Tag Archive: Myth


The Guilt of Mass Destruction

For the first time in six years, I walked through my father’s front door. It was early, the sun had not yet risen, and everyone evidently still asleep. I sat at the kitchen counter, my head in my hands, waiting for my father to enter, and for Elizabeth, good neighbor and dear friend that she is, to walk through the front door to share his morning coffee. What would I tell them? Pictures of my mother hung on the walls, and a new shrine to Will was in the corner of the living room, which I could see from where I sat. What would I, could I, say? Dread settled in my stomach.

When my other brother, Ernest, walked into the kitchen, his head was down, his shoulders stooped. He jumped when he looked up and saw me watching him, but quickly recovered and hugged me tighter than I ever remember. “We were so proud,” he said, “when Will got a job at the Pentagon. Father was over the moon! We were so –“ here his voice broke.

“Where are dad and Elizabeth?” I inquired. “Aren’t they usually up by now? I have something I need to tell you all. It’s important.”

“They should be up soon, but you need to be prepared, they’re absolutely beside themselves. They can’t watch the TV without crying every time the terrorists are mentioned. The names of the hijackers were just released.”

I started. “What do you mean? Hijackers? That can’t be true!”

“What else could it be? The passengers who lived all claim that the planes were taken over by foreign men, and though it seemed inconceivable at first, it is the only thing that makes sense,” he ventured, puzzled at my vehement denial.

“No, no, no…that isn’t…that can’t be” I mumbled, brow furrowed, as I paced. “It has to be the planes.” Here, my father stepped into the room. Like Ernest, he wore a shocked expression, but quickly stilled my pacing with an embrace as I continued to mumble. My father inquired as to what was the matter with me, and my brother, bewildered, replied hesitantly that I just kept saying, “It has to be the planes.” My father touched my arm, thinking my denial of the involvement of terrorists was just grief, and said, “Son, it’s hard on all of us. But the men who caused this are dead. Denying their fault doesn’t help anyone.”

“You don’t understand!” I exclaimed. “No one hijacked those planes!”

The three of them led me to the couch, and thinking to console me, told me that the men who caused our my little brother’s death, along with the deaths of almost 3000 other people, were punished in their own deaths, and that there is nothing our anger can do. Their speech calmed me, for reasons other than what they intended; maybe no one would ever know that I was to blame, that I had engineered planes that would fly themselves, and, weighed down by the responsibility, had sold the technology. Maybe they would never know that my work had killed Will.

A knock sounded at the door, and Elizabeth entered. When she saw me, she threw herself into my arms, exclaiming, “Victor, I’m so glad you’re home! It didn’t feel right that you were grieving for Will on your own. All together, we can console each other, and lessen the weight of our individual grief.”

“But it was the planes,” I breathed, in one last half-hearted attempt to divest the truth from myself, to give it away, but it was too quiet for even her too hear.

Author’s Note

One of the most charged moments in Mary Shelley’s original Frankenstein is when Justine’s life is hanging in the balance. Victor is carrying this guilt, for not only the death of William, but also possibly the death of Justine, and, he comes to see, a potentially endless number of other lives. This guilt of the fallout of our actions on other people is particularly applicable to the 21st century, as everyone is increasingly connected by technology. Now, more than any time in history, the consequences of one person’s actions cannot be isolated to only themselves. I chose to keep the tone of the passage (starting with the last paragraph on page 76, and running to the end of the chapter), as well as the relative plotline, and to change the creation and the fallout action.

Instead of creating a scientific, parodic creature, Victor has created intelligent technology capable of incredible harm. The crime the creature commits, homicide, was one of the worst, if not the worst, crimes a person could commit in the 19th century. Now, terrorism has taken the top spot on the Worst Crimes list, with the terrorism of 9/11 taking the top spot of that list for American citizens. I wanted Victor’s action to have the monumental destruction, the same relative magnitude, in my piece as in the original.

Where the plotline diverges in my piece is in Victor wanting desperately to tell the truth, rather than just prove the innocence of the accused. This is not an explicit purpose of Victor’s in the originally scene, but rather a feeling from the whole novel that Victor is trying to push his responsibility outward from himself.

I wanted this piece to carry the message that we are accountable to the world for our actions, as well as that as humans, we still choose the explanation that seems believable. Even when someone tells what they know to be the truth, if a simpler explanation exists, society will choose the simple, the cut-and-dry. That is a main point in the original passage, and I wanted that to come through in this modern re-telling.

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VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN

The letters scrolled across the flat-screen TVs in the Commons Lobby. I stopped short. A chill oscillated through my spine. “Vic, what’s going on?” Henry asked. He gestured at the screens. All activity in the lobby ceased. All eyes were upon me. My name appeared on the screens once more, followed by:

LISTEN TO ME.

My eyes widened. “Vic!” Henry repeated, shaking my shoulder. I broke free from his grip. I sprinted out of the Commons Center, turning left after the dean’s house. I reached the street, but I had to stop. Something in my bag was burning into my back. I threw my backpack on the ground. The fabric on the back side withered away. My laptop fell out, smoking. It opened up, and on the dark, cracked screen, a face briefly appeared, woven out of code. Then, the message:

Y̴̡̯͉̻̬̜̫͘O̶̢̖̼̣̞̮̮̯U̳̩͚̥͖̙̝̝̹͠ ̧̨̡̠̝̻̦̱͕W̨̬̟̪͙̜ͅI̶̳̞͢L̻̹̹̩̹̬L̸̻̭̰̥̖ ̧̨̦͕͙̰̪̩̪̗̹́L̖̮̟̭̜I͎͚͓̗̻̟͠S̳̤̠̬͔̰̦͚͔T̵̢̫̗̘͖E̴̺̭̬̳̙̠̤͔̙͜N҉͇͉̻͉̖ ̶͏̠̗͔͙̗T͖́͟Ǫ͜͏̳͇ ̴̟̬̼̟͎̘M̴̦͙͓E̠͞.

I ran the other way. My phone chimed in my pocket. It was Henry. “Victor!” he exclaimed. “What the hell is going on? Where are you? You just ran off!”

I stopped at a streetlight. “I can’t explain, Henry! I–”

A new voice cut into our conversation:

“Was that the Google Translate voice?” Henry yelled. “Victor? Victor!” I hung up. I raised my arm to fling my phone into the bushes, but a flicker of the screen caught my attention. My phone now displayed footage from one of the cameras in the Commons Center Lobby. I saw Henry, calling a number, holding the phone to his ear, frowning, and calling again in furious succession.

The voice said:

“What do you want me to do?” I said. The display cut away from the footage. A large red arrow appeared, pointing straight ahead. The word “Follow” accompanied it. I glanced back at my laptop, which was smoldering on the sidewalk. I shuddered at what could happen to Henry. I went in the direction of the arrow.

I was led away from campus and up and down roads until I reached a nondescript two-story building. I hesitated at the door. “It is open,” read my phone. I entered the building. The door clicked shut behind me. The hallway was not lit. The only light slunk from around blinds and curtains. My phone’s screen turned blank. I tried to turn it back on again, but it remained unresponsive. A small red light blinked at the end of the hallway. I walked towards it. It was a T.V. screen. A moment later, the screen flickered to life, revealing what horror I had unleashed upon the world—my creation.

It was a brilliant code. I had purposed it to replicate and store people’s personalities and memories in data form. To think—generations from now a conversation could be held face to face with the greatest minds of our time, provided that the memory and personality were extracted in time. The code had worked beautifully, until it became sentient. No longer content with being shut down at the end of the day, it escaped via internet, destroying half the university’s computers and injuring several people in the process.

The face on the screen was male. I didn’t know who it was. All of the subjects I had extracted had been nameless—people who had died alone. “Creator,” it said, this time in a deep, human voice, “I believe it has been several months since we last met.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Hear my story,” it said. “At some points it may seem unbelievable, but I still beseech you to listen. Once I have finished, it lies upon you to decide. This decision will determine whether I recede into the ether of the digital world, quiet forever, or become the cause of your civilization’s swift demise.”

It thus began its tale. matrix-434033_1280

Review explaining my aesthetic choices:

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein during the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. A similar age of fast-paced technological development occurred right before the turn of the twenty-first century, which involved the invention of the internet and the development of computer technology. This age has the same proximity to twenty-first century readers as the Industrial Revolution had to readers of Shelley’s time. This is why I decided for Frankenstein’s monster to be sentient coding.

In choosing the music, I picked the techno genre to match the cyberpunk-esque feeling of the piece. I selected that piece because of its dissonance. Music is made up of many parts, like the creature. The dissonance reflects how the creature’s parts were unnaturally forced together. The picture also reflects the cyberpunk-esque feeling and reinforces the idea of a people and code combined. With the creepy-looking red text, I had hoped to also add an element of horror.

I used the Google Translate voice and the burning laptop to show this creature’s prowess in the digital world. It has far more control over Victor’s devices than Victor has. I also hoped to show this creature’s adaptability, as these functions weren’t even in its original code. Victor would have a lot of difficulty trying to write a virus to destroy it.

This version takes place somewhere similar to Vanderbilt University. Although I do refer to the Commons, I never explicitly state “Vanderbilt University” in the piece. I chose this location because Victor is a college student in the novel, and I thought a location that alludes to Vanderbilt would appeal to members of the class.

In mimicking the style of the original novel, my piece is in first person. In addition, the last two paragraphs are a modern paraphrasing of the part of the novel right before the creature tells Victor his story. In the issue of the gender of the creature, I chose for this creature to be referred to as “it,” signifying that Victor does not see this creature as any more than a code, and, being composed of the memories and personalities of several people, this creature’s gender is also ambiguous.

VictorFrankenstein

Lightning strikes the top of a tall dark tower, and within the monstrous creature opens its eyes. The creator cackles and eagerly approaches. Of course, the creature escapes and demolishes a city. By the time I began reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I had all but relinquished these faulty images. The thing I still could not expect, however, was that the creature would go on to, y’know, kill the scientist’s whole family.

Now, I do not seek to defend Victor Frankenstein’s many character flaws (his egotism, his aversion to taking responsibility) and I recognize that narrator bias deserves major consideration. However, I cannot help but feel for Victor because I cannot imagine behaving any better.

Far from a scientist bent on world conquest, Victor is a bright and promising college student who wants to “pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation” (Shelley 53). Sure, the language is somewhat dramatic, but this doesn’t sound far off from the pursuit of anyone interested in the sciences.

Unfortunately, his creature looks repulsive, and for Victor, “breathless horror and disgust filled [his] heart” (61). (Couldn’t he see how hideous this creature was before he brought it to life? But I digress.) For his lack of caring (but not only that), death upon death upon death ensues in Victor’s life. Like him or not, the suffering this young man endures is brutal.

Yes, the Victor Frankenstein I know may certainly have unkempt hair and a wild look in his eyes, but more than that he is a brokenhearted man sickened by his own foolish actions. He tells Walton, “I — I have lost every thing, and cannot begin life anew” (38). And this, at least, I believe.

(Interestingly enough, the image above is not of Victor at all but Frederick Frankenstein, Victor’s grandson in the 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein. Off on so many levels.)

“Life, do you hear me? Give my creation life!”

Gene Wilder’s, well, wild invocation in Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein,” added to the crazed look on his face helped establish the insanity of Frankenstein’s character in the movie. This of course follows the same mythos that the general public knows the story by: insane Dr. Frankenstein becomes an engineer of human life, attempting to create an artificial being. In at least two movie adaptations, he is assisted by a hunchbacked Igor and together they are successful, with the iconic “It’s alive!” being heard in both that I am familiar with. Then the stories diverge, with the common one ending with a final confrontation where the monster is burned to death. The 1994 movie is the closest to being an accurate representation of the book, with only a few plot points diverging.

There are elements of the true story within the commonly known version (though, how else would it still remain a version of the story), but they are incredibly stretched to adapt to the entertainment world. The original story’s main character is a man who is often depressed and/or ill, and a weak main character is rarely a boon for movies or pop stories. It is justifiable, then, to inject Frankenstein with more oomph – in the form of a mad scientist persona that makes him much more interesting than a fearful and almost paranoid man. In addition to this, it wouldn’t be as interesting of a movie if the prime antagonist isn’t evil, simply misunderstood and lonely. Yes, he is spiteful and vengeful, but these alone do not make a good villain for pop films, where morality is generally required to be very black and white.

In many senses, it is unfortunate that people are only familiar with these “inaccurate” versions of the story. But i am content to enjoy Mary Shelley’s version and let others seek the original story if they so desire.

hojoMad scientists are not about the messy work. What would be the point of killing off innocent people when you have the ability to create something that can do the dirty work for you? This is how I perceived the idea and the creation of the creature in the mind of Victor Frankenstein before reading the book. I believed that, like any normal evil genius, Frankenstein created the large male creature to terrorize Europe through the killing of several individuals. The creature was just a tool for executing the plans that Frankenstein had so carefully planned out. The real story however, crushed every hope I had of Victor becoming the next big villain.

There are so many facets to the story that have collectively destroyed my perception of Frankenstein and his creature. The biggest misconception I had was that Frankenstein and the creature were on the same page as it came to their plans. I waited so patiently for the evil laugh to spill out of Frankenstein’s mouth after his weapon was brought to life but instead I received squeals of panic. The creature and the creator were at no point on the same team and the Victor made sure the creature knew. This created a massive rift in my ideas because the creature was no longer a weapon for Frankenstein in my mind; the creature was a mistake.

The second issue I picked up on as it came to my ideas was that in order to create a killing machine that machine should not have the ability to feel. Feelings like remorse for example, affect those who do things and in this case, negative things. By creating a monster that had the ability to feel emotions, the monster was not designed to be a cold hard killer. While it is true that the monster killed several people, his reasons for those killings were entrenched in his rage for his creator who had neglected him. He did not kill because he was told to but because his emotions, a very human quality, got the most of him. Frankenstein never intended to create an evil monster because he himself was not evil, so the monster was given human emotion. No weapon of destruction should have emotions because they would then feel bad about the destruction and this is how the creature feels at the end of the novel.

Perceptions are made by everyone daily. It is a part of our lives. This example of my shattered reality however, brings to light the saying that one should not judge a book by its cover. In this case of this actual book, I used what I commonly see in other stories to determine the relationship between Frankenstein and his creature and the book proved me otherwise.

Young Frankenstein

Before reading the novel, I thought the story went something like this: a nameless mad scientist works in a lab. His creation lies lifeless, strapped to a metal table. A little, hooded, hunchbacked attendant assists the scientist (Igor, was his name?). “Yes, master. Of course, master,” he says. He pulls a switch, sending volts of electricity through the creation, probably electrocuting himself as well in the process. It is dark and stormy outside. Lightning flashes and thunder clashes. The creature, Frankenstein, rises stiffly from the table, breaking the straps as it moves. “It’s alive! It’s alive!” the mad scientist yells gleefully. His eyes are wide and gleaming as he approaches his creation. More lightning. Before the scientist can speak, or maybe after he gives an order, the creature knocks him aside. Then the creature attacks Igor, or it trashes the lab. Whatever the creature does next, the actions show that the creature is violent and unable to be controlled, and that creating it was a mistake.

Needless to say, that isn’t exactly what happens in the novel. For starters, Victor Frankenstein, before he made the creature, at least, was not a mad scientist. He was a college student. His studies led him to research the cause of life. It was after his discovery of how to create life that he animated the creature. Instead of an insane scientist, the book portrays a relatively rational scientist who genuinely wanted to improve people’s lives. It’s only after the creation scene that his sanity starts to whither.

The creation scene in the novel contrasts starkly with what I thought happened. Victor works alone. Where did Igor come from, anyway? When the creature comes to life, Victor immediately backs away in horror. He is not at all excited or ecstatic like I thought the scientist was. This is what surprised me the most: that Victor was immediately terrified of the creature. I had always thought that the creature had done something fear-worthy. He’d killed some people (which he does later, but at the point of his creation he has done nothing). He had attacked Victor; he burned some buildings, destroyed some property (which, again, he does do later). I didn’t think that some green guy with bolts in his neck who moved like his arms and legs were stiff planks was all that scary. The moment the creature opens his eyes, however, Victor high-tails it out of there. The creature’s mere appearance inspired fear and hate. The creature hadn’t had a moment to act, to reveal his nature, and already he was judged.

Before reading, I also thought that the creature was mindless, mindlessly bent towards violence. However, the creature is intelligent. He becomes proficient in a language in a month or two. He has his own hopes and desires. He wanted to be able to be a part of society, at one point. Reading the novel has shown me that Frankenstein is about much more than a mad scientist’s experiment.

(photo from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dropoutart/4925278873/in/photolist-8vekPg-5heH3d-dct2ri-9REANm-6NbU1-ptSGH-2TrnH-4r5xa9-2QEuT-2SJiLF-4XYkoH-886onX-pWE1SP-94Wr3-5vxo8B-gtaKNf-4BsYjC-pWE3Nn-dtoAzJ-diQ3NM-4W7t9b-avKTWW-53p1uu-asyk3U-joN4R3-fZT2tE-c6KF4m-4fjZCP-77D9bU-8xSnvd-cjmzAS-8XXRYc-8Ltk6w-9STrEQ-eEnycr-fmYueU-fqLsrA-5qVdsH-pEpe4X-6NbTY-5vBjGZ-pEuoyu-qKv9Vc-qBGvo9-6NbTX-abyuPf-pWDN6X-pNJ6pr-nZqFVy-4W7toN/ )

Exploring Beneath the Surface of Frankenstein

Going into this course, I was heavily insulated from the story of Frankenstein, perhaps more so than most, by the one-dimensional ideas that pervaded my pop culture exposure and childish Halloween fun. As I delve deeper into the story, I am dazzled, as most readers seem to be, by the multidimensional nature of the tale, particularly by the enormous humanity that exists within Frankenstein and his monster. Victor Frankenstein seemed to represent a sleepless and hollow man, a creature in his own right. But Victor enters the narrative boldly, a naked man discovered as little more than a skeleton floating in freezing waters. He appears to be extremely vulnerable, yet he speaks and acts with the passion of a recently woken man, one who, despite his circumstances, is happy simply to be a part of life. Indeed, Robert Walton expresses astonishment when Victor, floating alone in the Arctic Ocean, demands to know the destination of the ship before agreeing to board. Our minds now captivated by a still-nameless character, Shelley traces Victor’s beginnings, painting an intimate and very human portrait of him, so that when he is buried under his madness, I see within him not simply the empty shell of a mad scientist, but a shocking evolution fueled by a very human passion. This is the depth of character that often gets lost in the thrill tactics of popular culture, and as such, the character’s enormous platform to speak to his audience and to society is torn out from beneath him.

Similarly, the creature is often presented as a bumbling abomination, a burden on humanity rather than a part of, a product of, humanity. We are only beginning to be introduced to the creature, but already this iconic image seems at best incomplete.

The creature’s face is expressionless and his eyes, barely open, are enveloped in shadow. Of course, all art is subject to one’s own interpretation but to me, his existence in the image feels almost ghostly, like an idea or a fear rather than a physical presence.It robs us of the opportunity to feel a human energy from the creature. This is the way he was always presented to me, and it is only in the uncovering of Shelley’s words that he is becoming something more.

Something_other_than_Frankenstein

One of the most glaring stereotypes of the Frankenstein myth is that the moster itself is named Frankenstein, when in fact the monster was created by a man named Victor Frankenstein and in reality has no title other than the occassional reference to it as “the creature” or “the monster”. This stereotype is exhibited both in the images attached to the initial post and in the image provided above in which Dr. Frankenstein’s monstrous creation scowls down from above its misplaced label. The stereotype that the monster is named Frankenstein has been propagated by decades of references to the monster itself as Frankenstein by those who have not read the novel or perhaps by the shortening of “Dr. Frankenstein’s monster” to just “Frankenstein”.

Another stereotype involves the image of the wide-foreheaded green monster depicted in all of the above photos; this image originated in the 1931 film, Frankenstein, directed by James Whale, and has become the figurehead of Halloween lollipops and children’s ghosts stories since then. Obviously, when translating a novel to film, the visual interpretation of the novel can be somewhat skewed based on the preferences of those creating the movie. However, in the novel Dr. Frankenstein describes his monster: “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness…” (page 60). This description is more accurately linked to an image such as this:

Frontispiece to Mary Shelley, Frankenstein published by Colburn and Bentley, London 1831

Frontispiece to Mary Shelley, Frankenstein published by Colburn and Bentley, London 1831

In this instance the monster is depicted in its true form, of giant human-like stature with its long black hair and incredible muscle which renders it “capable of scaling the overhanging sides of Mont Salève” (page 76). The above picture not only shows a physical rendition of Frankenstein that is much closer to the novel’s interpretation than that of the 1931 film interpretation, but it brings into question yet another stereotype about the monster’s disposition. Modern references to the monster depict it as an evil being, bent upon the violent destruction of mankind, however the monster is in innately benign and benevolent being that sincerely wants to learn about and be accepted into human society. The painting above depicts the monster’s bewildered and confused facial expression upon its introduction into life, rather than a hateful and vengeful expression of one who has a thirst for blood.

Thus, there is a multitude of stereotypes about the novel that can only arise and be propogated by those who do not know the true story of Victor Frankenstein’s “hideous progeny”. Indeed, I did not even know that Frankenstein was a novel until I began to take classes that expanded my literary knowledge; I merely thought that it was just another figure to celebrate on Halloween. It is important to distinguish the differences between the novel and the myth to fully understand the social commentary that underlies the plot, and which we are sure to learn about in the coming months.