Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thoughts on Frankenstein

“Remember, that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded.”[1]

Frankenstein. Popular culture has connected that name with, most frequently, a hollow-eyed humanoid monster, visible stitching tracing its skin and electrical probes protruding from its neck.
In reality, however, Frankenstein is so much more. Frankenstein—Victor Frankenstein—is the name of a scientifically-minded man, and a book title. The brain-child of authoress Mary Shelly, not the name of the creature he created.
I finished reading the unabridged version of Frankenstein yesterday, and goodness, it was brilliant and I can’t get it out of my mind.
Shelly didn’t give Frankenstein’s “monster” a name, so to avoid too many long handles or too many pronouns, I’ll call him “Creature.”

Victor Frankenstein started out as curious. He simply wanted to understand how the universe and the creations in it, worked. He wanted to know how life was formed. That is all well and good; curiosity and a thirst for knowledge are wonderful things. The problem began when Victor decided to take his research a step further, and apply it to imbuing the essence of life to an inanimate humanoid being he himself had fashioned.

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. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. . .Pursuing these reflections, I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time. . .renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption. [2]

He worked for nearly two years on his quest to create a new species.
Then it finally happened.

I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open. . .
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? . . .I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!—Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black. . .his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips. . .
For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room...[3]

Victor’s Creature disappeared, and for a while, though plagued with the thought of having released such a being out into the world, Victor believed his problems were over.
But they had barely begun. To avoid as many spoilers as possible, I’ll leave it at, that through a series of sad events, Victor and the Creature meet again.

I find it interesting that neither Victor nor Creature are clearly a hero or clearly a villain. Creature commits a series of crimes that Victor vows to avenge for by destroying the being he created. He beings to feel like a monster himself, that he had ever ventured upon the task to create another life. I think these song lyrics are fitting for the state of mind both characters experience at times:
I feel it deep within,
It's just beneath the skin
I must confess that I
Feel like a monster
I hate what I've become
The nightmare's just begun
I must confess that I
Feel like a monster
I feel like a monster

My secret side I keep
Hid under lock and key
I keep it caged
But I can't control it
‘Cause if I let him out
He'll tear me up
And break me down
Why won't somebody come and save me from this?
Make it end![4]

Both characters contain basic human goodness, and the selfish, sinful depravity that has invaded the world since Eden. Both are capable of kindness and evil. Both are angry, confused, lonely, and wishing for their respective lives to turn right-side-up and stay there. Due to their actions, both inflict irrevocable harm upon each other and upon people Victor cares for.

I didn’t root for either Victor or Creature, nor love one and hate the other. In fact, I felt profoundly sorry for both of them. Victor set the first boulder in their landslide of misery rolling, but Creature is by no means faultless himself.

Victor just wants his simple, quiet life back, without Creature haunting his every step.
Creature wants to be loved and understood for who he is, instead of being an outcast because of his physical appearance.

Both of their desires are, in of themselves, perfectly good things. Yet, due to the courses they have set themselves upon, seemingly impossible to attain. Anymore on that, however, will leak spoilers.

Upon finishing the book, I was asked what theme I found in the story. After thinking for a moment, several themes—brilliant themes—came to mind. Whether or not Shelly consciously put them into the story, or if they were just a natural outworking of the tale, they are wonderful because they transcend culture and era. They are, in their essence, incredibly applicable to life, no matter what century you were born in or what the popular culture is like.

One is the importance of life, that it is not something to be taken lightly, neither in the taking nor the giving. Human beings such as ourselves have no business trying to create life in a laboratory, because we do not have the necessary wisdom and strength to handle the responsibility that comes with such actions.

[Y]ou, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us. You purpose to kill me. How dare you sport thus with life?”[5]

            Another is how much our thoughts, and the thoughts of others, shape who we become. Self-esteem, peer pressure, bullying, culture, popular opinion, even in people with strong characters, these things still have an effect: to tear down or build up. And on the mind of someone who is very impressionable, the results can be incredible.
            For Creature, it destroyed him. Because of the first impression he gave—his ugly appearance—people consistently reacted out of fear and disgust, without giving him the benefit of the doubt (with the exception of a blind man), and confirmed his fears that because he looked horrible, he was horrible, by changing his attitude from one of curiosity, affection, and helpfulness, to one of wrath and destruction.

“I had admired the perfect forms of my cottagers—their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions: but how was I terrified when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” [6]

“Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?
“I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me: I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge.”[7]

“I have good dispositions; my life has been hihtherto harmless, and in some degree beneficial; but a fatal prejudice clouds their eyes, and where they ought to see a feeling and kind friend, they behold only a detestable monster.” [8]

“You, who call Frankenstein your friend, seem to have a knowledge of my crimes and his misfortunes. . .he could not sum up the hours and months of misery which I endured. . .For while I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. . .still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this? Am I to be thought the only criminal when all human kind sinned against me? . . .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.” [9]

            I will not reveal the ending of the story, but I thought it was both sad and fitting. It was not a perfect Hollywood ending. There wasn’t a huge showdown between Victor and Creature. It didn’t end with one “beating” the other. Yet it was still a fulfilling conclusion to the story.
            This book, while not very long, is one well worth the time spent reading it. It’s not all black and white, there isn’t a clear hero and a clear villain. There isn’t even a pristine clash of ideals. It’s a story of human nature, of revenge, of the possible consequences of “playing God,” and the juxtapositions people find inside themselves.

                        “You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. I look on the hands which executed the deed; I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived, and long for the moment when . . .that imagination will haunt my thoughts no more.” [10]

[1] Frankenstein, Chapter X
[2] Frankenstein, Chapter IV
[3] Frankenstein, Chapter V
[4] Skillet’s Monster
[5] Frankenstein, Chapter X
[6] Frankenstein, Chapter XII
[7] Frankenstein, Chapter XIII
[8] Frankenstein, Chapter XV
[9] Frankenstein, Chapter XXIV
[10] Frankenstein, Chapter XXIV 

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