Italo Calvino said that a classic is a book that has never finished what it has to say and this well defines Frankenstein which over the years has really caught the public imagination inspiring countless film and television versions and even video games thanks to strong themes that are still relevant to us today.
At Lost in Classics we can meet and reflect on these themes. This makes us feel part of a wider society and teaches us lessons about life and people. In fact this week in the Facebook Group I will be posting on some of these and it it would be great to have your comments. Sharing our opinions is vital because our interpretation of themes is very personal. It is not stated in plain words. The theme is a message that you take away from the book. We may not agree, we may open each others' eyes with our own unique viewpoint and experience. Reading and listening, the skills we use when reading a novel are mainly passive activities, to complete the experience it is effective to then produce in some way through speaking or writing, or writing and then speaking and put your thoughts out there, to contribute to the universal debate. What will your contribution be?
Let me get the ball rolling by putting in my own tuppence worth on three themes of Frankenstein: bio-ethics, prejudice and revenge.
Perhaps the most important theme of Frankenstein is in the science around it. At the time when the novel was written Luigi Galvani and his nephew Aldini had stimulated muscle contraction using electric currents and attempted to revive the dead through electricity and Jacques de Vaucanson had dabbled in replicating life through machines. This obviously raised ethical questions related to the desire to 'play God'. In our times of genetic engineering these questions are just as important today.
Can you think of any scientific discoveries that have very serious ethical implications? How is Frankenstein a cautionary tale for modern day scientific study? How should we, as a society, weigh ethical concerns with scientific advancement? And on a larger scale the ethics of it who is ultimately responsible for the monster's violent actions – Dr. Frankenstein or the monster? Does Dr. Frankenstein bear any responsibility for the violent actions of his creation? Do parents bear any ethical responsibility for the actions of their children?
Today our version of playing God is in the subject of genetic engineering and cloning. In terms of animals and plants there may be benefits for more effective production but my concern is that any possible side effects or negative consequences may take a long time to uncover themselves and by the time any problems come up it may be too late. What is really concerning for me is the manipulation of human genes and this raises ethical questions. Who can say that some genetic traits are wrong? How can we decide that someone's life is worth less than that of others? What makes a good life? Frankenstein is partly responsible for his monster's actions because he immeditaely abandoned him without helping or guiding him in any way as a parent should, but we can't indefinitely continue blaming our parents for our problems in life.
What do you think?
“Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?”
Mary Shelley chose to comment on the theme of prejudice not only towards the monster, but also towards foreigners, the lower classes, and women and coming from adults and children alike. By making the question so widespread we can question the destructive and isolating nature of prejudice and how we treat those who appear monstrous when we may be monsters ourselves. The monster seen as an object undeserving of a name and is judged through his appearance, Justine represents the lower classes and how they were suppressed by the upper classes, and she also represents women who suffered prejudice during that time period as they were voiceless and couldn’t defend themselves.
Thanks to the advances in our society we are now in many ways more tolerant of different physical and mental abilities, races, sexes and sexual orientations. But things are far from perfect. In general, which forms of prejudice seem to be declining over time, and which forms seem to be persisting or increasing? Which forms of prejudice most socially acceptable, and which are least acceptable? Why are some forms more acceptable than others? At a psychological level, what are the common denominators that link all forms of prejudice? Does the categorization of people always result in prejudice? What about categorizing people in a positive way -- does that result in prejudice? Does the very categorization of people -- for example, as female, a college student, African-American, or Texan -- necessarily rob them of individuality?
Today prejudice against people of different sexual orientations seems to be decreasing in many countries. Also, in terms of law and legislation prejudice against women and older people is decreasing, at least on paper. Women still encounter prejudice when applying for work and unfortunately cases of violence against women are increasing. Prejudice towards immigrants from other countries has been increasing in the last few years due to terrorism, mass immigration to Europe from Africa and the consequent rise in popularity of right wing political parties. Perhaps this prejudice is based on religion today rather than colour. Prejudice is aways about fear of the unknown. Positive discrimnation aims to gaurantee equal opportunities and is good in principal but does not always work in practice. When I watch TV I notice that today many people have mixed backgrounds and there are all types of families so it is important to speak and meet each other to break down barriers. Unfortunately, technology is encouraging us to isolate ourselves rather than share with others.
Revenge is a key theme in Frankenstein because it motivates both the creator and his monster. The monster seeks Revenge as he feels abandoned by his maker and this is further fuelled by Frankenstein's refusal to give him a mate. Frankenstein himself seeks Revenge on the monster for the deaths of William, Justine, Clerval and Elizabeth and this is all the more distressing for him because as the creator of the monster, he is shares the responsibility. Mary Shelley uses this theme because the desire for revenge is both timeless and powerful. It’s also a response to being hurt or slighted. It’s a reaction to feeling intimidated or victimized. It’s a way to gain power—real or imagined—over others. It’s rooted in primal emotions like passion and anger. And it’s a fundamental human feeling, one we’ve all felt perhaps more often than we’d like to admit. Mary Shelley experienced a lot of grief and loss in her life and it is probable she felt somehow responsible and certainly deeply hurt.
Why are we drawn to stories of vengeance? Why do you like them? Have you experienced holding a grudge against someone for a long time? What was the situation? How did you feel? Relate a time when you were younger that you gave or received payback/revenge for a wrong done. If you are not able to forgive others, you carry the burden on you and hurt yourself. Do you agree? Which is more pleasant, forgiving or taking revenge?
I think we like stories of vengeance because it gives us the possibility to do something with our imagination that we cannot do in our real lives. I don't like to hold grudges because I think when you do, It's you that feels bad whereas the other person involved is walking around without a care, so the bad feeling goes on you and not the other person that it is directed to. I usually keep calm up to a certain point and then I explode. Once when I was at secondary school I had lent something to a classmate that had been bullying myself and other girls for months and after several requests she still refused to give it back. In my rage I actually threw a chair at her! I don't want to advocate violent behaviout but it worked and I also gained the respect of the other girls beacuse I stood up to her but others wouldn't. It's always better to try to forgive but it's not easy whe you feel hurt.
I would love to hear your thoughts, let me know in the comments and please ask if you would like to join the Group and explore other themes this week. No hard feelings if you don't!
What is this?
When I started lostinclassics I looked for language lessons in the books I was reading, such as for example the use of phrasal verbs or inversion in conditionals and I explained them through examples found in the text. I also did reviews of the books I read and tried to give some advice on how to read classics using the various resources I know of. Then I switched to just reviews and lately I have been doing a bit of creative writing inspired by my reading. Who knows what I will come up with next!