Frankenstein Rejection Essay

Readers have quite correctly assumed the statement in Shelley's preface, "my chief concern has been to exhibit the amiableness of domestic affection and the excellence of universal virtues" to be a cover-up; but in ascribing to Mary Shelley a need to deny the ugliness of a nightmarish vision they have missed her real subterfuge.

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The young scientist is thirteen, on the threshold of adolescence, when the struggle to break free of his parents and to become his own man begins in earnest. There is the suggestion that Alphonse disapproves of his son's grief as a dilatory tactic.

Not all fathers welcome their child's ascendant power, with its accompanying suggestion that their own is on the wane. In fact, strong sense of parental disapproval informs the father/son reactions throughout the novel.

Surely no one needs to be reminded that Frankenstein is a book largely reminiscent of Mary Shelley's own troubled family relationships; and in support of the point, one need only turn to George Levine and U. Knoepflmacher's excellent collection of essays, The Endurance of Frankenstein, to find the matter well documented.

That an author's life becomes translated into her fiction is hardly news on any account. 49, quoting from Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents.

The romantic educators typically placed the blame for an adolescent's misconduct at the door of a negligent (though often well-meaning) parent.

Shelley herself subtly indicts Victor's parents in exactly this way; and she suggests an even subtler subtext of family conflict in the letters Walton writes to Margaret. But more important than any family conflicts outside of the protagonist's is Walton's relationship to Margaret, that maternal sister who has apparently failed to be responsive to her younger brother's needs. Oh, that some encouraging voice could answer in the affirmative! In one sense, then, Victor's exaggerated (and therefore unmistakable) neglect of his progeny serves merely as a bolder-than-life projection of the novel's other, more oblique family conflicts. Anticipating the arrival of Shelley's children by Harriet, Mary exclaims: "I long [for those children] whom I love so tenderly, then there will be a sweet brother and sister for my William who will lose his pre-eminence as eldest and be helped third at table . He somewhat cynically reminds her, for instance, that of his efforts at poetry, she is "well acquainted with my failure and how heavily I bore the disappointment" (p. The parental failures are emblematic for those people unwilling to fulfill their duties to society at large: just as the hunter, that mythical image of a strong and protective father, reacts incorrectly and injures his charge's rescuer, so even the priestly fathers respond insensitively to their children's needs. Harold Bloom, The Ringers in the Tower (Chicago: Univ. He recognizes from his progeny's first murderous act that the monster's destruc- tion is his own: "I was the true murderer" (p. By the end of the novel he has acknowledged that he is responsible for all the deaths. 15), but Walton insists on his vision: "you cannot contest the inestimable benefits which I shall confer on all mankind, to the last generation . If he, in the end, falls short of the godlike aspirations that, he emphasizes, "lift his soul to heaven," he will also turn back, however reluctantly, toward a finally integrated relationship between parent and child. Enraged to the point of murder, he is motivated by a combination of being rejected by one so young and finding that the child, related to the monster's creator, is yet another agent of sorrow by the scientist's hand. man and lead a harmless life, or become the scourge of your fellow creatures" (p. In consequence of this primary mutual hostility of human beings, civilized society is perpetually threatened with disintegration. He admits: "I abhorred the face of man," a statement he fearfully retracts with "oh, not abhorred! Walton will "grow up," affirm himself, and return to his community, unlike his counterpart, that "soul mate" in whom he so tightly sees his own potential reflected. It is worth quoting here at length from Bruno Bettelheim's analogous description of a child's self-discovery. Similarly, he strikes out at Justine because she represents to him the relationships he can never have: her condemnation will therefore be "just" because "the crime had its source in her; be hers the punishment" (p. By issuing the ultimatum to Frankenstein, "On you it rests, whether I quit . 101), the monster places the blame for his aggression where it properly lies. destroyed thee by destroying all thou lovedst." But the larger, more deadly truth about this "self-devoted being" is unwittingly echoed in his child's last suffocated observation: "Alas! The interest of work in common would not hold it together; instinctual passions are stronger than reasonable interests. Previous commentators have, of course, noted Frankenstein's abuse of his monster; strangely enough, however, they have tended to ignore the precedent within his own family for Victor's later actions, as well as the familial tensions that Walton, Victor's shadow self, implies. Selma Fraiberg, Every Child's Birthright (New York: Basic Books, 1977), p. Such critical shortsightedness has inevitably resulted in textual analyses that fail to account for the complexity of this novel. 55); yet, regardless of his disclaimer of responsibility for his creation, Frankenstein deliberately chose the form for his creature that was sure to provoke the most horror and dread in other mortals. He acts out his anger at his family in an attempt to affirm his own selfhood. Walton, that too often forgotten character who frames the novel subtly strikes out at Margaret, the sister who helped rear him. Since learning of his father's injunction against a seafaring life, the son has waited for his chance to disobey: "the favorite dream of my early years was this voyage" (p. Walton's very uneasy relationship with his sister has been too often overlooked; his letters to her are usually thinly veiled threats to her power, attempts to assert his own autonomy. He wonders who or what projects him into adversity, and what can prevent this from happening to him. Is there hope for him though he may have done wrong? The tragedy is that for this introspective wanderer, the world will not support his answer; he will be answered only "with groans" (p. Psychiatrist Selma Fraiberg, in Every Child's Birthright, writes that the unnurtured, unloved child grows into the aberrant adult -- the criminal who seeks to negate his overwhelming sense of nothingness by inflicting pain on others -- a scream that "I exist, I am." It is not, then, the monster's nature that makes him so vengeful, as his creator deludes himself into thinking, but rather his overwhelming sense of isolation and despair at lacking human connections that in fact his father should have first provided. Hill, "Frankenstein and the Physiognomy of Desire," American Imago, 32, (1975), 346. Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), p. Harold Bloom typifies those readers who gloss over Frankenstein's foreknowledge of his creature's ugliness, when he asserts: "the hideousness of his creature was no part of Victor Frankenstein's intention . ." Instead, we must read Victor's shock at his child's ugliness as mere repression of the truth, as he unwittingly admits: "I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then . Just as he threw the door open to find "a spectre," so he exorcises the wolf under his bed, the parent as evil predator, by creating his own nightmare come true. I felt attracted even to the most repulsive among them . He reminds his sister again and again of his imminent destruction, and he presages pain for her whatever the outcome of his "voyage of discovery," as he continually alludes to his journey: "If I succeed, many years will pass before meeting again; if I fail, you will never see me again" (p. In a sense he tries to "kill" his parent too, in tones redolent of the monster: "You will have visitings of despair, and yet be tortured by hope" (pp. Margaret, his mother substitute, has regarded his voyage with evil forebodings (p. between dependence and autonomy, an effort on his part to determine his relationship to the rest of society. Are there benevolent powers in addition to his parents? At the time of his first violent act, he is merely seeking fellowship with another human, and he assumes little William, the "beautiful child" so unlike himself, to be too young to have formed prejudices based on appearance. Victor is an object of their love, not a participant in it; he is "their plaything and their idol" (p. In his recollections of his parents' relationship recollections more fully developed in the 1831 edition -- he emphasizes their devotion to each other, to the (implicit) detriment of their child. See Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York: Norton, 1950), p. If, as Victor claims, everything was centered on fulfilling the mother's wishes, one must wonder at the son's extravagant account of the love left over for him: "they seemed to draw inexhaustible stores of affection from a very mine of love to bestow them upon me" (p. The narrator strains his credibility too far when he assures us that "every hour of my infant life I received a lesson of patience, of charity, and of self-control" (p. Frankenstein early on models upon his parents as Elizabeth becomes his plaything.


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