Sunday, 23 September 2012

Frankenstein: How does Shelley overwhelm her readers with such horrific events that they feel so despaired?

‘Frankenstein’ is a novel filled with tragedy and death. The narrator spends much of the novel in a deep depression, lamenting of his misfortunes by describing himself as “more miserable than man ever was before”. It is likely that Shelley created such a dark novel as a result of her own troubles in life, and as death follows Frankenstein wherever he goes, Shelley’s life was also shrouded in the death of her children, with only one surviving her. Few moments of joy are experienced in the novel.

A particularly horrific event is the death of Clerval. This signals the final destruction of any goodness left in the creature, as he finally embraces his evil instincts and kills purely for revenge on Victor. Shelley describes his wounds as “black mark of fingers on his neck”, with the report of the creature actively touching his victim suggesting quite an intimate kill, and developing the creature into a being that lusts for violence and death, enjoying the thrill of it. The self-destruction of the creature fills the reader with extreme despair, as the impression we received of him at the beginning of the novel showed a being with so much innocence and potential: “I learned and applied the words “fire”, “milk”, “bread”, and “wool””. His progression and attempt to learn to speak is endearing and beautiful to watch, and is in stark opposition to his character by the end of the novel. The creature aligns himself with satan from his readings of ‘Paradise Lost’ when he says “I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed”. This highlights again his potential, but also the fact that he had to learn from books to discover who he was makes his downfall even more horrific, as it is such an innocent act, to desire to find yourself, and he had to learn not from a parent, but from an outside source because of the rejection of Frankenstein. It makes it seem that he had little choice in his transformation to evil.

At the end of the novel, when Victor lies dead and the creature cowers in despair over him, Shelley’s critique on society is particularly poignant, and our involvement of the creation of such a monster is easy to see. He is extremely regretful, crying “that is also my victim”, whilst Victor simply says before his death “I am blameless”. We are aware that society will view Victor as a victim, and the creature simply as the villain, when in fact society was the true villain in her novel. Her father being the radical philosopher that he was, Shelley would have been open to criticisms of society, and therefore her portrayal of the people as the cause of all this destruction is unsurprising. Her own despair at the evil of society is seen vividly throughout the novel, although most here when the creature laments his crimes, whilst Victor denies his.
Shelley also shows the true position of women, depicting their oppression through the representation of Margaret, Justine and Elizabeth. Victor highlights the unfair treatment of women by saying that Justine was “far more innocent than I”. Although he was accused of the murder of Cleval, he was treated kindly, and time was given to find the truth about his death. However, Justine, being a woman, was denied this right, and put to death before proper evidence could be brought forward. Shelley highlights the unfairness in this by allowing Justine to leave her life with dignity, attempting to calm the others rather than despairing over her own fate. Her death is therefore even more horrific and tragic. Margaret is also shown to be oppressed, as she is denied a voice in the novel. In fact, Elizabeth is the only woman who is shown to speak directly to the reader (through her letters to Victor). Shelley does this to show the potential of strength in women, strengthening her argument by describing Elizabeth’s defence of Justine as “heart-rending eloquence”. She is shown to have few negative qualities, and before her death shows a willingness to sacrifice her happiness for Victor by saying “it is your happiness I desire as well as my own”. Whilst Victor is focussed on his own well-being and conscience, Elizabeth lives through him, only enjoying happiness when she knows that he too is at peace. The horrific imagery used to describe her death: “she was there, lifeless, and inanimate, thrown across the bed” shows the literal suffocation of women, highlighted by how quickly Victor moves on to his quest for revenge. Her mother being a feminist, Shelley would have had interests in the oppression of her sex, particularly as in her relationship with Percy, they appeared to be equals, working as partners to create her novel. It is therefore not surprising that she wished to show the horrific treatment of women in society at that time, and how their voices were stifled.

The novel, from start to finish, is filled with horror and ghastly events. The grandeur of the mountains and scenery merely makes the novel even more fearful, with this description: “at a distance, surmounting all, the beautiful Mount Blanc” showing the power of nature, diminishing the control each of the characters have over their lives, and showing how easily life, prospects and love can be lost. Nature lords over all, and shows the weakness of human life. ‘Frankenstein’ fills its readers with despair, and this seems to have been the aim of the author, as Shelley says in this note “I busied myself to think of a story… to curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart”. She purposefully evoked fear in her readers, creating the ultimate gothic novel.

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