Tag Archive: cultural criticism


Authenticity

When Critical Race studies are applied as a lens towards Mary Shelly’s novel, “Frankenstein,” perspectives of obscure subjects or aspects come to light. Critical race studies scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois, Gloria E. Anzaldua, Edouard Glissant, and Ngugi Wa Thiong’s; express contemporary studies on race, cultural identity, but most of all essentialist assumptions of gender, race, cultural identity etc. Similarly, we can draw ideas from critical race scholars to obtain a perspective of important aspects that the novel may be trying to covey. In the novel, the origins of the Delacey’s family social circumstance, Safie’s own story (and her father’s) and the creature all have commonality. This scenario of Safie’s story comes from racial discrimination and injustice. Safie’s father was a foreigner in France living his daily life when he was accused of a crime and had been condemned by The French Government. He was incarcerated a d sentenced to death. Felix hearing such injustice decided to help Safie’s father and in the process of trying to authenticate a form of “belonging,” in this case the passports, he fell in love with Safie. Safie is a Muslim Arab immigrant woman who also falls in love with Felix. She had been taught be her Christian Arab mother and was taught independence and intellect at a young age. As the story goes, Safie’s father disapproves the marriage and makes plans of his own to leave France and take Safie with him. At the same time, Felix unaware of this betrayal has the French Government suspicion and as a result, pay’s the price for helping a “terrorist.” His family were targets of the French Family and therefore are forced to leave (exiled) from their home country. Throughout, the narration the Creature tells his creator Victor that he will, “prove the truth of my tale,” in order to provide evidence of his tale, the tale of Safie’s as well. By providing authenticity to his tale and that of Walton’s. Authenticity is key in this part of the novel. In a way, if we applied this to the lens of race studies, most immigrants and refugees; people who are “othered” do not have authenticity. Therefore, do not belong to the Western social standards in race, culture, and most of all identity.

 

From the Creatures (indirectly Walton’s) narrative, the DeLacey family had been unhappy for a long time enduring a life of hardship in Germany. However, upon Safie’s arrival, their sad echoed life seemed to have a been lifted up. Another aspect to note is that Safie and both the Creature were learning the language in order to communicate. Which brings me to the point of the novel. The DeLacey family, Safie (and her father), and the Creature all have a common feeling. They are in some way refugees. The DeLacey family stripped from their wealth, status, and exiled from their homeland had to assimilate with Germany in order to live. Safie and her father faced discrimination and racial injustice due to their culture/identity had to leave France. In addition, the Creature is someone whose appearance does not conform to the socially constructed standards of his time. Therefore, in a way, he is discriminated against for his appearance.  They are aware of the double-consciousness. Which according to W.E.D De Bois idea is, “a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of the world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” The Creature most of all, is aware of this double-consciousness that mankind sees him in. For example, he is aware that he is a species that does not identify with another kind, his constant rejection of Victor even the DeLacey Family, and his feelings of injustices toward him.

  • Karla Garcia Barrera

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.