Discuss The Significance Of Mary Shelley’s Decision To Give The Monster In Frankenstein An Articulate Voice.

1042 words - 5 pages

The monster in literature is often presented as a serious threat to society and the established order. To be a monster is to be against nature, to induce terror and unsettle in a radical way. Shelley’s decision to present her monster’s thoughts as fully formed and carefully constructed subvert the conventional expectations of what a monster should be. After all, language and rhetoric can be strengths equal to combat when authority is challenged, as Fred Botting puts it in his book Making Monstrous: Frankenstein, Criticism, Theory ‘Language becomes the site on, in and for which contests of authority are performed’ (1991, Chapter 1). Botting was speaking about revolution in this passage but when applied to the contest for a readers’ sympathy, the same is true. We acknowledge the humanness in the monster more immediately and instinctively than his more recognisably human creator. The articulate voice is largely responsible for this affinity, strengthened by the universal torment that the voice is being used to express.
The intensity of feeling that the creature demonstrates is perhaps most present in the adolescent mind, Mary Shelley wrote the novel in her late teens and her own insecurities are no doubt detectable in her prose. The monster’s ability to express this angst aligns his struggle with the path towards adulthood; the monster’s first experiences can be seen as a compressed version of infant development or the early history of our own species. Victor’s creation is experiencing in reality what the adolescent imagines, the creature is literally being spurned by those he encounters, condemned never to be accepted as he is or embraced despite outward appearance. In isolation, the monster enjoys the sensations of nature and the simple pleasures it provides, a formative experience for the monster and a crucial phase of his education is his discovery of fire. Initially ‘overcome by delight with the warmth’ the monster leans towards the flame and reaching in pulls out with ‘a cry of pain’ (Shelley, 2008). That something can simultaneously hold the potential to be pleasurable and the potential to harm presents the creature with the contradictory nature of experience at its most basic level.
As the monster further educates himself, there are more questions to face and the cruelty and harshness of the world he finds himself in, through no choice of his own, is unveiled. Knowledge gives the monster his ability to articulate the pain he feels but it also adds to and accentuates the existing pain. As the critic Chris Baldick suggests ‘All three narrators of the novel are self-educated, and fall victim to this problem; seeking knowledge in solitude they are condemned only to find a more distressing knowledge of solitude’ (1987,Chapter 3, iii). The monster’s first formal introduction to language comes through Volney’s Ruins of Empires; this text is instrumental in the monster’s understanding of his own experience. The book, arguably presenting a cynical...

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