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Monstrosity and Frankenstein

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Monstrosity is a key theme raised in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Our responses towards monstrosity include sympathy towards the creature, spite towards the creator, questioning of who actually is the real monster (whether it be the creature, or Frankenstein himself) and the consideration of the Rousseau’s idea of human’s being born innocent until corrupted (turned monstrous) by society’s ideals. Mary Shelley has effectively shaped our responses towards monstrosity in this way by using several techniques. These techniques include the three level narrative structure, which is linked with the personalities and experiences of the characters, symbolism and imagery and tone/word choice.

The three level narrative structure offers us a greater range of perspectives rather than just one, providing us with greater insight into the experiences and personalities of the characters while symbolism and imagery arouses our emotions by creating visual images of certain ideas relating to monstrosity. Tone/word choice dramatises the characters and the narrative and again, causes the reader to respond in a particular way towards particular characters and issues raised. Mary Shelley has effectively used all these techniques to shape our responses towards the ideas relating to monstrosity.

Firstly, Shelley uses the technique of the three level narrative structure, which offers us three different perspectives- Frankenstein’s, Walton’s and the creature’s. This enables us to have greater insight into the inner experiences of the characters, which leads to further development in the attitudes in which we hold towards the idea of monstrosity. Shelley includes the story of Victor, the creator, and the story of the creature, the created, which emphasises the contrasts between their personalities and their experiences. This offers us two entirely different views, which in turn, causes us to have two entirely different responses towards each character. An example of this is how the story of the creature includes the innocence and benevolence of the creature’s personality along with the tormenting hardships that the creature is forced to experience, thus causing the reader to sympathise with the creature rather than spite him.

Shelley also includes the perspective of Victor, giving us insight on Victor’s egotistical and appearance-based persona, which again causes us to sympathise with the creature, who has fallen victim to Victor’s thoughtless actions. These examples also cause the readers to question whether the creature is the monster, or whether is it is actually Victor who is the monster. We are made to think that the creature is the more civilised creature out of the two, and that the character of Victor is far more monstrous then that of the creatures. By using the three level narrative structure, Shelley has offering us a range of perspectives, which has ultimately shaped our responses towards the ideas about monstrosity.

Secondly, Shelley uses the technique of symbolism and imagery to shape our responses towards ideas about monstrosity brought up in the novel Frankenstein. The use of imagery portrays ideas visually, which is ultimately more effective in causing the responder to respond in a certain way. For example, Shelley portrays the bleak, miserable world in which the creature is born into as full of hypocrisy, oppression and prejudice. He experiences immediate neglect and is left to fend for himself. “I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch…feeling pain invade me on all sides. I sat down and wept… The whole village roused; some fled, some attacked me, until, grievously bruised by stones and many other kinds of missile weapons, I escaped to the open country and fearfully took refuge…” This powerful imagery causes us to visualise and place ourselves in the situation of the creature, thus feeling his pain and his suffering.

This in turn causes us again to sympathise deeply with the creature, and also for us to consider and perhaps believe the Rousseau’s idea of a child being born innocent until corrupted by society. The creature symbolises this innocence, while the neglect and suffering of the creature symbolises the process of corruption. It is through the creatures suffering that he eventually becomes ‘monstrous’. Shelly suggests that the creature’s destructive transgressions are an effect of the enormity of his suffering, and that at heart, he is essentially innocent, and more importantly, essentially human. This in turn causes us to consider who the real monster actually is, whether it be the creature because of his unsightly appearance, or whether it be Victor because of his heartlessness. Shelley cleverly uses the technique of imagery and symbolism to shape our responses towards monstrosity and the ideas surrounding it.

Lastly, the tone and word choice in Frankenstein is very effective in shaping the way in which we respond to the ideas of monstrosity. Shelley uses very emotive and figurative language, along with a powerful and expressive word choice to dramatise and emphasise certain ideas about monstrosity, as well as to arouse our emotions in a particular way. For example, the tone of the creature’s narrative is very miserable and unhappy, thus dramatising the experiences that he had and the feelings that he felt. By doing this, Shelley arouses our emotions, and yet again causes us to sympathise with the creature. She uses words such as desolate, pain, oppressed and miserable to describe the experiences of the creature, which again dramatises the suffering and torment that the creature faces.

Another example is Shelley’s choice of Victor’s words. Her choice of words dramatise the character of Victor, and highlight the selfish, appearance-based attitude in which he has taken to. When he first sees the creature, his long awaited creation, his tone is of shock and disgust rather than admiration, and the first thing he mentions is how ugly the creature is. We respond negatively towards Victor, ironically viewing him as being more monstrous than the ‘monster’ himself. “Breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” (p. 58) Shelley’s uses powerful and melodramatic words that force the reader to respond in a certain way. She uses tone to arouse the reader’s emotions and to have particular responses to the idea’s about monstrosity.

In conclusion, Shelley successfully shaped our responses towards the ideas about monstrosity to sympathise with the creature, realise that the character of Victor is more monstrous that the creature, which leads to the idea that monstrosity can be expressed in a way not relating to physical appearances, and the Romantic idea of a child being born innocent but turning monstrous through the corruption by society’s ideals. She does this by using techniques such as the three level narrative structure to offer us a broader range/variety of perspectives, symbolism and imagery to create visuals and arouse emotions, and tone/word choice to dramatise certain characters and/or actions to portray an idea about monstrosity.

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