Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Halloween is over but who says I can't write another review on a scary book.  Besides, Frankenstein can't be said to be a "Halloween" book in the sense that those kinds of books involve the supernatural.  Frankenstein is not a horror book in that sense, but it is a deeply psychological, disturbing account of one woman's idea of humanity.

A young scientist, Victor Frankenstein, becomes obsessed with the idea of creating life.  He neglects his family, friends and himself for over a year until he finally achieves what he has devoted every waking hour to accomplish.

The moment his creature comes to life, Frankenstein is immediately horrified at what he has done.  He deserts his creation and tries to forget about him.  As time goes by, he becomes hopeful that his horrible creation has simply gone away.  He soon discovers his mistake when the creature murders his younger brother and frames the nanny, who hangs for the crime.

The creature eventually  approaches Frankenstein and fills him in on all that he's been doing since Frankenstein abandoned him.  What follows is the thrust of the entire novel.  The monster pours out his heart to Frankenstein.  The reader discovers that the monster is intelligent, articulate, eloquent and desperately lonely.  His yearnings and desires are the same as humans.  He longs to be loved and to belong to people.

But his looks make him an outcast.  All who see him are repelled by him.  Not only repulsed but develop an absolute hatred for him and try to kill him.  No one asks questions first.  They all believe he should be destroyed based purely on his exterior appearance.  This point is clear  when the monster meets a blind man with whom he has a conversation and who shows him kindness and compassion.  So it's not his personality or any primitive thinking or behavior on the monster's part that turns people against him.

The rejection and murderous antipathy against him enrages the monster and makes him desperate.  He demands that Frankenstein make him a mate so he will not be desolate.  This at first Frankenstein agrees to do but later destroys the woman creature before he brings her to life.  The reason is because he fears that together they would create a race of fearsome "uber creatures"  that could potentially take over the world.

In revenge, the monster kills directly or inadvertently, every family member and friend of Frankenstein's, including his bride on their wedding night.

What I find interesting is that it is not considered wrong by Frankenstein or anyone else to try to murder the monster (or "creature" or "daemon" or "fiend" as he is also called-but never "Frankenstein") based solely on the fact that he is grotesque looking.  But Frankenstein asserts that the reason his creation deserves to be destroyed is because of the crimes he has committed.  The monster did not commit any of these crimes until after his isolation and alienation drove him to it.  I'm not justifying what the monster did but only trying to point out the double standard.

Now that he is equally alone and desperate, Frankenstein's one purpose in life is to destroy what he made.  He hunts the monster all over the world.  The monster stays just out of reach, but not so far that Frankenstein gives up.

Both the monster and Frankenstein end up in the arctic regions of the world where they are discovered by the captain of an ice bound ship.  By this time, Frankenstein has driven himself beyond his strength and health.  He collapses and is taken aboard the ship where, dying,  he relates the entire story to the Captain, who is the original narrator of the book.

When he dies, the monster appears in the Cabin and confronts the captain.  Upon learning that Frankenstein's vengeful obsession has finally killed him, the monster bounds out of the window of the cabin and disappears...to end his own life?  Who knows.

Mary Shelley started writing this book when she was nineteen and it was published when she was twenty-one.  Her husband, Percy Blythe Shelley heavily edited the novel but an edition came out in 2008 that removed Percy's additions and contains only Mary's original story.  It would be interesting to compare.

I looked up the origins of Prometheus.  In Greek mythology he was a titan who brought fire to the human race.  For doing so he was punished by being chained to a rock where an eagle would come and devour his liver every day.  Prometheus also came to symbolize the human quest for scientific knowledge when it over reaches itself.

I am not sure what Shelley's point was in writing the story (other than her dream and the writing contest she participated in one night in Geneva with her husband and other writers).  She was not a Christian but she seems to implicate God in some respects.  Is she saying that man's fall from Eden was due to their Creator's rejection of them? Is she saying man shouldn't try to play God?  

Does she believe in the human soul or that life can be created without it?  Did the monster have a soul?   If there is no soul, then what makes murder wrong?  You've simply turned an animate life form into an inanimate one.  What makes life valuable?  Surely more than the need to simply preserve the human race.

What she does successfully portray, either intentionally or not, is humanity without mercy or compassion for the desperate or the fallen.  Frankenstein's abhorrence of his creation seems to be based on the presumption that he himself is not fallen.  The Bible says all are desperately wicked. Romans 3:23

I compare this to the life of Jesus who forgave even the most sinful when they fell at his feet in repentance. 

If Mary Shelley's book typifies secular philosophy then even though it maintains a certain moral code,  it certainly provides no hope for those who can't keep to that code.

.99 on Kindle


Brian Joseph said...

It has been awhile since I read this. i do remember thinking that there was a lot going on underneath. One thing that struck me about it was the depth of pathos at the rejection of the creature by the Doctor. One point that hits so much home is that absolutely rejected love, especially parental love, can have terrible consequences.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Brian: I agree with you. The character of the monster breaks my heart.

Man of la Book said...

I have to re-read this book. I've read it decades ago (not even sure if it was unabridged). I remembered I liked it, but I think that as an adult I'll have a whole different perspective.


Unknown said...

I enjoyed reminiscing about "Frankenstein" Haven't seen any posts from you for a while and hope to see more.
I'm doing OK after my diagnose of lung cancer but dealing with the side effects of the chemo.
If you get a chance, please stop over at my blog. I love visitors. They are like a nice medicine.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Michael: Thanks so much for commenting. I have been having problems with my e mail notifications for my blog. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. Hopefully, I'll get the problem corrected.

I will be praying for you and your health. My mother has stage 3 lung cancer. She is on torsiva (sp?) which seems to be effective.