Tag Archive: linguistic

Parallels and Self-Doubt

Samantha Shapiro

As the creature insists on “prov[ing] the truth of [its] tale,” the intent behind his actions in doing so shows that he has a doubt in his own ability in his language in conveying the “substance of them” to others (111). Language, as noted by Gloria Anzaldúa, is form of identity, woven into a person’s existence and being. In her writings on “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” she asserts that “ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity” – a person is their own language. This sentiment is supported in Frankenstein when the creature recalls his own discovery of language, “a discovery of still greater moment” which allowed others to communicate “their experiences and feelings to one another” (102). The creation slowly developed language from the cottagers, and also through Safie, a Turkish Christian woman and “immigrant” with her own struggles to learn the language of those around her. Her own language ties her to herself as well as her own past she tries to escape from, and shared experiences with Felix and his family.

Cup of Coffee, 1858 – Amadeo Preziosi

She had a “language of her own, she was not understood by, nor herself understood, the cottagers” (106). This shows similarity to the creature in its own being. It itself is a creature of its own, not understood by, nor itself understood by all of those around him. However, through a parallel learning process, both begin to develop language, or a more anglicized, projected self through the development of a common language.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, English wife to Turkish Ambassador

As the creature gains a sense of self from others, his wonder became plagued with doubt as he gained knowledge. He determined that he wasn’t even considered within the same nature as mankind, due to his forced isolation from others and rejection. His own self is a cause for rejection, and he hides from the cottagers, trying hard to gain a piece of them he can share. Because of how he is physically constituted throughout the novel, whether through cadavers’ body parts by Victor, or through the development of his language from the De Lacey’s, there’s a genuine part of him that wants to be a part of something he cannot fully be, thus establishes a sense of doubt and uncertainty. With the letters written by Safie, a parallel figure to the creature, she is something he isn’t – a human, accepted by others and a vital player in his own history and self. As he has doubts in his own being, her own letters, her language being conveyed to Victor is a sort of stability the creation lacks due to his own nature and creation.

Over the course of the semester, I’ve become most interested in the usage of language and communication, both as tools to reach an ideal “I”, and as a way for different literature to communicate with each other. To me, the idea of language as both a tool and a barrier that we use to try to embody the symbolic is deeply fascinating, affecting us not only on a person-to-person scale, but on a cultural scale. There’s some pure form behind Frankenstein, out of the reach of the novel and the films. Words, Lacan reminds us, are just approximations. These works constantly speak to each other, trying to build towards that imago, that idealized pure form they want to be. Kenneth Branagh’s film tried to exceed the novel — and yet his Creature, designed to be sympathetic, came out as little more than a sadistic monster by the end of the movie. The lack of sympathy felt towards the Creature is due to it’s total lack of the novel’s psychodynamic linguistic elements.

Language, and particularly the Creature’s linguistic development, play a key role in the novel. His narration offers a window into his psyche, and it reveals his deep adoration for the De Lacey’s. It displays the nature of his development, showing how the Creature identified the De Lacey’s as his ideal “I”, rather than his own reflection. When the De Lacey’s betray him and he realizes his imago is a lie, he is  submerged in the Real. His violence becomes not just a response to society rejecting him, but a result. In the film, this adoration is made unclear. Branagh removed the narration but failed to compensate for the lost window. The De Lacey’s are never made into his imago, and the Creature’s turn from docile to hostile becomes far more one-dimensional than the complex motivations of the character in the novel.

The film, rather, tries to communicate and outdo the novel by heightening the intensity of the conclusion by including the composite female body. Diverting from the novel after following it (mostly) faithfully for it’s duration is a direct comment on the novel; the film, looking back through time seems to say “Hey! It’s the 20th century! We can give women a choice!” However, this choice falls flat. It essentializes women, instead: it combines two starkly different women–servant Justine and aristocratic Elizabeth–into one body in an attempt to unify all women. The message comes out muddled, and the film seems to say that all women want choice. The novel, however, resists such temptations. Such is the nature of aspiration and competition. While it can lead to profound success, it can also destroy the fine balance of an existing literary work. In the end, Kenneth Branagh’s film shows just how minute of a tight-rope Shelley walked when writing Frankenstein. The story she was trying to reach is within her grasp, so much so that I doubt anyone will ever use language to get closer.