Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Mary W. Shelley explored themes that still resonate today in her proto-science fiction work, Frankenstein. Themes of the relentless drive and search for ultimate (even forbidden) knowledge; intellectual arrogance; the desire to create something enduring; the need for love and recognition; and a study in how bitterness, hatred and rage can destroy a person. What separates men from God? What separates man from monster? Can a so-called monster have the heart (the humanity) and the accompanying needs and desires of a man? Does beauty or ugliness penetrate deeper than the skin? Can one expect good to come from an act of utter selfishness?
Frankenstein is very much a philosophical work. Although there are some primordial science fiction elements, they are merely the impetus--the laying of the groundwork for this story. For it is not about how Frankenstein makes his creation. It’s about the aftermath of that act. This is a moving work of fiction that skirts the edges of horror, but the horror is more of a psychological sort. The horror is that a man would take knowledge to create a man from unliving flesh. A man so hideous in visage that people turn away in horror. This man chases after his creator, demands his love and tender regard, to merely be noticed and acknowledged by his creator; and if not that, at least the right to have a companion in his lonely life. Many times, I was deeply affected emotionally by this story. I felt so much sympathy for the creature. To be brought to life and abandoned by his creator seemed so cruel. He couldn’t help that his external appearance was ugly and a constant reminder of the unspeakable act his maker had perpetrated. He had not been given the opportunity to prove that he was something more, something worthwhile; that he was capable of deep emotions, an ability to appreciate beauty in life, to love and to give to others. This made me so very sad. There were times when I truly felt disdain towards Frankenstein. For his arrogance, for his selfishness. Although Shelley couldn’t have known about the capabilities of science now, the caution about science and its ethical considerations couldn’t be more timely. Should we create something just because we have the knowledge and skill to do so? And how often do we truly count the cost of such an action before it’s too late? Although I felt great enmity towards Frankenstein at times, I certainly didn’t condone the creature’s actions. I felt a profound sense of horror when the created man committed acts of violence to innocents around him in vengeance against his creator. I was still angry at Frankenstein for bringing it on himself, but I also felt sad for him to lose everyone he valued in his life. Surely, he couldn’t have known how horrible the results his creation act would result in. When he is given the ultimatum to create a mate for the creature, I could understand his terrible dilemma, and I still question whether his final actions were the right ones. Finally, I was back to feeling pity for the creature, deeply empathizing with him in his loneliness, how his desire for love and understanding turned into selfish rage that he truly regretted and repented for in the end.
Mary Shelley doesn’t give the answers to these moral dilemmas. She merely presents these profound queries in this narrative. Where does it place the reader in the end? Deeply entrenched within this tumultuous, roiling cauldron of emotions—fear, love, rage, regret, hope, and despair. One simply cannot be detached when reading this book.
I found this to be very readable despite the fact that it was written about two hundred years ago. I only found my interest wavering in the moments of the somewhat excessive travelogues of the natural surroundings. In my opinion, this took up too prominent a role in the narrative, and it was distracting. Despite that small shortcoming, this was powerful reading, not comfortable, but deeply involving. No easy answers, but lots of questions for each reader to process and come up with their own conclusions. I won’t forget this book.
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