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christa wusinich's picture


Several of the characters in M.Shelley’s Frankenstein are driven. They are driven to affliction and afflicted by their longings to achieve something greater than the extent of their human frames and presupposed limitations. What drives these men (for it is the men who are the reckless in this tale and the women who are the balancing, steadying hands of love and compassion)? Robert Walton, casts his net into dark icy waters and emerges with an abysmal tale brought to him by the man who lived it, Frankenstein. Perhaps, the albatross Walton did not seek came to him after all as Frankenstein? Frankenstein’s albatross was naturally the unnatural beast of his own creation. Walton writes to his sister; “I voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep”(3). What compels Walton to leave the companionship that he knows and rush forth into harms way? He answers this question in his letters without providing a certain understanding that would justify the dangers he endures. He talks of his childhood fancy with tales of discovery, of his fathers dying wish that his son shall not be a seafaring man (the lure of the forbidden), of the want of a steady goal, of want to be an original and “tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man”(2), and of glory and dreams. Is this an intoxication of youth? Surely, an old man would know better…but only because he to was a young man once. Henry Clerval determined for himself the liberal education that his father discouraged; it is said of Henry that, “He loved enterprise, hardship, and even danger for its own sake”(23). Then, of course, the worst of the lot is Frankenstein. His curiosity began as an interest in the causes of things. Frankenstein says, “It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn”(23). Madly he went about building his tower of Babel and tragically he expired after all that held him up crumbled beneath him. Still Walton calls Frankenstein “noble and godlike in ruin”(194)! Why do we so often cause our own destruction? This behavior does not resonate with anything Darwinian. Why at our youngest and ablest do we lean towards self destruction and not self preservation? What does this say about humanity?


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