In response to the two posts about blame shifting, I found it interesting that it’s so natural to assign blame, whether it is us or in Who Goes There or in the movie or, even, in The Thing short story. Pitying something, as The Thing did in the last short story suggest some sort of causal relationship – that is, man, some man, is to blame. However, at the end, even the Thing realizes it’s not about blame but shared perspectives when it says “I was so blind, so quick to blame …they’re simply so used to pain … they literally can’t conceive of any other existence” (The Thing, Watts). In the movie and Campbell’s short story, it seems McReady is the only one, that is ultimately able to rise above the blame game and hope that the Thing hasn’t escaped when he asks, “The albatross … Do you suppose -” (Campbell, last page) or in the movie blows the Thing up for seemingly altruistic reasons. Yet, even McReady is unable to assume the perspectives of others like The Thing has, perhaps communion is not so bad after all!
In Who Goes There, the thing is inhumanly human, where imitation is not only a form of flattery, but a means of survival and prosperity. Campbell presents his what if the world was overrun by this monster and poses the question how do you know if something is real or an imitation. Near the end of the story, Barclay spots an albatross; Norris shoots at it. Both men are afraid it might be infected by the monster.
It’s curious that Campbell chose an albatross. The obvious reason is that an albatross is a bird native to that area and capable of long distance flight. But albatross also reminds me of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in which the albatross can be good or bad (if you want something visual, check this out). It’s good until someone shoots it; in this case it becomes bad when Norris shoots. Are we to infer the bird is infected or that something very bad is about to happen? Then if you look up the word albatross, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines albatross as something that causes persistent deep concern or anxietyb : something that greatly hinders accomplishment. On the last page, the albatross is mentioned one last time, a source of great concern. Likewise the OED defines albatross as b. fig. [In allusion to Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner: see sense 2a.] A source or mark of misfortune, guilt, etc., from which one cannot (easily) be free; a burden or encumbrance. Will their doubt about the albatross cause them great consternation in the days, weeks, months, years to come?
While seemingly Who Goes There (and The Thing) seems to have a “happy” ending, the monster, thing, is dead before it could use the anti-gravity machine, how do they (we) know that it hasn’t already escaped. How do they (we) know if the escaped albatross is a real albatross or the thing imitating it (after all albatrosses can fly a long distance with or without the anti-gravity machine!)? I’m left wondering if Campbell meant to leave us wondering …
In the Comet, the comet signified a social leveling force, where for but a moment, “Death [the comet’s destruction became], the leveler! … And the revealer” (268) Du Bois presents his what if the world ended and there were only two very different people left, what might happen. In this new world, the black man and white woman might repopulate the world, begin anew. Certainly in the 1920s when this was written, it would have been a very avant-garde (and perhaps very risky) idea(l) to put forth, as segregation did not come to a legal end until after Du Bois’ death (though segregation persists to this day, particularly in some areas). To think something like a comet, in this case a seemingly small one that only affects NYC, might make such an impact is mind boggling. Recently, we had a “near miss” asteroid on 6/27/11, and there is a comet due on (or around) 12/21/12. Predictions of the end of the world as we know it abound, some of them based on the collision of a comet/asteroid with the earth. If Du Bois were alive today, would it be the same what-if scenario? Or, would it be a different one? What would your what-if scenario be?
We have movies galore that look at how the end of the world might look like. In Waterworld, global warming has melted the polar caps and most of the world is underwater. Water and dirt have become rare commodities and people search for a rumored place called Dryland. Hierarchy among humans remains. And, then, of course, there is a mariner, a man with gills and webbed feet (the “hero”, outcast, much like Jim). The 2012 movie deals with yet more disasters and humanity’s ability to surmount these difficulties together. While both movies have a relatively “happy” ending, The Comet’s ending is more mixed. Sure the two survive, but it’s back to the way things were. Had Hollywood made a movie based on The Comet, would it too had a “happy” ending? Would they have changed it to almost unrecognizable (in some instances) as Frankenstein was?
Portal reminds me of Cube, Cube2, Cube Zero
Jim Henson (Muppetman) made a earlier version in 1969
I have finished Frankenstein and been left wondering – is it science fiction or some sort of philosophical fiction? While Victor’s Aggripa-like creation of the creature could certainly be described as science fiction (in lay terms), I feel like it is more like a springboard to discuss philosophical questions such as: nature vs. nurture; good man vs. good citizen; and, morality and ethics in science. To me it makes more sense to classify it as some sort of philosophical fiction since it was in conversation with many contemporary (and old) authors, books, and social questions and seemed to dwell on it, mull it over, page after page. But on the other hand, many science fiction books make a social/political commentary. Suvin’s definition of science fiction may provide clues and a convincing argument to classify Frankenstein as science fiction, as he states, “SF can thus be used as a hand-maiden of futurological faresight in technology, ecology, sociology, etc” (379).
Nature vs. Nurture
Victor clearly had a normal upbringing yet he becomes maddened over his creation; the creature has the most impoverished “upbringing” yet aspires to be accepted. Had Victor nurtured the creature, would the creature have turned out differently (as the creature sometimes purports)? Or would there have always been some dark side within the creature? Is this dark side any darker than Victor’s that he shielded so carefully from his family, friends, and acquaintances?
Good Man vs. Good Citizen
Victor is certainly not a good citizen or a good man. Instead of confessing, confiding in others about the creature and his deeds, he remains silent until his deathbed (though tortured and conflicted throughout). His silence costs the lives of his brother, Justine, and ultimately Elizabeth. His moral turpitude knows no limits, and every time I think he is going to redeem himself, he shies away. However, it could be argued that his creature was a good man (albeit his lapses into murder) and aspired to be a good citizen. It is interesting that Shelley paints this picture between a desirable man of wealth and means and a detested homeless man and that it is the detested one who seems to have greater moral fiber.
Morality and Ethics
While Victor’s self-serving morality and ethics are questionable at best throughout, my biggest question is why did the creature not create his companion himself? Clearly, the creature had the mental capacity to do such and the physical brute to acquire the materials needed. This seems like a question that is begging to be asked but dared not asked. Did the creature posses greater moral and ethical values than his creator? Or was he equally depraved, vindictive perhaps? While we find Victor’s process of creation abhorrent, how does it compare to the results of in vitrio fertilization or cloning? I wonder what Shelley would have thought of that!
Survey says …
So back to my original question, is Frankenstein science fiction or (some sort of) philosophical fiction? After some thought, I think it is both. While she asks the (same) old questions (we still ask!), her innovative approach allows readers to envision (or at least question) a different reality (than what is almost empirically presented) where the creature might have a name and some sort of better justice might be served.
I think to pigeon hole it into one single genre is of great disservice and dilutes Frankenstein’s value, as entertainment and a social/philosophical commentary. What I find particularly interesting is the enduring quality of both despite changing times and audiences.
One a much lighter side (macabre humor), will someone please bring Shelley back to life so we can ask her all these questions?!
Function Follows Form or Form Follows Function?
The epistolary form serves to set up a panopticon of sorts where, at first, I feel like a stalker of sorts (reading the letters) then pulled into, even involved in the narration, by the use of first person narrative, and Victor’s occasional and seemingly random direct addresses to me (the reader) in Vol. I. The letters serve not only to give a sense of history and reality, relationships, and create a mode of storytelling but to create, set up, a sense of watching, spying upon that ultimately sets up a panopticon of sorts. I wonder if Frankenstein had the same effect on Shelley’s contemporaries, or even on generations before mine. Was (or is) the epistolary form taken for granted?
In reading Vol. I, it seems to me that she was acutely aware of both form and function. Did Shelley’s ambition for the novel (desired function to be in conversation with her contemporaries and their works, or perhaps promote conversation) drive the form of the novel? Or did she mold the form of Frankenstein to serve a function, to be in conversation with her contemporaries and their works? Does it matter? How have form and function impacted readers’ interpretations over the centuries?
Perhaps an avant-garde feature of Shelley’s Frankenstein is the peppering of what feels like stream of consciousness writing that pops up here and there in the narrative portion of Vol. I. Victor relays not only the events and his observations but his thoughts, feelings, and reactions. In this manner, I become more intimate with him. Yet, he challenges my moral and ethical values, as I’m sure he likely challenged his contemporary readers. I don’t know how to feel about him. He challenges my notions of conformity, my values upon from which my feelings about him derive. How do you feel about Victor? Why?
The letters are the first challenge to my sense of morals – should I really be reading someone else’s personal letters? As the story shifts into a first person narrative in Vol. I Ch. 1, I find myself zooming in on Victor, questioning what he is saying and why, questioning what he is not saying and, again, why. I learn more and more about Victor, his hopes, dreams, and ambitions, but more importantly I get a glimpse into his psyche. At first, Victor seems to possess some degree of self-awareness when he tells Elizabeth in a letter, “My life might have been passed in ease and luxury; but I preferred glory to every enticement that wealth placed in my path” (51). At the same time, he seems to lack insight, or is in some state of denial or blinded by the pursuit of glory. Yet, it is not until later in Vol. I that Victor’s weaknesses begin to emerge. He becomes fearful of his creature when the creatures eyes “were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds … he might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped, and rushed down stairs. I took refuge …” (86). Yet any kind of awareness, save self-preservation, seems to abandon him when his creature comes to life.
At first, I am distant, looking down upon Victor, but as Frankenstein progresses, I find myself getting closer and closer to him, to the point my watching is exposed.
The Stalked Stalking the Stalkers
In the more conventional sense of a panopticon, I, the reader, would be watching in on Victor (who would be most unaware, of course), yet it seems a construction of a panopticon within a panopticon is emerging throughout Vol. I – I’m not sure who’s watching who by the end of Vol. I. At times Victor reaches from the timeless pages and directly addresses me, the reader:
- Remember, I am not recording the visions of a madman (80).
- I see by your eagerness, and the wonder and hope which your eyes express, my friend, that you expect to informed of the secret which I am acquainted; that cannot be: listen patiently until the end of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am reserved upon that subject (80).
- … and your looks remind me to proceed (84)
After Victor’s creature comes to life, his interactions with me, the reader, become more indirect and less frequent, as if he is not only retreating from the creature, and perhaps himself, but me (the reader) as he questions, reflects, “Besides, of what use would be pursuit?” (104). After this point, Vol. I seems to shift back into an almost exclusive first person narrative. Yet, I feel very close, or rather closer than ever, to Victor. It is at that moment I feel like I have been sucked into the story; I feel that same sense of dread about the creature he is feeling. I feel a sense of being watched, not just by Victor, but the creature, and some unseen force that I can’t quite pinpoint (perhaps my own conscience?).
Who’s Watching Who?
As Vol. I wraps up, I am feeling watched, even by myself (introspection), and feeling the need to judge. Would I have let the creature run amuck? Would I have let Justine die an innocent for something the creature did? I question Victor’s actions and reaction, as well as his motivations. I question my reactions to Victor. Would I have done or been able to do differently?
Interestingly, it seems Victor is feeling watched, has some awareness of this, and is also watching. Perhaps this sense of watched and watching are a clash between the desire for glory then later remorse (resulting in non-conformity) and social conformity? Between being a good man and good citizen?
While Shelley was certainly in conversation with her contemporaries and their works, is she critiquing something and/or someone? Is Shelley trying to challenge me (the reader) or my values? How does Frankenstein reach through time and still continue to challenge readers who are likely very different from Shelley’s contemporaries? In this case, it seems the delivery may very well be just as important as the content.
Still the question remains. Who’s watching who? And, why? As Victor said, perhaps I’ll just have to wait until the end ….
I was struggling to figure out what to call my blog. So, here I sat trying to be original (or maybe just different). I thought it was very ironic (apropos even) that the course number would be (Fahrenheit) 451 – one of the best classic sci-fi books ever! Then I remembered one of my favorite catch phrases growing up – SEP (use with great caution!) … so that’s the evolution of SEP451 in a nutshell. And, in case you’re wondering what’s up with the seemingly out-of-place Styron quote at the top of my blog …
“I don’t know … I’ve never been there.”
(I just like it … and poor Marvin too!)
Small smooth silvery scales shimmer as she
silently swims in tropical shallow
still seas – hungrily searching, silently
stalking, ravenously scavenging. Most
merciless monstrosity, viciously
curious, rabid black eyes, sneering
undercut jaw, jutting razor-sharp teeth,
missile-sleek, fearsome flesh full of potent
paralyzing poison, kills most swiftly,
most fearlessly to eat – or be eaten.
She sees me; I am just another fish.
My gangly arms and stiff fin-feet flail like
a thrashing half-finned fish. My forgotten
earrings glimmer like floating loose scales of
a fish freshly frenzied. My eyes behind
my mask look huge like a nearly-dead fish
in shock. My bikini strings dangle like
twisted, knotted innards of a gutted
fish. My snorkel gurgles like a busted
bladder as I swim aimlessly – up, down,
sideways like a belly-up dying fish.
I rang her dinner bell loud; she answered.
You look around. Not much has changed. Same old
cast iron gates flank a stone sign – three huge
gray granite letters spell ZOO, greet you and
your son – that greeted you when you piled out
of the school bus, that greeted you when you
brought your own kids when they clung tightly to
you, crying that oh so familiar song:
Mommy my feet hurt! Mommy pick me up!
You look around. Not much has changed. Except
a cold, out-of-place looking building on
the left; there’s a sign in big bold letters –
visitor’s center. You hurry in, in
search of the restroom. There’s a long line that
ends at the gift shop. You tell your son – hey
it might be awhile, he scowls, then hrmphs to
the gift shop, playing with the toys – waiting.
You look around. Not much has changed. He pokes
haphazardly at the toys, as he steals
one last look at the amazing life size
cheetah. You remember the time he and
your youngest sister stole stuffed animals
from Woodies when they were three and six, but
now he’s twenty seven; now he only
steals glances at stuffed cheetahs and girls.
You look around. Not much has changed. But now
your son sets the pace for your zoo march; your
mind wanders as he recites Noah’s long
list, animal-by-animal, building
by building. You ask him if he wants to
buy a zoo map. Two dollars he grumbles
is too much. Anyhow, he knows the way!
He says in his man-voice, boy-face of five.
You look around. Not much has changed. Same old
tired red brick buildings: reptile house, small
mammals house, great apes house, invertebrates
and bird houses – they’re old but new. Like the
Amazonia, birds swoop, dive and run
around your feet – that now hurt from walking
uphill, downhill, U-turns, no shortcuts. You
wish you were a bird – flap your wings and fly.
You look around. Not much has changed. Except
your feet throb to the beat of the screaming
children, your head pounds with every step
you take. You wish someone would pick you up,
put you in a stroller, carry you, like
you used to carry your son, when five steps
from the entrance he would cry the same
old pick-me-up song. Now he leads the way.
You look around. Not much has changed. You whine
like a five year old, crying about your
aching feet, even as you pick wads of
gooey blue sweetness off the billowing
blue cotton candy, your youth returning
to you mouthful by mouthful. Your son looks
at you, asks you if this is all it takes?
You think – a cotton candy machine? Sure!
You look around. Not much has changed. But now
your oldest son is waiting for you. He
taps his foot quickly as he waits, aimlessly
looks around. He comments that you look like
a blue smurf. You glare at him and say so
what! He points at the no eating sign and
tells you to finish your cotton candy.
He points at the time on his watch. He sighs.