In 1818, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published (anonymously) the first edition of a novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Since then generations of readers admire her work of art while generations of students and scientists continue to study the novel, identifying its themes and examining how they are conveyed within the narrative format means that every time one discovers something new that is of the utmost importance and value specifically to each of them. Being in complete agreement with a vast majority of researchers, it should be proposed one more interpretation (not exactly commonly adopted) of Frankensteins story, which verifies its relevance in the 21st century.
Story of Frankenstein
At midnight on 13 June 1816 during a particularly violent thunderstorm, Lord Byron proposed to a ghost-story competition (Robinson 2000, p. 5). Later on, after a heated discussion concerning the principles of life and possibility of a corpse being re-animated Mary Shelly, who was at that time 18 year old, had a nightmare, seeing in her vision a pale student kneeling beside the thing he had put together, who showed signs of life. His success terrified the artist who rushed away from his odious handiwork, horror-stricken. Having awakened from her dream, Mary Shelley thought: I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow (Robinson 2000, p. 8).
Mary Shelly was quite right in her prediction: a genre of the novel was specified as a tale of horror and romance, or, in the strict sense a gothic science fiction (MacArthur 2015). It tells us about a young Swiss scientist Victor Frankenstein, who, fascinated with the mysteries of the principle of life, spent days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses, being convinced that he possesses the capacity of bestowing animation. Starting an unorthodox experiment of the creation of a human being and having succeeded in his endeavour, he was horrified by the ugliness of his creation, and brought into being a Creature for the mercy of fate. The Creature, off-casted by people, has managed to learn to read and talk, and even understood the way of his birth. Having asked Victor Frankenstein to create a mate for himself and receiving denial, he threatens to kill and eventually kills Victors friend Henry Clerval, Victors fiance Elizabeth Lavenza and drives to despair Victors father Alphonse Frankenstein. All these events are narrated in the form of letters of Robert Walton, a well-to-do English explorer, who at the time of his voyage to the North Pole meets emaciated and nearly dying Victor, chasing his Creation in unavailing efforts to kill him in revenge.
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Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
Discussing the themes of the novel, one can state that this story is about:
– a young ambitious scientist who, similarly to Titan Prometheus, (i) created a man (contrary to Prometheus, not from clay, but from the residue of dissecting room and the slaughter-house) and (ii) by way of reward was doomed to everlasting torment;
– self-devoted and self-destructive scientist who fails to think over the consequences of his actions, a guilt-ridden man, who sees his life goal in destroying the product of his godlike power to create a new life;
– intelligent and sensitive, but hideously ugly creation of Victor Frankenstein who in vain seeks to be known and loved by people: to see their sweet looks directed towards him with affection. But being off-casted with disdain and horror, and feelings of revenge and hatred filling his bosom, he did not strive to control these feelings, but allowed himself to be borne away by the stream. His only aspiration that is to take vengeance on his creator makes his life meaningless after Frankensteins death;
– lovehate relationship of the main heroes;
– dangerous knowledge; or progress as a destructive force
One can also read the novel as a warning against the attempts of playing God in cloning human beings, genetic editing of the embryos DNA or producing genetically engineered products, not to mention means of mass annihilation development and production.
But at the same time one can read the novel as a story of a baby (eight feet in height) abandoned by his originator without mercy. The only reason of Frankenstein panic flight his ugliness was none of his faults, but he had to suffer all his life owing to his father. So, listening to Daemon, who was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion and falsely hoped to meet with beings who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of unfolding, one might recall his story when confronted with disturbing statistics: every year in the USA about 250,000 children are born with birth defect while in the UK one out of 50 babies has a birth defect with no fault of their own.
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Narrative Devices and Techniques
Analysing the novel all researches emphasize the skilfulness of a teenager author in using different narrative devices and techniques. The story of a Monster is interlaced with the story of Felix, Agatha, their father and Safie, while description of adventures of Robert Walton intertwines with the description of misfortunes of Victor Frankenstein and his family. Such form of story-telling provides readers with a deeper understanding of heroes motivations. Chapters 11-16, for example, not only provide the story of Felix and his family, but also enable readers to understand how Daemon managed not only to survive but also to gain knowledge, which his creator deprived him of.
The most striking example of the semantic fields in the novel is the name of the main character, who is referred to in different parts of the novel as Creature, Being, Monster, Devil or Daemon. At the same time, the name of Victor Frankenstein became an allegory for the mythical Titan Prometheus as well as a metaphor for scientists, whose experiments are fraught with irreversible consequences. Professor George Levine (n.d.), for example, singles out seven elements of the Frankenstein metaphor. Bitter irony of the story: Victor Frankenstein, who had worked hard for nearly two years, who deprived himself of rest and health, having finished his work and seeing the result, that he desired …with an ardour that far exceeded moderation, felt that breathless horror and disgust filled his heart. The success of his experiment led to the death of his beloved wife, friend, brother and father. The same irony is inherent in the feelings of Daemon seeking understanding and goodwill of people, he encounters only hatred and disgust and starts to take revenge on those, whom he liked.
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In Mary Shellys plot, there can be seen several backstories, flashbacks as well as flashforwards, stories within a story, narrative hooks and plot twists. Her style is rich with allegories, dramatic visualizations, euphuisms, hyperboles, imageries, overstatements (most vividly revealed in the description of female characters), paradoxes etc. One can find almost all known literacy techniques, skilfully used by the author, but the limits of the essay do not allow to analyse them to full extent. But without any doubt all of them, combined with a sophisticated plot, authors deep knowledge and understanding of the works of the greatest ancient scientists and philosophers (whose views she appraises on behalf of Victor Frankenstein), designing plot and vivid characters, have produced an engaging narrative of the highest standard.
The most intriguing part of this novel is the authorial stance, which is not so obvious and unequivocal, as can be perceived at the first glance. On the one hand, a reader can see the story as a chain of woes that were caused by the unfortunate experiment of a young scientist. But on the other hand, one can place Daemon on the same footing as crippled children, abandoned by their parents or treated without love (All men hate the wretched), or permanently offended. Their hearts fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy can easily be wrenched by misery to vice and hatred without any references to the specific epoch.
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