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The Book Club

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

1. The real Frankenstein. Given the modern literary and media influences, the first realisation for the reader would be the observation that the name Frankenstein refers to the creator of the creature, and not the creature per se. Mary Shelley’s novel is thoroughly entertaining; and even though Shelley penned the story to relate to broader themes, the climaxes and plot progressions are thrilling, and an absolute joy to read.

2. A science fiction expounding upon the dangers of scientific progression and human hubris. Subtitled as “The Modern Prometheus”, Shelley was directly making references to the tremendous developments under the Industrial Revolution, and subtly offering a warning that a relentless pursuit of knowledge should be moderated by responsibility and awareness of its potential dangers. As she incorporates concepts of galvanism and scientific exploration in the plot, the message conveyed is that the inventor must be cognisant of the ramifications of his commitments or undertakings, as they might have ripple effects – beyond their reach – upon people and events around them.

3. The substantial resolve and ambitions of Victor Frankenstein. “So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein — more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” and “No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world”.

4. Sympathy for Frankenstein’s creature. Typically, with the creature’s acts of vengeance show in its murder of Victor’s family members, the reader would be scornful and contemptuous towards the character; however, the actions and deeds were motivated by his creator’s apathy and lack of care or concern towards his well-being. Furthermore, despite engaging in acts of kindness towards human beings – such as saving the little girl from the water – his hideous appearance and grotesque looks renders it impossible for him to integrate into any community. Spurned by his creator, devoid of love from anywhere else, and dwelling continually in solitude, the reader is sympathetic to the creature’s cause, as it struggles to find a way out of the misery. His rhetorical ability and literary sensitivity – as well as his eloquence and persuasiveness – adds to his emotions, and renders him more “human”.

5. Victor Frankenstein as the antagonist? Correspondingly, does it then mean that Victor should take full responsibility for the unfolding of events and the unfortunate developments? Evidently so: after all, his fascination with science and the “secret of life” leads to the creation of the creature, which is ultimately responsible for a number of deaths. Whether he did the right thing in destroying the creature’s partner and whether he is the chief antagonist will remain unresolved perspectives; on a personal note, the destruction of the partner reflects the growing awareness of him being conscious of consequences, since he understands that the partner and creature – through breeding – might create a population of uncontrolled “monsters”. The understanding of this responsibility is important, and simultaneously serves as a warning to the reader.

6. Victor Frankenstein to Robert Walton, towards the conclusion. “From my infancy I was imbued with high hopes and a lofty ambition; but how am I sunk! Oh! My friend, if you had known me as I once was, you would not recognize me in this state of degradation. Despondency rarely visited my heart; a high destiny seemed to bear me on, until I fell, never, never again to rise”.

7. The shifting narrative perspectives. Throughout the novel, the narrative point of view moves from Robert Walton, to Victor Frankenstein, to the monster, before Walton concludes the text. It is a “framed” experience, since the story is technically narrative through Walton’s letters to his sisters. These correspondences add a human touch to the narrative, as opposed to having a generic narrator, and add a degree of sentimentality. It is a proper way of tying the characters together, especially since they are constantly physically apart from one another. Having individual characters expound upon respective episodes heightens the tension and increases emotionality: for instance, the creature’s attitudes towards Victor shifts from endearing to cruel, while Victor’s descriptions of the creature are extreme, focusing exclusively on its purported evil and transgressions.

8. The subtle role of women. The women in the novel are quite passive and powerless, though both Victor and the creature seek solace in a female companion to allay their guilty conscience and desire for a relationship respectively. From this perspective, they can be counted as pillars of strength and comfort for their male counterparts. Elizabeth’s inability to stand up for Justine’s innocence prior to the latter’s execution does, however, show her helplessness.

9. Nature’s healing powers. Both Victor and the creature seek considerable solace in nature. Victor, who constantly falls ill after traumatic experiences in the novel, heads for the mountains to lift his spirits; though he is aware that he is constantly pursued by the creature, a physical manifestation of his guilty conscience. The creature, on the other hand, is almost always positively influenced by the conditions in nature; for example, its spirits are lifted significantly when spring is around the corner.

10. The creature’s eulogy, which increases the reader’s sympathy towards it. “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice … I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery; I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin. There he lies, white and cold in death. You hate me, but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself”.

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About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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