Tag Archive: Colonialism


Outsiders

 

Bringing the subject of critical race studies brings upon a whole new interpretation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. Looking at the characters from the novel “Frankenstein” through the lens of the studies of W.E.B. Du Bois and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o ideas of double consciousness and the victim’s internal colonization we are able to further understand them. Primarily focusing on the characters of the creature and Safie. Safie being an adopted member of the De Lacy family and the creature attachment and sympathy for her. There exist a parallel between both pilgrimages and experiences as they are subjects of colonization.

Upon the creature sharing his story to Frankenstein, he exposes the letters that he asserts will give his side of the story. The monster asserts that this will “truth of my tale”, illuminating his journey since he awakens to this new place he has no knowledge of. Safie is a Muslim Arab migrant from Turkey which parallels with the creature as they both are in a place which they nothing of. Both having no education have no established social role in society since they do not know the basics communication, “I soon perceived, that although of her own, she neither sounded and appeared to have a language of her own, she was neither understood by nor herself understood the cottagers.” (Shelley 106). W.E.B. Du Bois teaching is illuminated as double consciousness is seen through the lens of Safie as she views herself through the lens cottagers as she is always aware that she is unable to communicate with them. The creature itself is always aware that people will view him as a monster and now holds the stereotype of being dangerous and destructive through his experiences and is now aware that anywhere he appears the people will be quick to judge him.

Furthermore, they both are “left alone, unacquainted” providing an insight into the way society views those who do not assimilate. For them to be heard they must assimilate into this place but must give something in return without being conscious of the price. The monster takes the opportunity to acquire the language when he is in hiding and in watching, “I should make use of the same instructions”. (Shelley 107) They both begin the process of assimilation as the creature begins to see Felix teach Safie a westernized education,“The book from which Felix instructed Safie was Volney’s ‘Ruins of Empires’”(Shelley 108) Felix and the creature are not aware what is occurring, they are unaware  that in the process of learning a new language they will slowly lose their culture and identity as they will become part of this society. Ngugi Wa Thiong express that Kenyan child for becoming fluent in British English, not in their tribal language, which marks this assimilation to another culture, as they begin to what Ngugi asserts that they will lose their identity and gain an identity that is given to them by the colonizer. Here is where the connection is seen through the lens of Ngugi and the novel “Frankenstein” as Ngugi is underlining that in similar ways the Safie’s and the creature are being assimilated by western ideologies.

Upon the weeping of Safie, the creature joins her. They are able to see that they are products of colonization. They both are strangers in a place they could not even communicate without assimilation to their way of life. Safie cry because here is where they become aware of the process of colonization. The creature shows emotion because he relates himself to her segregation.

-Levit Martinez

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Rilee Hoch

The reason Frankenstein’s creature is determined to tell Victor his narrative story through the letters of Safie, a young immigrant woman, is because he wants to make the deep connection between the two creatures. He can recognize that he too, falls into the category of a subaltern and that Safie and him are alike in many of their struggles. He knows all these things, but he wants to tell his story in context of her experience so that Victor too can recognize the immigrant like struggles his monster had to endure. He is trying to wake Victor from deep inside his Patriarchal blindness and expose the plight that he, and other groups considered subaltern, face from those who are not a part of the subaltern. Safie and the creature are both groups that have been oppressed by their surroundings and are breaking free to overthrow that oppression and change the culture, people, or things that have ruled over them.

Anzaldua speaks on barriers, which is a big theme in this part of the novel. We can see that Safie’s father has to get out of the country and find refuge in another, as do Felix and his family. The creature often crosses boarders much easier than Safie does, but neither have any hesitation in traveling across nations for their cause. Both are seeking love shelter and happiness in these journeys. Victor cannot see the pain that he has caused this creature by creating him in a way that he was destined to be an outcast of society and looked upon as a member of “other” rather than a part of “us”. Frankenstein is a colonizer, and his creature is the colony he has created, but he is not a colonized people. He has not only made him into an outcast of society, but he has refused to intercede into his life to control it. Both Safie and the creature are the same in that way, that they are mistreated and then left on their own to seek out their own justice which they find by leaving their oppression behind and going on a boarder crossing journey towards enlightenment.

In lecture, we discussed how the book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley might not be a story about a creature coming to life, but something deeper than that. It is a story about immigration and border crossing. The creature and Safie, a Muslim Arab migrant from Turkey, have a lot of things in common like not knowing the language that the cottagers speak, not knowing how the society/lifestyle of the people and trying to belong in this new place. W.E.B Du Bois talks about “double consciousness”, as “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” This idea is that we are never really looking at ourselves through our own perspectives but the perspective of a white person. By doing this we are belittling ourself and making ourselves feel less than what we truly are and are creating two identities for ourselves.

The creature and Safie are both two lost souls in this cruel world that has obstacles for them to face. Safie is a female which makes life complicated because of gender differences, women are thought as less than men. The creature is its own species which makes it difficult for him to belong in a group because there is no one like him. Safie and the creature are immigrants to their new worlds and have to cross borders to feel like they belong into this world. Safie has to learn a new language to communicate with Felix and his family. The creature benefits from these lessons because he self-teaches himself the language. Many immigrants in today’s world have to go to classes to learn English or teach themselves because they understand that without being able to speak English it holds them back from many opportunities.

The creature insists in proving “the truth of my tale” by giving Victor a copy of letters by Safie because he does not want Victor to white-wash his story. The creature wants the world to know his true story from his perspective and not from the perspective of Victor. Victor will dehumanize the creature and make him seem dangerous when in reality the creature was a foreigner into the place where he was brought to life. Victor will make the story about himself and how he felt threatened by the creature when all the creature really wanted was to be accepted and loved. The creature relates to Safie and her struggles in this new world and gives Victors her letters as proof of the things he had to overcome. The creature is an immigrant in this story and wants his story (as an immigrant) to be told instead of it being told by a white man, just like how all our history is told by the white man’s perspective. We never rarely hear the side of the minority because everything is white-washed in history and life.

-Marycarmen Nieto

The Truth of Their Tale

In Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, the creature wished to prove to Victor “the truth of my tale” through Safie’s letters written to Felix. Although Safie is a Muslim Arab migrant from Turkey seeking refuge, the creature very much identifies with Safie because she is a foreigner, who is different from those who she is surrounded by and he too, seeks refuge from society after being outcasted. The creature even goes as far as calling De Lacey, Felix, and Agatha his “protectors.” The creature also connects with Safie in that “she was neither understood by, nor herself understood, the cottagers” (106). On a larger scale, the creature is not only misunderstood and unable to fully understand the cottagers, but also Victor, his creator, and the people that he encounters. As Felix teaches Safie their language, the creature makes use of it and learns from it as well. In addition to learning the system of human society, he also obtains a “cursory knowledge of history, and a view of the several empires at present existing in the world” (108). Upon learning of the discovery of America, he further empathizes with Safie and weeps with her “over the hapless fate of its original inhabitants” (108) and the oppression that they face.

The idea of borderlands, by Anzaldua represents a “crossing of borders of multiple identities” (Parker, 312). In other words, the term is used to describe both physical and invisible barriers. For Safie, she deals with crossings of physical barriers between countries to escape with her father and Felix from the prison, “through France to Lyons, and across Mount Cenis to Leghorn” (112). In contrast, the creature faces more emotional, internal barriers as he struggles to express his true identity and emotions to others and therefore does so through Safie’s letters, claiming that they are the truth of his tale. Both the creature and Safie in these ways are considered inhabitants of the borderland, struggling with their cultural identities, which ultimately proves how the creature identifies with Safie.

-Serena Ya

By Alex Luna

The topic of critical race studies brings an interesting perspective into Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. From the works of scholars such W.E.B. Du Bois and Parker, there are an abundance of ideas that could be applied to the characters of the novel, particularly that of the creature and Safie, the adopted member of the De Lacy family, which the creature gains a strong affinity towards. Ultimately, the character of Safie reflects a parallel journey between her and the creature, revealing how the creature is a characterization of colonized subjects.

When the creature tells his creator, Victor, that the letters he took will “prove the truth of my tale” it’s interesting to note how he says “my tale.” The fact that he says this could be an indication that the creature heavily identifies with Safie’s story. The story that he identifies with is that of being a stranger in a strange land, or a foreigner, with no formal education surrounded by mystery and the fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of one’s place in society. Earlier in the novel, Safie is described as not being understood by the other cottagers, similar to the creature’s inability to grasp language at first, and the plights of having to learn. Similar to W.E.B. Du Bois idea of the double consciousness, of seeing yourself through the lens of another person, the creature and Safie both experience this. 

As Safies story unfolded to Victor and the reader, the parallels between her journey and the creature’s become more clear. One interesting takeaway is that of Safie’s mother, who is referenced as having “taught her to aspire to higher powers of intellect and an independence.” Aside from the feminist notion of independence, what’s interesting here is the “intellect” aspirations, which sounds awfully similar to Victor’s own aspirations. And another correlation to colonization, in which imperialists sought to gain intellect and domination by conquering lands and other cultures.

Safie’s relationship with her father also shows some connections between the creature and Victor. Safie’s father has a rather conservative perspective, by not wanting her to be with Felix, which ultimately leads to a heavy strain in their relationship. While she and her father have a much more complex history, their strained relationship is another thing that the creature identifies with, since he feels feelings of disdain toward his creator, or “father,” Victor.

Furthermore, Safie’s journey leads her to be “left alone, unacquainted with the language of the country and utterly ignorant of the customs of the world.” This sounds strikingly similar to the creature. He was abandoned, completely unacquainted with language, and did not understand the customs of the world. While Safie may not be considered a colonized subject, this description of her experience could be attributed to the circumstances surrounding real-life colonized peoples lives. That of separation, language barriers, and being forced to learn new cultural practices that possibly clashed with their own.

Though the circumstances of their lives may have been different when the creature weeps with Safie upon learning about colonized subjects, it is because he not only identifies with Safie herself, upon being a stranger trying to find their way, but they each characterize similar traits of colonized subjects. Just as the image below shows the creature, or the colonized peeking into the world of the imperialistic, this foreign feeling, this travel into the unknown, this cultural clash is all something colonized subjects experienced, albeit in a more amplified way in real life. 

 safie

The Tape over Margaret’s Mouth

Arlyne Gonzalez

In the novel, Frankenstein, 200 years later, its ideologies and persistent themes are coincidentally correlated to our current society. Unacceptance, gender roles, sexuality but more specifically, Immigration and race. Throughout the novel, the creature roams around by his lonesome, until he encounters the De Lacey family and is attracted to how they represent family and society. The Delacey family were the creature’s unwitting educators that the creature grew great love and respect for. The creature, in particular, feels a connection to Safie. As the creature is educating himself, he learns how society fluctuates and structures people’s individualism. The creature recognizes that Safie differs among Victor and his family because Safie and her father are Turkish. Safie and her father were banished from France due to her father’s political misdeeds. Spivak addresses how the Frankenstein is a “great flaw” because she believes that Englishwoman and the creature represent the Western self from the non-Western “other”. Toward the end of the novel, when the creature comes across Victor’s dead corpse, he feels a sense of sympathy and commits suicide. However, Spivak emphasizes how the creature performs a similar ritual like the Native American women did whenever their husbands passed away and became widows. According to Spivak, this was a demonstration of suspending the ideology of freedom of the oppressed woman. In other words, the creature assumed the position of a foreign woman. The creature and Safie were not a colonial subject. The creature was an overgrown migrant child, these were the effects that the creature triggered due to his maker, Victor, abandoning him upon the creature’s creation. Safie was a subject to the Ottoman Empire due to being from Turk descent.

Throughout the novel, there are multiple occurrences of immigration from place to place. For instance, Victor’s multiple travels. Victor had traveled from Geneva, Switzerland to also visiting England and Scotland, specifically London. Victor being a white male does not experience a hardship in being able to cross the border. It is as if Victor’s genetic makeup is his passport, unlike Safie and Felix. These two individuals represent an interracial romance. A tragic love tale where Felix comes to Safie’s rescue and pulls her up from an unfortunate political conflict with her father. Safie’s father was caught conducting fake passports by the French government and was compelled to serve a sentence in prison. Felix took it upon himself to betray his military morals and help Safie’s father escape from his imprisonment. They were discovered and were compelled to flee France and start anew elsewhere. The main point that Spivak is addressing is how Mary Shelly failed to organize woman’s universality as a concealment for continuing Western colonial supremacy over time. Spivak agreed on how Mary Shelly did not give Margaret Saville a voice because Spivak carried the notion that Saville was not allowed to speak on the behalf of other women, because that would defeat the purpose of women’s individualism.

 

the_delacey_family1

An Imperial Narrative

Reflecting on “The Power of Ambiguity” https://foundationsofliterarystudies.wordpress.com/2013/04/08/the-power-of-ambiguity/

I was struck by the student’s potent question, “Does the monster know himself where his sympathy lies?” It is easy to assume that the monster belongs to the “colonized” group due to his existence as the outcast creation, yet this question alludes to the possibility of the monster’s representation as one of the colonizers. Does the monster sympathize for the conquering of the native American races or with the decline of the once great and virtuous Roman empire? I agree with the student’s conjecture that the monster’s position as the subaltern is “necessarily ambiguous” to reflect that quality of imperialism in which the cultures interact and blend, thus obstructing their individual identities. The monster responds appropriately to the conflicts, or ambiguities, present in the history of human empires, by his own “strange feelings” (109). He questions the contradictory nature of human history— “at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base” (109)— and in doing so begins to question his own identity: “And what was I?” (109).

The uncertainty in the monster’s response to the histories Felix narrates reflects the narrative ambiguity, which, according to Spivak, creates “this great flawed text” (851). Spivak observes that in the end of Shelley’s novel “distinctions of human individuality themselves seem to fall away from the novel” (850), as if each of the players in her story are capable of exiting the text on their own. For example, in refusing to describe the monster’s death and close the framed narrative with Margaret Saville’s perspective, Shelley indicates that each “cannot be contained by the text” (850). This interpretation provides that the narrative itself is the colonizer and its characters the colonized, because they are kept within the world of the narrative, and we realize their colonized position only when they are allowed to escape it. Spivak summarizes this point in her essay: “the discursive field of imperialism does not produce unquestioned ideological correlatives for the narrative structuring” (847). In other words, Shelley does not directly address imperialist theory, but embeds it within the framed structure of her novel. The frame structure inevitably creates a binary structure of one individual subjected to the narrative power of another.

The student alludes briefly, but leaves room for expansion, to the layered imperialism in the novel: Felix is subjected to the imperialist commands of the society that exiled him, Safie is colonized by both her father and Felix.This layered, ambiguous reflection on imperialism also parallels the framing structure of the narrative and could be given further attention.

At the surface, many facets of colonialist and psychoanalytical criticism can be compared as ways to justify similar themes of alienation, identity, confusion, and so on.  However, looking through my previous blog posts I would argue that the two are intertwined to the point of being dependent on one another to provide a richer and fuller perspective of the same argument, which is that the text promotes the futility of any binary logic in relation to society and identity.

This is an interesting way of looking at the creature’s vision of himself. The scene on page 104 where the creature sees his reflection in a transparent pool is loaded with latent tensions: “…how was I terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” (104) Perhaps what is so shocking about the creature’s reflection in the water is his confusion with the binary that has been presented to him through the DeLaceys. As I explored in my post “The Power of Ambiguity”, he is presented with a very strong binary in the lessons that Felix delivers to Safie, and has trouble digesting it. I would argue that this is the same type of confusion that characterizes his identification with the image in the pool, because it does not align with the “perfect forms”(104) of humanity that he sees in the DeLaceys. The colonialist perspective provides a deeper understanding of this misalignment, because when we look at how the creature reacts to the history lessons that Felix delivers to Safie, it is clear that he is, at best, confused. The way he digests the information defies the black-and-white worldview he had possessed until that point. He knows that he does not fit squarely into the definition of the colonizer nor the colonized, the powerful nor the powerless, and this causes him to question, subconsciously or consciously, the binary that he has internalized. Indeed, after he receives the lessons, he observes, “The words induced me to turn towards myself.” (109). Looking back at the scene where he observes himself in the pool, the same can be said about his reaction. He had modeled his Ideal-I after the DeLaceys, which to him represented a pure idea of humanity, and this was the foundation of his very ego. Looking at his reflection in the pool and seeing something completely outside of his ego was  necessarily devastating. Because the binary was what preserved the creature’s ego, he initially refused to let go of it. Thus when he abandons his human identity in the face of rejection by the DeLaceys, he becomes the complete opposite: a savage and a brute. It is only as the novel nears the end that the creature tries to pick up the pieces and find a compromise, by appealing to his creator and requesting a spouse. Victor, however, still holding on to his belief in the unbending power of a God over its creation, surrenders control under the illusion of control, because the binary logic simply cannot exist. The novel necessarily ends in the deaths of both creator and creation.

The colonialist discourse is one of the many ways that Shelley reveals the failure of the psychological binary, and vice versa. If the masculine colonial discourse were to be portrayed as unbending and unquestionable in the text, it would contradict all the ambiguity that the creature represents. There would be little reason to suspect the failure of any other binary, and the text would be purposeless.Thus the psychoanalytical and the colonial veins of criticism are more than parts of a critical whole: Together, they paint a greater picture that colours Shelley’s Frankenstein in a larger and more complex light.

Throughout the second half of the semester the juxtaposition of the powerful against the powerless has provided many interesting blog posts, debates and hours of  class discussion. The conflict between the sides has been expressed through a multitude of different lenses including feminine vs. masculine, colonized vs. colonizer and the bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat. We have analyzed, reanalyzed, drawn pictures of our analysis and then debated on who was better at analyzing all of these complex binaries.

What have I drawn from the many hours trying to come up with interesting and original blog posts? I have come to  realize that within the context of Frankenstein these binaries do not exist. With close reading and analysis, the dichotomies that categorize characters in the novel collapsed in on themselves and illustrated their nature as not inherent truths but rather social constructs. Simply put, in the novel an Us vs. Them complex can not thrive because there is no us. All of the characters in the novel are at one point rendered powerless and therefore made to exist as an other, and when every character exists as an other the power structure is not rigid and everlasting, but fluid and ever-changing.

At every turn in the novel we see an upending of what we thought to be true, an inversion of the power structure that dominates our world view. Looking only to the second half of the semester and and questions of femininity and colonialism  it is obvious to see the novel’s ability to invert these so called categories of dominance. The character that so represents the most obvious positions of power, both the masculine and the colonizer is Victor. However by the end of the novel he has become a slave to his own creation and dies trying to gain the control he has lost.  More than disenfranchising the powerful, the novel also demonstrates the lifting up of the weak into temporary positions of power. Take the creature, once the very picture of an outcast ends up with the power to not only destroy those around his creator but destroy his creator himself. Another aspect of the novel’s ability to inverse and therefore destroy the supposed power structure comes not from the actual words on the page but the words that have been left out. The idea of omission sparked great discussion with a total of six student comments, which is six more than all of my other posts combined. As I argue in that post, the tool of omission is powerful because it does not just show the weak side of a character but rather gives them no representation at all. There are countless examples of the powerful falling and the weak rising up in the novel. The culture of Us vs. Them  is eliminated because everyone is at some point powerless, everyone is a them.

Looking at traditional power especially represented by the masculine and the colonizer, the novel Frankenstein works to remove even the most seemingly powerful characters from their pedestal and show them as just as powerless as those they used to have control over. In the world of Frankenstein there is no lasting control, there is no permanent power, there is only The Other.

 

 

Through the use of Spivak’s methods of critical analysis, the Frankenstein passage on pages 108-109 may be more fully understood. Within the textual sample, Safie and the creature are constructed as parallel iterations of the feminine subaltern, which expose the instability of cultural and colonial discourse.

The passage begins immediately with the creation of a hierarchal relationship, describing a “book from which Felix instructed Safie.” There is a distinct sense of separateness and value, in which an ignorant eastern woman eagerly accepts the teachings of the learned western man. This concept of social striation is also translated to intellectual incongruity, as Safie and the creature “should not have understood the purport of this book, had not Felix, in reading it, given very minute explanations.” Not only is one social position dominant over the other, but also one symbolic or linguistic discourse is championed. This is expressed by the fact that important knowledge is disseminated mostly through a style that appears foreign to those who receive it.

However, within the post-colonial world, the abjection of a colonized people is not always explicit or obvious. Felix “had chosen this work, he said, because the declamatory style was framed in imitation of the eastern authors.” This statement re-emphasizes the idea of linguistic slavery. Not only are the colonized forced to adhere to the physical or economic forces of their captors; their very language is subjugated and co-opted. This expresses how lost a people may become, as colonial discourse may be masked within their native symbolism.

The exact contents of the book also have a unique character. “Through this work [the creature] obtained a cursory knowledge of history, “ a statement marked with a feeling of amorphous wholeness or generality, largely centered on the word “cursory.” What is described is not a listing of hard historical events, facts or figures; rather, its is a sort of summed narrative. This concept is maintained through a lesson including “a view of the several empires at present existing in the world; it gave [the creature] an insight into the manners, governments, and religions of the different nations of the earth.” This sentence solidifies the thread previously presented. The lessons of the colonial discourse seek to marry each culture with a sense of essence, inherent meaning or soul, a feat accomplished through the use of highly variable, general, and emotional terms like “manners, governments, and religions.”

The passage proceeds to offer specific examples, from a notably western European perspective. Obvious appreciation for the “stupendous genius and mental activity of the Grecians,” the “wars and wonderful virtue of the early Romans,” and the era of  “chivalry, Christianity and kings,” is contrasted with a banal disgust towards the “slothful asiatics.” Cultures are again granted an overall feeling of inherent essence.

Finally, the passage ends with the “discovery of the American hemisphere,” as the creature “wept with Safie over the hapless fate of the original inhabitants.” The concept of wholeness is expanded, and the true scope of the colonial discourse can be understood. It needs to have all elements of the colonial world, meaning that both the colonizer and the colonized are crucial components of the cultural discourse. The feminine subaltern here has accepted the colonial forms of linguistic subjugation and cultural essence. This means that the manifestations of the subaltern do not weep for the crime of the brutal slaughter of a culture. They weep because they identify with a subjugated people and unfortunate events, but they also maintain an idea of destiny in “hapless fate.” Even the colonized peoples willfully join in with the colonial discourse, gladly accepting their role within the whole of a macroscopic society.

The parallelism between the creature and Safie is used to expose the conflicting wholeness and incongruity of the colonial discourse. The subaltern is superficially identified as whole, within a specific debased native culture. This is idea is manifested in the bodily and personal wholeness of Safie. However, beneath the surface, the subaltern is swirling maelstrom of ideology, with native and foreign entities mixed. This concept is shown in the bodily and personal incongruity of the creature.