The last paragraph in page 108 of Frankenstein depicts the creature’s close observance of the de Lacey family, specifically concerning patriarch Felix’s warm treatment of an Arabian woman, who Felix referred to as “his sweet Arabian” (107). This woman, Safie, was an adopted daughter of the de Lacey family, and Felix takes the initiative of teaching her the native French language, which she struggled with as she “understood very little [and] conversed in broken accents” (108). He noted that while he “improved in speech, [he] also learned the science of letters, as it was taught to the stranger” (108), with one such “letter” being an actual book, Volney’s “Ruins of Empires.” This book enabled him to gain a strong amount of mastery of French, as he himself states that “he should not have understood the purport of this book, had not Felix, in reading it, given very minute explanations” (108). Even though Spivak states that the book is an “attempt at an enlightened universal secular, rather than a Eurocentric Christian, history” (CP), its perspective is still tinged with Eurocentrism, with “plenty of incidental imperialist sentiment” (CP) natural of that era, like the rest of Frankenstein. Such Eurocentrism illustrates and defines the creature and Safie’s similar positions as outsiders in society through certain indicators such as their grief over the “original inhabitants” (109) of the Americas.

One of those indicators was why the book was chosen by Felix to instruct Safie in the first place. It is apparently “because [its] declamatory style was framed in imitation of the eastern authors” (108). Since the word “declamatory” means “bombastic,” Felix’s reasoning as to why chose this book is rooted in his preconceived notions of eastern peoples as a “bombastic” kind of people in speech and mannerisms. To Felix, they have a uniquely different way of expressing themselves and he felt that this book was demonstrative of such differences. In this sense, we already get the sense that the book will discuss eastern peoples and their empires in a different light than Europeans and their empires, and this is the case. The creature states that he “obtained a cursory knowledge of history, and a view of the several empires at present” (108). Well, this knowledge was definitely “cursory” and definitely offered a certain “view” of the world’s empires, based on the book’s simple and biting characterizations of non-Europeans like Asiatics being “slothful” (108) in comparison to its glowing description of the Grecians as possessing “stupendous genius and mental activity” (108) and the early Romans’ “wonderful virtue” (108). This strong distinction in qualities between Europeans and eastern peoples is an example of how even though, as previously mentioned, Volney set out to write the book in an enlightened, secular viewpoint, it still had classic indicators of a perspective and worldview shaped by traditional Eurocentric colonialist attitudes. Sweeping generalizations of an entire people as “slothful” makes that unmistakably clear. Spivak also made a point that ” nineteenth century British literature [saw] imperialism… as England’s social mission [and] a critical part of the cultural representation of England to be British” (CP), which can confirm the evident Eurocentrism in Volney’s words and the underlying Eurocentrism of Felix in his decision-making regarding the selection of Volney’s book to teach Safie.

The point where the creature and Safie weep over “the hapless fate” (109) of the Native Americans is the point where the similarities between the two shine stronger than ever. This is because both of them are outsiders in the society they currently inhabit, to a significant extent. The creature is an outsider because of his non-human and grotesque appearance, while Safie is an outsider because of her origin, culture and gender. As a non-European and easterner, she is of the same people who Volney, as a person trying to write in an enlightened and secular style, still characterized as slothful. In a society where Eurocentrism was so ingrained that it was still evident even with efforts to the contrary, of course Safie and people like her were not going to be fully accepted. Her gender factors in here as well because of women’s default second-class status in society, thus as a “foreign colonized (by Eurocentrism) woman” she is that much more disadvantaged as an outsider. The creature and Safie both feel empathy with the Native Americans because of how they were subjugated, overpowered and forcibly turned into second-class citizens in a land formerly theirs. The word “hapless” is very apt here because it specifically means “unfortunate,” which perfectly describes their fate as well as the fate of the creature (being homeless and unloved by anyone) and Safie (being an outsider as a non-European in a Eurocentric society). The creature definitely shares, to a fair degree, Safie’s unfortunate “foreign colonized woman” status, just as Safie shares the creature’s unfortunate societal perception of being an outsider and subhuman to many, as evidenced by the small yet significant term “slothful.”

Advertisements