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BriBell's picture

Class Summary

I honestly don't know how to begin summarizing our class discussion of the book Frankenstein. In these past two class sessions we discussed so many concepts/ theories/ ideas about what exactly is going on in Frankenstein, that I overwhelmed and even more confused than when I attempted to dissect the text in my own mind. For instance, the definition of 'responsibility' is entirely lost to me, and probably to the rest of the class as well. Our conversation was heavy with questions which seemed to lead us around in circles.

In the first class, we began by giving Frankenstein's 'monster' a name, because we did not believe it was really correct to call him a monster... so, we called him Pierre. And since the name Frankenstein is often confused with the image of the 'monster' he created, we decided to go by the first name basis and call him Victor. Victor, as creater of Pierre, can also be seen as his mother (which I will get back to later). We focused mostly, in this first class, on monstrousness-- what made Pierre a monster? Ugliness? Everyone that saw him cringed away -- he was hideous and this repelled people. Is this repulsion toward the ugly something that is innate in humans, or is it imbued in us through culture? Someone suggested that perhaps it is something we feel naturally, maybe due to reproductive priorities.

We went on to examine the monstrous qualities of Victor -- he was, perhaps, more monstrous than Pierre in that he was so single minded and self absorbed -- he grew feverish and pale, became a recluse and ignored much of his familial duties. Was this part of Shelly's message -- That ambition with ruin you? “If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections and destroy your taste for simple pleasures…then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.” (40). We also noted the idea that in some ways this story can be seen as a challenge to the notion of original sin (Pierre was good – then became cruel only after he was mistreated) – noble savage, man is naturally good. These ideas are contrary to Bettleheim’s belief that evil feelings are natural & human.

In the second class, we focused mainly on the dilemma of limits… this is where my head begins to spin. When can there be too much knowledge? (again, possibly a commentary against the ideas of Galileo and Flatland where the pursuit of knowledge should be limitless). Fair enough. But the part that really got me in our discussion was the challenge to responsibility. How responsible was Victor for the actions of Pierre? Was Shelly trying to say that he shouldn’t have created the monster in the first place, or that he should have taken responsibility over his creation to keep it from getting out of hand? Where does the responsibility end? So he created Pierre, how much can you say he is responsible for his actions after that – especially in the context of motherhood? We really lost the definition of responsibility I this conversation….

The topic of responsibility came up over and over again, but we eventually moved on to the notion of abandonment. This was meant to be a horror story after all, and everybody dies – leaving the reader feeling abandoned. Not to mention Victor leaves his family, Pierre is abandoned immediately, Walton is wishing for a friend while writing to the sister who he has, himself, abandoned. The center of the story is in the education of Safie, who was abandoned by her native land and then abandons her father. – perhaps this is a horror story about in inevitability of being alone…

Man, we really talked about a lot in these two days. We also talked about the gothic style writing and the tendency to have doubles – Was Pierre really just a double of Victor? How separate were they really? Rachael pointed out that nearly every time Victor sees Pierre, it is in a window of some sort. Both are monstrous in their own ways, and not too different from one another…

I feel that I have gone into way to much detail about what we discussed, but honestly I have barely skimmed the surface of the theories we explored. Even so, I feel unsatisfied, frustrated even, with the incompleteness of our conversation. There is so much more to be said about this book – so many ways in which it deals with the unconscious, so many more ambiguities to explore. This section of discussions was…intense, to say the least. I’m still lost, still troubled by the happenings of Shelly’s story. But I guess I should be. It is, after all, a horror story.

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