In Frankenstein the reader is faced with confused happenings concerning the quest for identity. The novel relies heavily on more than one literary genre to create this. Events in a realist novel are normally linear allowing the reader to identify both cause & effect. Regularly the story will be told through an omniscient narrator or single character that the reader grows to trust. However, from the outset the author draws our attention to the variation within the novel. Through the authors use of episolatory and biographical styles relating to Walton and Victor’s stories, in effect, the novel begins twice (The Realist Novel, p62).
Using the framework of the realist novel the author seeks to explore other genres to illustrate the wider psychological impact within the novel. This also leads the readers to search for the origins of each character. This mixture of genre allows the reader to experience different feelings of fear, sympathy and doubt throughout the novel. The novel presents an elaborate series of narratives; Walton, Victor, the Creature and Walton, all enfolded within one another. The author uses a diversity of voices and an absence of the omniscient narrator’s voice.
This works to emotionally distance the reader from any individual character. Allowing the reader to explore the novel freely, changing their viewpoint and sympathies. This enables the reader to reach their own conclusions. Initially the reader’s sympathies are with Victor as we perceive him as the Creature’s victim. “I felt cold and half-frightened as it were instinctively finding myself so desolate……. I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept. (Frankenstein, 1818, page 80)
The reader’s perspective and sympathies shift once we come to understand that the Creature is a victim, of both Victor and society. By the end of the novel, both the Creature and Victor’s mutual desire for revenge means that the reader’s compassion is split. The attainment of knowledge is a key theme to which the reader can associate throughout the novel. Walton, Victor and the Creature all begin their stories by explaining their world around them, although each has a different focus.
Walton and Victor’s thirst for knowledge is seen by the reader as arrogant and ambitious with disastrous consequences. The Creature’s by comparison is simple and pure and driven by necessity. Through the De Lacy’s incident the reader learns that the monster is not inherently evil and shows a more tender side to his nature. “My thoughts now became more active, and I longed to discover the motives and feelings of these lovely creatures….. that it might be in my power to restore happiness to these deserving people” ( Frankenstein, 1818,page 91)
Through the creature’s self-education, and reading of Victor’s journal, he learns of the horrific tale of his abandonment by Victor, he then seeks revenge on the person who created him. All the characters within the novel lend themselves to the realist, romantic and gothic theme. While some are presented in great detail, “His limbs were in proportion and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! – Great God ! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness. (Frankenstein,1818, page 39).
Other characters in the novel are undeveloped, allowing the reader to speculate on the emotional events and tragedy of the story. Many of the characters are seen to have similar interests. There is much duplication and doubling of the male characters within the novel Victor and Walton, show the readers that they have a similar ambition and thirst for knowledge. The readers understand the relationship between Victor and the Creature, through that of shadowing man and creator. With Victor’s dream of fatherhood he had created a living thing.
Following the creation of the Creature the readers learn what an irresponsible parent Victor is to be come “His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sound, while grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seeming to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs” (Frankenstein, 1818, page 40) An accumulation of events turns the creature into a murderer. However, within the gothic genre the reader is compelled to develop their own understanding of the creature not only the emotional aspects, but also as a double of Victor.
The conclusion for the reader is in spite of their marked differences, their fate will be the same, ‘ultimately, failure and death’ (The Realist Novel, page 80). By the end of the novel Victor and presumably the Creature are dead, whilst Walton returns to England unsuccessful in his quest. This disregard for basic human rights and decency is a theme that emerges throughout the novel. Justice, parental responsibility, oppression, the right to education and companionship are all addressed by the author.
The rejection of children by their parents and the Creature’s desire for love and affection, are all emotive issues to which the reader can connect with. Society’s inability to see the true reality beneath the appearance is a central theme. The Creature is not judged by his actions, such as saving the drowning girl but instead by his grotesque and frightening appearance. The perception of most of the humans who he comes into contact is distorted and barring the blind, old man De Lacy who judges him by his sentiments, they attack rather than accept him.
Society’s prejudices against those who are physically different is a theme to which readers can relate too. As a consequence of the author’s use of recognisable themes we are drawn in and find ourselves accepting the far-fetched context in which they are set. Although a link is established between Victor’s experiments and the scientific discoveries of their time, the plot at the centre of the novel is extreme and sensational. Victor’s experiment is possible by drawing the reader’s attention away from the biological detail and focuses us instead on the grotesque description of the Creature he has created.
His fantasies and desires cause him to follow an unnatural route of playing both mother and father to the creature he creates in his “workshop of filthy creation” (Frankenstein, 1818, page 36). Using valid time and place as the characteristic of realism, the author allows the reader to explore the deeper psychology of the human form. This is what Roland Barthes would refer to as “true to life” (The Realist Novel, page 260). This use of realism and the far reaching boundaries of the gothic genre serve to heighten the fear and disgust that the readers feel towards the characters.
The settings in the novel are largely recognisable and specific, adding to the reality of the novel. The references to actual destinations such as; Geneva, Orkney Islands and the North Pole. The use of destinations as well as dates and time of Walton’s letters, are common throughout the novel. In addition the reader can relate to accurate descriptions of the inspiring power of nature.
This use of realism has an ability to help lift the readers’ spirits as they are taken on a turbulent journey through Frankenstein and its different genres. It was a divine spring; and the season contributed greatly to my convalescence. I felt also sentiments of joy and affection revive in my bosom. ‘ (Frankenstein,1818, page 44) However, although we acknowledge the reality of place and time in the novel, the healing power of nature is more liked to romanticism. Furthermore the gothic overtones of particular settings cannot be ignored. The remoteness prepares the reader for Walton’s extraordinary sighting and the incredible story that Victor will tell. In addition the inclusion of the prisons in the novel, are as symbolic as they are real.
The prison which constrains Justine and Victor as well as the Creature’s miserable dwelling and Victor’s solitary life all symbolise mental as well as physical imprisonment. Realist writing usually deals with morals and issues within society. Shelly has used different genres to help the reader understand the assortment of moral and social issues that arise in the novel. The characters are shown to the reader by the narrative style of the author and using other genre the readers are encouraged to develop their own thoughts and viewpoint about them.
This method of encouraging the reader’s imagination to uncover some incredible events, mysterious settings and satanic imagery are all features of the gothic genre. This use of mixed genre enables to develop a deeper understanding and the key characteristics of the novel and the way that Shelly flows between the genres makes this novel more believable. By incorporating gothic, realist and romantic genre, Shelley created a startling horror that would enable the reader to explore the principles of human nature.
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