Saturday, October 01, 2011

Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’: Beyond the Horror

Category: Reviews

Since its first appearance in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has become a definitive influence in human thought.  At once a literary tour de force and a cult sensation, Frankenstein has hardly escaped the attention of any literary circle and popular culture, becoming the seminal work underlying the production of hundreds of publications and screen productions around the world over the past nearly two centuries. The indelible concept of the vengeful monster continues to fascinate creative minds and finding expression to date in literature and art, even in digital media. Beyond all the horror and vivid imagination, the script of this tale from the Romantic Period in English Literature lives in our contemporary world as a core issue of both personal and socio-political substance.

Arising from one of what Mary Shelley called her ‘airy castles’ – a waking dream – Frankenstein is popularly known for its eponymous hero Victor Frankenstein, a young Swiss who experiments under boundless, and rationally blind, passion for the greatest scientific discovery – the creation of life by mankind in the image of man. What he does create, however, turns out to be an ugly, monstrous entity which escapes his laboratory only to become an object of human cruelty and scorn. Tormented and tortured, the wretched monster finally turns the tables on his creator, targeting his family and friends to inflict pain on him. Frankenstein’s story is narrated through the pen of Robert Walton, a ship’s captain who is out for exploring the North Pole and keeps his sister Margaret Saville posted on his whereabouts via letters. The epistolary novel is replete with key Romantic elements: passion, love, nature, adventure, and dramatic moments.

Beyond its popular gothic side, Frankenstein continues to evoke serious thought on classic philosophical issues pertaining to morality in particular and humanity at large. Victor Frankenstein’s represents the inherent human curiosity that violates all bounds when left to itself, free from the check of rational thought, which he could and should have entertained prior to action. That moral capability of mankind is subject to failure is nowhere more apparent than in the vicious torment to which the senseless human masses put the initially harmless monster. Evil is shown as a creation of man acting irresponsibly and irrationally only to become its ultimate victim later on, and left wailing about his loss. Is man not then liable to be punished for the wrong he commits? Evil’s revenge may be evil as its executor but how pardonable is man’s evil? 

In our times, Mary Shelley’s masterpiece seems like bouncing back into life in the horrid story of terrorism experienced all around us. The disaster brought on Frankenstein‘s life by his own creation, as recorded in the novel’s plot, is the reason whereby the word “Frankenstein” has also come to mean a person who creates something that causes his ruin – not very unlike the political-religious elements which created the monster we now call the Taliban. The Frankensteins of this tale are real and so is their disaster. Like the novel, the terror of the monster is being inflicted on innocent people in order to defy the creator. Perhaps the only major difference between the book and our socio-political world lies in that Victor Frankenstein was pained by the sufferings of his family whereas the creators of our terror enjoy a safe haven on earth. But then, how long will their comfort last? Is the terror not eventually going to move in their direction? Apparently, the retaliation has already reached their doorstep. 

Implications of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for human society are quite manifest in the concept of justice. The incrimination of poor Justine Mortix for the murder of little William – something she could not commit even in her darkest nightmares – and that of Frankenstein himself for the murder of his dear friend Hnery Clerval on the basis of circumstantial evidence says a good deal about our rooted judicial system. Crime in human society is just what a bunch of unrelated people think and not the event as it actually happened or even what the main characters involved therein know it to be. Justice without reason (or injustice, for that matter) is a major cause of suffering among humans, a fact Mary Shelley’s insight couldn’t miss. 
Where Frankenstein engages in showing us the wounds of blind passion, it also points to the balm that soothes it – none else than the classic Romantic balm of nature. While humans are shown as base and wicked through the eyes of both the protagonist and his antagonist (in this case, the monster), both sides appreciate the beauty and majesty of nature while traveling across desolate terrains, snowy mountains, and verdant vales. In the appreciation of Mother Nature, the negativity in both man and monster is transformed into deep tranquility and inner peace. Frankenstein can thus be rightly called the precedent to our contemporary environmental-friendly movements. This Romantic tale rich in food for thought and spirit is a timeless inspiration for every reader, and its beauty remains unsurpassed despite the scary figure that occupies the center of its plot.

Posted by Prometheus on 10/01 at 01:42 AM | Permalink
(1) Discuss • (3) Comments

« Mary      Mason Jars »