Outsider in Frankenstein and Madame Bovary, Term Paper Example
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The idea of the outsider or exile is a common theme in literary works. Usually,when this theme is expressed by a writer it is intended to show the hypocrisy or irony of social conformity and the destructiveness of socially based oppression. Novels that feature protagonists who stand against the conventions of their societies are, by nature, criticisms of the conventionality that is often found in various cultures. The theme of outsider can be used to also show a dissatisfaction with the way that individuality and freedom is hampered by stereotypes and prejudices. Additionally, the idea of the outsider can be used to show that embracing diversity, rather than conformity, is the best way for any society to become strong and meaningful.
Two literary works that embrace the theme of the outsider from two very different perspectives are Frankenstein (1818) and Madame Bovary (1856) . While each of these novels takes a different perspective on the theme of the outsider, both novels are concerned with the conflict between society and the individual. Frankenstein examines the theme of monstrosity as a way of addressing issues of social conformity, while Madame Bovary looks at the theme of social oppression as it pertains to gender-identity and prejudice. Although the two novels have very different protagonists and also reflect very different narrative styles, the theme of the outsider is central to both works and can be considered to be central in both cases. One of the important similarities between the novels is that they both portray the oppression of the individual as an outgrowth of the callousness of social conformity. One of the important differences betwen the novel is that, in the case of Madame Bovary, the prose style of the novel is intended to be as important as its theme. The prose style in Frankenstein, by contrast, is meant to be serviceable but not necessarily of profound consequence.
In the following comparison of the two novels, Flaubert’s work will; be considered first and special attention will be given to the way in which his narrative technique influences the expression of his theme. Frankenstein will be contrasted with Madame Bovary in order to show how two unique approaches to theme of outsider can be viewed as sympathetic if not identical in scope and meaning. Another factor in the discussion will be the degree to which each writer connects the theme of social oppression to the idea of tragedy. In both novels, the ultimate outcome of the conflict between society and the individual is the destruction of the individual. On the surface, this would seem to suggest the futility of standing against social oppression or of resisting the urge toward social conformity. However, by examining the novels closely it will be shown that both writers actually intended their non-conformist characters to be regarded as heroic rather than merely tragic.
To begin with, Flaubert’s novel was considered quite controversial by critics and readers when it was originally published. The reason for the controversy was due partially to Flaubert’s depiction of his protagonist, Emma Bovary, and partially due to his use of a profoundly realistic narrative style. By combining the depiction of a self-determined and morally ambiguous woman with a prose style that stressed realism, Flaubert was able to shock the reading public. The shock-value of Madame Bovary was quite intentional by Flaubert. What he wanted to accomplish with the novel was to challenge the social ideas and stereotypes that were likely held by his audience. It is for these reasons that the novel is till considered by many literary critics to represent the beginning of modernist fiction.
The difference between modernist fiction and classical or traditional fiction is that modernist works attempted to delve more deeply into the consciousness and motivations of their characters. In terms of representing moral or ethical ideas, modernist novels also stood as a challenges to conventional morality. This means that rather than reinforcing the ethical and moral ideas of any given society, modernist writers attempted to use narrative form adn the depiction of characters as ways of defying previously held convictions. For this reason, the character of Emma Bovary can be regarded as one of the first modern characters in Western literature. Flaubert was also concerned with recreating the way in which prose was understood to operate in a novel. therefore his work stands as a challenge to both social ideas and artistic conceptions. Just as the character of Emma Bovary is meant to shock and challenge readers, the way that Flaubert writes is also meant to challenge and overturn conventional ideas about narrative fiction.
One of the things that Flaubert wanted to accomplish with his prose style and his depiction of his protagonist was to combine the beauty and rhythm of poetic writing with the gritty realism of specific detail. A typical example of this technique is the following passage where he describes a chateau as being: “spread out at the far end of a great expanse of greensward on which a few cows were grazing among the well-spaced clumps of large trees […] shrubs, rhododendrons, syringa and white-flowering hawthorn, showed rounded and uneven tufts of green …” (Flaubert, 1998, p. 41). This picturesque style of writing is meant to resonate in an almost violent way with the struggles that are experienced by Emma Bovary. The point of the contrast betwen the poetic dimension of Flaubert’s prose style and the tragic fate of his heroine is to show the way in which forces of social conformity destroy the natural harmony and beauty of individuality.
A testament to this fact is that so many critics during Flaubert’s lifetime considered Madame Bovary to be not only controversial but to be at the verge of obscenity. The characterization that Flaubert devised for his protagonist startled and upset critics and readers precisely because it depicted a woman who openly challenged society’s prejudices and expectations. Emma Bovary embodied the rejection of conventional life by holding a station in scoiety as a doctor’s wife, but refusing to let herself be satisfied solely by existing as a compliment to her husband. By striving to reach full personhood, even through having illicit affairs, Emma Bovary stood against social conventions and ,in doing so, risked not only her station on life but her life itself. Emma’s descent into poverty and eventual suicide show the toll that is paid by an individual who refuses to live by society’s standards and instead tries to emerge as an individual.
Emma Bovary has come to be considered a classic if not archetypal example of the outsider in literary fiction. Another literary character that has attained this status is the Creature, or Frankenstein’s Monster, from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. The way in which the Creature fulfills the idea of outsider is quite obvious, of course, but the true ironic impact of the character exists in the way in which the Creature begins to lash out and also attempt to be included in human society. The way that the Viktor Frankenstein relates to his creation is also indicative of the sense of social persecution and ostracization that impacts the creature. In considering the Creature’s demand for a mate, Frankenstein weights the potential evils of what it would mean to replicate his creation of the first Creature and decides that the risk of creating another creature far outweighs the good that might come from doing so.
Everything that Viktor comes to belive about his creation is based on the essential reality that the Creature not only stands out side of conventional society, but that he actually poses a threat to it. At one point, Viktor admits that he feels a sense of responsibility to ensure that his creation is fulfilled and even happy. He admit that he “felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness.” (Shelley 86). However, the Creature’s destructiveness and violence prove to be so far outside of Viktor’s expectations of what his creation would be like that he ultimately becomes obsessed with eradicating the creature. In other words, Viktor, who once believed himself to be in many ways, an outsider in regard to society comes to see that society is the protective device against the absolute immorality of the Creature. In making the Creature and in witnessing the results of his creation, Viktor comes to embrace society more deeply than he had previously, while at the same time becoming a victim of his own creation.
As Viktor’s feelings toward the Creature begin to change, he starts to believe that his own greatest crime was not necessarily that he tried to create life in a laboratory, but that after having done so, he lacked the ability to control the monster that he made. His feelings of responsibility and guilt are then transferred from a feeling of responsibility for his creation to a feeling of responsibility to society. This shift is the way in which the Creature becomes completely ostracized from human scoiety due tot he fact that Viktor represented the Creature’s only true link to society. The reason that Viktor turns against his creation is because of the threat that the Creature poses to those who Viktor loves and feels connected to. His creation of the Creature emerged from a sense of being beyond the constraints of scoiety and its moral and ethical conventions. However, in seeing the monster born from his anti-social tendencies and also embodying these same tendencies, Viktor rediscovers the need for social constraints and rules.
Simultaneously, his discovery of the need for society makes him and enemy to the Creature and he is force to try to hunt down his creation and destroy it. He also refuses to create a companion for the Creature and in doing so completely isolates his creation. The fact that Viktor will not create a mate for the Creature shows that he has completely shifted from his original feelings of nurturing and caring for the Creature to a position where he has decided that the threat that such monsters pose to society far outweighs his obligation to care for teh being he has created.
Viktor reasons that in creating a second Creature he would only be increasing the chances that tragic and potentially violent crimes would be committed against people that he cares about. The basic theme of the outsider that is central to the novel is therefore expressed in an obvious way which is also heavily ironic. Viktor, having originally been an exile within society now becomes and advocate of social order and someone who fears that transgressions of the outsider. He reasons that “I did right in refusing, to create a companion for the first creature. He showed unparalleled malignity and selfishness, in evil: he destroyed my friends; he devoted to destruction beings who possessed exquisite sensations, happiness, and wisdom” (Shelley 184). This insight into Viktor’s thoughts shows the fundamental theme of the outsider at work, The Creature is the embodiment of all the qualities that threaten human scoiety and society, by contrast, is shown as being a justifiable form of protection from extreme individuality.
The fact that both Frankenstein and Madame Bovary end with the tragic death of their protagonists is a commentary made by both writers on the danger of social oppression. In the case of Viktor Frankenstein, it is his original resistance to social conformity that gives rise to is creation of the Creature. Therefore, the actions of the Creature must be viewed as an extension of Viktor’s own desire to stand apart from the limitations imposed on the individual by collective society. However, the Creature, in being far more innately opposed and, in fact, uninitiated into human scoiety stands as a symbol of the lethal consequences of individuality and anti-socialism that is taken to an extreme.
That Mary Shelley created the Creature as a sympathetic character in no way diminishes the cautionary aspect of her story. She articulates the premise that human society, despite its oppressive tendencies actually operates as a shield against the destructive capacities of individualism that is taken to an extreme. Flaubert’s character of Emma Bovary, who is also portrayed in a very sympathetic manner is also warning about the dangers of standing too far apart from social ideals and norms. While neither Flaubert of Shelley advocates the oppression of the individual, neither do they endorse the complete eradication of social rules and the order that comes from collective society.
Flaubert, G. (1998). Madame Bovary: Life in a Country Town (Hopkins, G., Trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus. New York: Collier, 1961.
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