Tag Archive: death


The Ending

One major difference between the book and the movie that wasn’t discussed much in the essay was the ending. The book ends with the creature disappearing into “darkness and distance,” while the movie shows the creature lighting Victor’s funeral pile and burning along with him. Is this an attempt to redeem the creature? By burning alongside Victor, the creature could be trying to atone for his killings and trying to prevent any more from happening by destroying himself. In doing this, does the creature upset the dichotomy of “Nature/Woman/Good versus Science/Man/Evil”? What does the more concrete finality of the movie suggest?

victor & elizabeth

I haven’t seen Kenneth Branagh’s 1994 film version of Frankenstein, so honestly I’m not too sure what’s going on in that scene up there. I mean, yes, that’s Victor and Elizabeth clearly having a moment. But I wonder, is Elizabeth dead in that picture?

She probably isn’t, but hear me out — the only times Victor shows intense passion for Elizabeth (in Mary Shelley’s 1831 book, at least) is during his particularly vivid dream (which I’ll get to) and after Elizabeth’s dead, when he “rushed towards her, and embraced her with ardour” (168), observing “the deadly languor and coldness of the limbs” (Shelley 168).

Now, that dream. In it, Victor’s walking the streets of Ingolstadt, when suddenly he see Elizabeth “in the bloom of health” (61). He recounts, “Delighted and surprised, I embraced her; but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death, her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms” (61).

Sigmund Freud would have a field day with this one. Believing that dreams were fuzzy windows into the unconscious, Freud analyzed dreams to find repressed bestial desires now made into altered, more acceptable forms. According to Freud, “every emotional affect, whatever its quality, is transformed by repression into morbid anxiety” (Freud 429), and if this repressed object recurs and causes anxiety, then it’s considered uncanny. Yup, Victor’s sure sounds like an uncanny dream.

So why this dream now? Why would Victor think of his dead mother now? Well, this happens just after he’s given life — given birth — to his creation. And remember, one of the biggest reasons he decided to do this whole thing was because he thought, “if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption” (Shelley 58).

Because the death of his mother absolutely wrecked him. In fact, Victor calls it “that most irreparable evil” (50). In describing his mother’s nursing of Elizabeth from scarlet fever (which ultimately kills her), he details, “Elizabeth was saved, but the consequences of this imprudence were fatal to her preserver” (49). Imprudence? Ouch. For every tender word he uses to describe Elizabeth, this speaks volumes. Undoubtedly, Victor has not gotten over the death of Caroline Frankenstein, “this best of women” (49). Worse, Caroline straight-up tells Elizabeth (really, the reason she’s dying in the first place) to replace her, as she says, “Elizabeth my love, you must supply my place to my younger children” (49).

And in a way, Elizabeth does. She is the sole madam and caretaker and ultimately wife of the Frankenstein house. But she’s also inadequate. Victor’s affections clearly remain with his dead mother, shown through Elizabeth transforming into Caroline in his dream as well as his obsession with animating dead matter. Because of Victor’s repressed resentment for Elizabeth, she cannot fully replace Caroline as mother and lover.  And most telling of all, Victor, ever the egomaniac, takes on this pursuit on his own, taking the role of mother in forming the creation. Pretty sure that didn’t work out so well either.

Mutability: A Daily Death

Mary and Percy Shelley were a couple so in love that they ran away together, valuing each other over their families and lives in London. They actively encouraged each other’s writing and it was in fact, Percy Shelley who urged Mary to develop Frankenstein beyond the short story it was initially intended to be. Just taking this into account, it isn’t too far a stretch to think that they must have had significant influences on each other’s writing, but on top of this, they each edited and gave input on each other’s works. So it isn’t surprising that Mary Shelley drew on her husband’s poetry in her Frankenstein, to the extent that she basically rewrote bits of the poems in places.

The passages on page 74 beginning “The road ran…” and ending “…destined to endure” are extremely reminiscent of the poem ‘On Mutability’. The poem is about how changeable and ephemeral humans are, in terms of their lifespans as well as the volatile character of their emotions, and this idea is demonstrated in the passage. To begin with, the poem gives a sense of constant movement with words like “speed”. “quiver”, “motion” and “wandering”, while the same sense is rendered in the passage by the phrase “as I drew near home” and the fact that he is traveling the entire time. The last two stanzas of the poem deal with the transitory nature of human emotions, and this can be observed in how Victor’s emotions are jumping from “delight” and “pleasure” to “grief and fear” in a moment. A major concept is also how we never react in the same way to something, when it happens for the second time, which is seen in the lines “Give various response to each varying blast” and “No second motion brings/One mood or modulation like the last”. This is encapsulated in how Victor’s response to his surroundings changes, where first he is rejoicing in the “Dear mountains!”with their “clear” and “bright summit[s]”, that he can see outside, and then later he sees the mountains as “dark” and a “vast and dim scene of evil” which inspires gloom. Additionally this scene that he sees replaces the pleasure he was feeling with despondency, much in that same way that Shelley says “One wandering thought pollutes the day”.

The novel in fact uses an almost exact quote from the poem in the line “Night also closed around”, which should be compared to the poem’s “Night closes round”. The phrasing is a little odd because it gives an a image of Night capturing or enveloping its victim, but this is probably because the personified Night seems to also be a metaphor for death. In the poem the line appears to speak of the fleeting life that humans lead and how death finds them so “soon” and then “they are lost forever”. Victor rewrites this when he talks of the future he sees for himself, where he changes and becomes the “most wretched of human beings”, and so is going to die a certain death, or more specifically his present self is going to be “lost forever”. The idea that everyday humans die a death, as they change, by “One sudden and desolating change” or “a thousand little circumstances that might have by degrees worked other alteration”(Frankenstein, 74), and become someone new each time, is the indistinguishable from the concept in ‘On Mutabililty’ and so, to put this in Percy Shelley’s words, “Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow”. This transitory nature of humans, where everyday who they were dies as they become someone new, however small the degree of difference, is probably why the Creature is unable to fathom their actions, and how they can be so kind and gentle sometimes and so harsh and unforgiving others. This is why he gives up on humans, and seeks a companion of his own species, a major driver of the plot.

15166280897_09c0d14f77_o

The passage describing Mont Blanc and its surroundings on pages 89-92 seems to be a near-exact translation of Percy Shelley’s poem, “Mont Blanc,” into prose, particularly on page 90 at the beginning of chapter ten. As Victor describes falling ice and avalanches, he speaks of, “the silent working of immutable laws,” and the ice being, “but a plaything in their hands” (90). This goes hand in hand with Percy Shelley’s lines: “Thou has a voice, great Mountain, to repeal / Large codes of fraud and woe” and “Is this the scene / Where the old Earthquake-demon taught her young / Ruin? Were these their toys?” (lines 80-81, 71-73). Victor conveys the same awe as the speaker in the poem. Similarly, “my slumbers, as it were, waited on an ministered to by the assemblance of grand shapes which I had contemplated during the day” echo’s Percy Shelley’s lines: “Some say that gleams of the remoter world / Visit the soul in sleep–that death is slumber / And that its shapes the busy thoughts outnumber / Of those who wake and live” (Frankenstein 91, “Mont Blanc” lines 49-53). Victor dreams of Mont Blanc, and, indeed, his dreams and sleep do seem to offer a death-like state, as they “gathered round [him], and bade [him] be at peace,” evoking the image of a funeral (91). However, one guest of the poem doesn’t appear in Victor’s dream: “the wolf [who] tracks her [the eagle] there” (line 69). This, and other predatory hints in the poem like, “The glaciers creep / Like snakes that watch their prey,” seem to be lost on Victor (line 100-101). Since Victor doesn’t allude to these lines, he doesn’t see the danger of his situation. He doesn’t sense a snake watching him or a wolf tracking him. He doesn’t realize the creature hunts him. When Victor sees the creature, it takes him a moment to realize that the figure he sees is, in fact, the creature.

All I have to say is, Victor, why so dense? “Mont Blanc” suggests nature’s superiority over humans, saying, “Frost and Sun in scorn of mortal power / Have piled: dome, pyramid, and pinnacle” (line 103-104). Victor also alludes to nature’s architecture, as well as continually comparing Mont Blanc to a ruler. The creature, however, “bounds over the crevices in the ice, among which [Victor] had walked with care” (92). The creature moves swiftly and without hesitation through this landscape, without a single trace of reverence or care. This indicates the creature is superior even to nature, and thus, humans. Why does Victor not realize that the creature has him outmatched in every possible way? Why does he think that he can fight the creature and win? I think that, despite his over-drowning melancholy, Victor has what we might call a “creator complex.” To Victor, the hierarchy probably looks like: humans at the bottom, then nature, then the creature, then Victor himself. Because Victor created the creature, he thinks he is superior to the creature. He knows he has power and a say in the creature’s life, but he doesn’t realize that the creature also has power and a say in his. He underestimates the creature, and overestimates himself. Because the prose and poetry are so similar, the differences point out that Victor doesn’t realize he created a being superior to himself, and even to nature itself. This adds insight into why the creature cannot be accepted as animal or human, as of nature or of civilization. His appearance and his abilities make him other-worldly to both.

(Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/vd1966/15166280897/in/photolist-p7c9VF-gH2W7x-prVnHq-dajET8-5Ziqun-kfTE9G-gdAwcu-fXuo6E-pWzNdg-cHbDiA-dajEWv-agdkY1-fAzB6u-bzYhvU-34s8Y-5ZnBsG-mLu14-5i8bQy-cyXTWf-fSFGQu-cyjb1A-6oDYGL-hb5LP9-j4NceT-npScAB-dajEQa-j9tEcP-r5kuis-pnMRDp-dajEAX-ocQac2-q2ycL5-mQH9FS-fjztS2-5J7AWM-qtXUiq-e9oPX2-9VN8PB-prVsd7-gXYhSQ-5HY1Hr-nup4wE-nxxZQ1-pRhix9-2mnBNg-iPyKkt-j8jzR-5SMBXh-o7mwq8-6F16QP)

The Creature’s Path to Peace

On reading the last two paragraphs of Frankenstein, I was struck by the number of different views on the path to happiness, peace and tranquility that were explored in this novel. The Creature’s thoughts on this changed drastically over the course of the novel, and they seemed to culminate in these ending passages. It is this theme that serves to resolve the curious paradoxes, tensions and ambiguity in these passages and provides the organic unity necessary for the new critical method.

The Creature initially believes that he can achieve bliss by finding somebody who will accept him regardless of his appearance. When this fails, he turns to revenge as a means of alleviating some of his rage and loneliness. However, in the end his experiences make him seek only death as his way to bliss, as his misery and isolation are too excruciating to live with. This is observed in the paradox of “sad and solemn enthusiasm” and the tension in “exult in the agony”, and it seems strange that he looks forward to his painful death, but not if you see that he does so because it is his path to contentment.

The motif of fire is very predominant here with words like “burning”, “flames” and “conflagration”. I think this is because fire is associated with peace. The passage brings us back in a circle to the beginning of the monster’s life, when the fire he finds in the wood is his most precious possession and he “was in the greatest fear lest my fire should be extinguished”. The fire gave him life and contentment, by providing warmth, comfort, and cooked food, while now he implores it to give him death, and so peace and rest.

These paragraphs seem to suggest that the Creature believes that, after his death, everything that he experienced and and everything that he was, will be as if it never existed. This is seen in the usage of words and phrases such as “extinct”, “fade away”, “lost” and “my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds”. He desires this oblivion and believes that it will allow “his spirit to sleep in peace”. However he does not really achieve this as the Creature and the tale of his life have been immortalized in Robert Walton’s records, which is ironically how we are learning of it. We see that Shelley purposely leaves the ending vague saying that he was “lost in the darkness and distance”, making it ambiguous as to whether the Creature actually died and if, whatever the answer to the previous question, he truly obtained his peace. The lack of this certain conclusion in the ending forces us to question death’s role as the only final path to peace and bliss.

 

A Murky End

The conclusion of Frankenstein leaves much to be desired. The last two paragraphs of the novel comprise of the creature’s stirring farewell speech to Walton, where he describes with great detail and passion his impending doom. He paints an intricate scene, for the audience, grandiosely outlining his choice of death and what will become of his departed spirit and physical remains. However, despite these assurances of suicide, a huge void in the text is the actual execution of the proposed events. Walton (and the audience), never actually witness the death of Frankenstein. This is a huge factor in the tension created by this conclusion. I for one, felt a niggling sense of unease upon completing the novel. Only upon further reflection was I able to pinpoint the unresolved fate of the creature as the source.

This tension is developed by the language of the creature, where the word “shall” appears repeatedly. “I shall die”and “I shall ascend my funeral pile” does not exactly inspire confidence in the reader of the creature’s certain death. To take him on his word after the horrendous acts of treachery he engaged in through the novel would not be the most rational course of action. Furthermore, the symbols of light and darkness are prominent in this concluding paragraph. The creature associates fire and light with his death, a seemingly ironic connotation. Following this train of thought, he takes his death to be a positive and his life to be grim and dark. However, in the final line, where he leaves the boat, he once more is “lost in the darkness and distance.” This contradicts his previous speech and imagery, once more giving the reader cause to believe that the creature continues to live. This ending employed tension masterfully, leaving the audience with no closure to the fate of the creature. The contributing choice of language used by the creature and the symbols surrounding this last scene further reinforces the general uncertainty of the creature’s end.Unknown-1