Monstrous Creations: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Essay Example

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Essay

It is much easier to think of the monster in Frankenstein as an allegory than otherwise.  In simple terms, the actual creation of a “man” by a man literally insists on allegory, as so dramatic an act must establish a basis in further meaning.  The real problem that arises, then, is: allegory meaning what?  The creature has been viewed as everything from a repressed sexual instinct to a grotesque embodiment of man’s desire to create, and consequently worship, himself.  He can be anything at all, depending on how the reader interprets this extreme being.  This said, however, the creature definitely represents danger, no matter the allegorical foundation.  He is conflict and, as a kind of a man, he then seems all the more a conflict within man.  While interpretations may note how the creature could be an expression of Shelley’s issues with gender relations, and that it may be a symbol of her own problems as a female artist of her time, the more dominant impression is the one more based on masculine egocentrism.  As an allegory, the creature exists as a warning, and of a very specific type; namely, that man has no business in creation at this level when his own nature is so flawed, and barely understood by himself.  In this view, then, the creature represents a backlash to to Age of Enlightenment, strongly suggesting that the “enlightenment” is weak, at best.

It is interesting to note how uniformly “feminine” the women of Frankenstein are, particularly when the author’s life is considered.  However, that life is too examined in regard to the novel, and not because Shelley was a woman.  More exactly, there is something not right in drawing conclusions about an artist’s work based on ideas about that artist’s life.  The connection is, of course, there, as all art is derived from personal experience.  Nonetheless, it is not a connection to be used in criticism, because the work deserves to be judged independently.  That said, then, the women of the novel seem to occupy specific roles, deliberately in place.  They are virtuous and they are victims, most pronounced in the case of Justine, and it may be that this is Shelley’s emphasis on the “feminine”, or female, as being the more noble, less invasive, force of humanity.

The use of multiple narrators appears to serve one very important purpose for Shelly: it expands the story.  More exactly, it removes the sensationalism of it from a narrow point of view, and therefore validates it as genuine.  This is reinforced by the fact that, despite string differences in perception, all the narrations hold to common, and very British, ideas of what life should be.  Furthermore, the personal nature of the narrations, frequently given in letter form, underscores the fears and concerns of all.  In weaving together one story from several perspectives, Shelly is able to create a commonality of human response, which gives the novel greater credibility.

On one level, it could easily be argued that the Gothic tropes exist in Frankenstein because Shelley understands that so bizarre a story requires forms of access her readers can use.  The Gothic genre is as close to allowing so fantastic a story as any genre can be, so the tropes give the reader some measure of actual comfort; as the Gothic is surreal, then this most surreal of stories has some grounding with which an audience can identify.  What works to Shelley’s advantage, if this is at all true, is that the genre conveniently carries with it elements of the “unnatural,” even as her monster is the most extreme example of such.  For example, the suggestions of blurred sexual boundaries, as with Victor and Elizabeth, may both take on more shocking meaning and be diffused by the greater shock of the creature.  In a very real sense, then, Shelley uses Gothic tropes in Frankenstein in a way that furnishes her landscape with strange and disturbing components to make the creature seem “at home.”  Then, as the creature transcends even Gothic parameters, his presence renders other Gothic elements as tame or as unacceptable as the reader requires them to be.   Even better for Shelley is that genre is never anything more than genre, and she can rely on her real story to overshadow the tropes.  That is, no matter the allegory Shelley has in mind, it must be larger than the surroundings in which it is set.

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