I feel as though, following my reading of Frankenstein, I need to do some kind of deep analysis of its themes and subtext. There is so much just beneath the surface that needs further research and thought. Alas, I don’t really have time for a self-imposed literature assignment, so I’ll just stick with a book review and a few random thoughts and observations for now.
Frankenstein is the tale of a man whose thirst for knowledge and invention is his ultimate undoing – a ‘modern’ tale of Prometheus. Frankenstein is a florid and impetuous young man, who allows himself to become distracted from his typical education and instead makes a vigorous study of occultist pseudo-science. Without considering the consequences of his actions, he creates life in the form of a nameless wretched ‘monster’. To misquote a phrase: he was so focussed on whether he could, he forgot to consider whether he should.
His immediate response upon seeing his creature – the culmination of his study and experimentations – was… underwhelming. He looked upon his creation with despair and promptly took to bed, effectively abandoning it. This will be a recurring theme throughout Frankenstein: where our problematic creator suffers physical ailments after emotional upsets. While he is on best rest, recovering over many months from his fever and associated weaknesses, his creation absconds…. For a time.
After many months and a mysterious murder, we are with Frankenstein when he learns the tale of his creation’s life after being ‘born’. The monster has awareness and inherent intelligence, but no language initially. He hides in the shadows, subsists on roots and berries, and learns about language and love from the shadows while intimately observing a poverty-stricken family. But due to his deformities, he is hated by all who lay their eyes upon him. He is different, and different is bad. After one too negative many run-ins with the human race, Frankenstein’s monster decides to lean in to his ‘bad’ reputation by killing targeted individuals that he believes will cause Frankenstein the most pain. The monster promises to stop being naughty if Frankenstein would just create him a companion – a woman.
Frankenstein umms and aaahs over this request for a while, ultimately deciding that he should not give the monster what it seeks and seemingly disregarding the very real consequences that the monster promised if its request was not granted.
Unsurprisingly, Frankenstein is penned by a women. Shelley wrote the entire novel as an 18 year old. And although the only characters in the novel with any agency or intelligence are male (females characters are left to be beauties and/or nurturers), I’m still not surprised this was penned by a woman. Because, at its core, I feel that Frankenstein is about the dark side of motherhood. I’m going to break this down in very broad, hetero-normative generalisations here (apologies in advance – you’ve been warned).
In the same way that biology compels some women to reproduce, Frankenstein is compelled to create his monster. In the same way some women become fixated on the pregnancy/birthing experience while neglecting to consider the realities of actually raising a child, Frankenstein is fixated on the act of creation without once considering what he’s going to do with this creature when it awakens. And in the same way that some women ultimately regret their choice and learn that motherhood isn’t for them, Frankenstein learns that he is not willing or able to make the sacrifices necessary to care for his creation or teach it the ways of the world.
Yep, even just writing that down I can see how potentially offensive it is. Again, I’m sorry. But that is true to my observations both of the book and of motherhood (insert obvious ‘it takes two people to make a child, fathers have just as much a responsibility to raise offspring as mothers’ etc, and again acknowledge I’m being extremely hetero-normative here).
In that way, Frankenstein reminded me a little of Lionel Shrivers ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’. What happens when the being we create turns out to be evil? What was the creator’s role in that outcome, if any? It’s a deep and uncomfortable question.
My criticism of the book is the suspension of disbelief needed in order to accept the series of events that follow the monster’s creation. For someone smart enough to create life, Frankenstein is pretty dumb. The monster makes a very clear and cogent threat to Frankenstein, and then Frankenstein acts blindsided and distraught when the threat becomes a reality. It’s a bit silly, really. But still, a genuine classic that I enjoyed reading . I thought I knew about Frankenstein, but really had only a shallow understanding of the plot prior to reading.
3 mutinous seafaring deckhands out of 5.