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The Outsider In Don Quixote And Frankenstein

1497 words - 6 pages

Regarding the seeds of creativity that produced her Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
paraphrases Sancho Panza, explaining that “everything must have a beginning.” She and
Percy Shelley had been reading Don Quixote, as well as German horror novels, during
the “wet, ungenial summer” and “incessant rain” of their stay with Lord Byron at Villa
Diodati in Geneva in 1816. In his introduction, Maurice Hindle notes the connection
between the two fictional madmen:

Both Don Quixote and Frankenstein start out with the noble intention of
helping their fellow creatures, but their aspirations are doomed by their
pursuit of a „single vision,. one that takes them further and further away
from satisfying the moderate needs of the community, and nearer and
nearer to a personally tragic denouement. (Frankenstein xxxviii)

Society, too, must have had its beginning, but theorists from Hume to Marx to Darwin
and writers such as Shelley and Dostoevsky may never solve the question of whom or
what came first: the individual or the community? One thing seems clear: whether via
sensational impressions, inductive reasoning, or common sense, the individual cannot
long survive without meaningful inclusion within the larger group of humanity. From
childhood, we recognize the profound hurt that comes from exclusion from the majority,

and this alienation, in Marxian parlance, can lead to an antagonistic position toward
society, as dramatized in both Frankenstein.s “monster” and Dostoevsky.s Underground
Man. The monster proclaims in his agony that he is “malicious because I am miserable,”
and he is miserable, no doubt, because he is not merely alone but shunned from society
(147). Shelly.s creation is in part derived from her father.s philosophy, who, in resisting a
“Hobbesian view of nature as essentially self-interested, held that virtue and happiness
could only spring from socially considered and constituted aims: „the true solitaire cannot
be considered as a moral being…His conduct is vicious because it has a tendency to
render him miserable.” (Frankenstein xxxii). This would seem evident in the
Underground Man who rails against society because he is an outcast and is
hyperconscious of this state because he is highly educated, but Godwin would argue, via
Rousseau.s Confessions, that the creature begins in an unadulterated, unfallen state of
innocence and is subsequently corrupted by an unlearned, un-enlightened society and
suffers additionally because he is a tabula rasa, uneducated. The chicken and the egg
conundrum continues to revolve. Nearly a century earlier, David Hume, despite his
refusal to accept cause and effect as having a “necessary” connection, writes in the
conclusion to Book I of A Treatise of Human Nature of his own equally morbid and
pitiable existence as a direct consequence of social alienation:

I am first affrighted and confounded with that forelorn solitude, in which I
am...

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