Monday, 13 October 2008

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

In a lot of ways this wasn't quite what I expected. I suppose the main thing was that most of the pieces that have based themselves around the Frankenstein story have placed quite a lot of emphasis on the act of creating the monster. The original, on the other hand, deals with it in just a couple of pages. Where I was perhaps expecting an extensive discourse on the nature of life and on the morality of bringing about new life, this is more a book about morality, belonging, and the vital importance of human connections in making us human.

For those who don't know the basics of the story, Frankenstein gets obsessed with the nature of life, makes a creature, brings it to life, and rejects it. The monster then spends the rest of the book utterly destroying his life by preying on those around him, while simultaneously blaming Frankenstein for forcing it to be that way.

For the most part it's well written, though there are times when you can see impatience in its nineteen year old writer. The instant hate of Frankenstein for his creation doesn't strike me as entirely convincing, while the ability of the thing to miraculously track down those around him doesn't quite work either. The thing is, I'm not sure it matters that much. The centre of the story is more the monster's motivation than it is the actual mechanics of vengence. Is it evil because it was created that way? Is it evil because of repeated rejection? Do human concepts of morality even apply to something non-human?

It raises some intriguing questions about the role of other people in making us who we are. The monster, cut off from others and abandoned, is left without a moral compass. As, it might be argued, is Frankenstein, who slips into solitude well away from his family while working on the thing. When the monster wants to destroy him, moreover, it is not Frankenstein he attacks, but those around him. I suspect, on the whole, that it's a book not about what it means to make a monster, but about what others do to keep us human.


Karen said...

Hi Stu, I've popped over from the betweenplace. My reactions to the novel were very similar to yours: surprise at how little room was taken up by the actual mechanics of creation (write what you know perchance?). What has remained with me is how the poor wee monster tried to approach that idyllic family, only to be rejected because of his appearance. I felt strongly that he only turned really bad after society refused to accept him.

stu said...

I felt that the rejection certainly played a part, and continuing rejection throughout the book didn't help, but it's hard for me to be that sympathetic to the monster. Perhaps the message was that morality was something to be taught, and which couldn't be intuited, but the monster struck me as a blank slate, which, not being filled in, left it largely amoral.

Karen said...

Yes, I'm sure you're right, lasting impressions are not the most balanced, and it's a while sincce I read it. I wouldn't want to imply that that was the only theme in the book.

April Boland said...

Nice review. I was pretty put off by Dr. Frankenstein, to be honest. I was disappointed that he felt no responsibility towards his creation. Not only was that irresponsible concerning the monster himself, but also concerning society (which the Dr. is supposedly so worried about). I mean, if he was really afraid that the monster would hurt people, why did he run from it when, as the creator, he was perhaps the only person who might have been able to control it?