sought happiness? The one who sought knowledge and fame or the one who could have destroyed whole mankind? The one who was acting irresponsibly or the one who killed a family? It is a difficult question and I don’t know the answer. Maybe both of them.
The descriptive language of the novel creates such a contrast to the narrative of the story. The alps and rivers, the tales of the journey… Romanticism is a wonderful period of literature and its moral questions are still applicable today. It got me thinking a lot and this is when books have served their purpose, I suppose. Making us think about us, about society and actions, about morality and responsibility.
The story reminds me a lot of the drama “The Physicists” by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, one of my all time favourite dramas. I’ll probably write a little something about it soon.
See you tomorrow,
If you are also taking part in Nanowrimo, please tell me! I would love to hear from you!
Current word count: 3739/ edited 2910