How do Frankenstein and Another Country articulate the experience of the outsider Essay Example
How do Frankenstein and Another Country articulate the experience of the outsider Essay Example

How do Frankenstein and Another Country articulate the experience of the outsider Essay Example

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James Baldwin's "Another Country" and Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" both portray to the reader the experiences of isolated individuals.

Despite their dates of publication being nearly one hundred and fifty years apart, the two novels share numerous similarities in their depiction of the "outsider", as the characters of Rufus and Victor both seem to isolate themselves due to feelings of guilt, as opposed to being uncontrollably excluded. One could justifiably suggest that every character in Baldwin's Another Country is an outsider in their own way. Eric, for example, lived in Paris for several years before returning to New York, and comes back to find the city in which he once lived 'very strange indeed' (Baldwin, 2001, p. 227). New relationships have been forged, a man he once loved is dead, and it soon


becomes clear to him that he has missed a lot of important occurrences in the lives of his friends, and that 'We're getting old ... and it damn sure didn't take long.' (Baldwin, 2001, p. 231)

Another outsider in the novel is Vivaldo: a white man who wishes to be accepted by the black community. Towards the end of the novel, his girlfriend Ida says: 'there's no way in the world for you to know what Rufus went through... not as long as you're white' (Baldwin, 2001, p. 344). Despite this being directed at their mutual friend Cass, her delivery is really aimed at every white character in the novel, and indeed every one of Baldwin's white readers. So, it could be said that Vivaldo's race immediately isolates him. However, it is the character of Rufus who comes across as especially alone: 'Beneath them Rufus

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walked, one of the fallen - for the weight of this city was murderous - one of those who had been crushed... (Baldwin, 2001, p. 14)

He beats his girlfriend, Leona - who is eventually committed to a mental hospital - and Rufus is unable to cope with his own guilt, and the judgement of those he cares most about. When he recalls his time spent in the Navy, it is clear that Rufus feels he has been particularly victimized due to his race: 'He remembered, suddenly, his days in boot camp in the South and felt again the shoe of a white officer against his mouth... Some of his colored buddies were holding him... helping him to rise. The white officer, with a curse, had vanished, had gone forever beyond the reach of vengeance. His face was full of clay and tears and blood; he spat red blood into the red dust.' (Baldwin, 2001, p. 22)

As Leona is a white, southern girl, it becomes apparent that Rufus feels that dominating her in this way is a reclamation of power over the white people that have oppressed him throughout his life. In Rufus' head, this oppression is peculiar to him: he is a black man in a white world, which underlines his status as an outsider. The very first chapter of the book opens with Rufus wandering through the New York City as a homeless man: 'he was broke. And he had nowhere to go.' (Baldwin, 2001, p. 13) These short sentences make it immediately clear to the reader that Rufus is on the outside, and feels like no one can help him get his normal

life back. In Another Country, Baldwin emphasizes Rufus' fall through a series of flashbacks. Starting with the night he met Leona, as a relatively successful and promiscuous jazz musician with a wide social circle, a stark comparison is made as Rufus stands 'before the misty doors of the jazz joint, peering in' (Baldwin, 2001, p.14).

This narrative technique is effective in emphasizing the contrast between past and present, reinforcing the idea that Rufus has found himself quite literally on the outside, looking in. In Shelley's Frankenstein, the two main characters of Victor Frankenstein and the 'creature' he brings to life are both outsiders. Most obviously, the creature (described as a 'daemon' and a 'monster') is neither human nor animal: the only hideous being of its kind, it goes into hiding and spends months observing a small family in an attempt to better understand the society it is not accepted by. The creature tells its creator: 'The more I saw of them, the greater became my desire to claim their protection and kindness' (Shelley, 2008, p.107), and yet when the family discovers the creature speaking to their blind father - a man who judges the creature purely on its speech, and the gentle personality it has formed - they are immediately shocked at its 'deformed and horrible' appearance, the brother attacks the creature, and it flees; once more an outsider.

The isolation of Victor is particularly interesting, however. He removes himself from those he loves due to the terrible guilt he feels about creating a monster which murdered his own infant brother, then allowing an innocent friend of the family to be executed for the crime: 'I was

absent when [the murder] was committed, and such a declaration would have been considered as the ravings of a madman.' (Shelley, 2008, p. 61) For fear of breaking the hearts of his father, brother, and beloved cousin, as well as the consequences he would face when his family undoubtedly questions his sanity, Victor's resolve[s] to remain silent.' (Shelley, 2008, p. 7)

Victor suddenly finds himself with a huge burden to bear. Therefore, both Rufus and Victor shun their loved ones in an attempt to hide their secrets and cope with their terrible remorse and shame. The narrative style of Frankenstein is rather like that of Another Country, as the book is told from several points of view.

The novel begins with letters from a ship's captain, named R. Walton, to his sister, in which he tells her his men rescued a man at sea: Victor Frankenstein. The narrator then shifts to Victor, as Captain Walton recounts the tale Victor has regaled him with of creating his monster. Once again, Shelley uses letters to express the feelings of Victor's father and cousin, Elizabeth.

Later, when Victor meets the creature he has created in the mountains, it tells him of its experiences; Shelley changes the narrator once again. The reader hears the stories at the same time as the characters, and so the impact of the information is better understood. For example, after Victor has heard of the creature's exploits, he says: 'His tale, and the feelings he now expressed, proved him to be a creature of fine sensations, and later: 'His words had a strange effect upon me. I compassionated him, and sometimes felt a wish to console him'

(Shelley, 2008, pp. 120-21). So, as Victor gradually becomes aware that the creature he forged is in fact a being capable of reason and worthy of sympathy, so too does the reader.

This narrative style is effective in allowing the reader to fully grasp the respective experience of the outsider that Victor and his creature have. Both Shelley and Baldwin use the setting of their novels to further articulate the experience of the outsider, but Victor goes into hiding in the Orkney Islands, Rufus remains in the busy city. Shelley's technique is effective as the remoteness of the small, rather barren island echoes Victor's isolation: 'It was a place... hardly more than a rock... the soil was barren, scarcely affording pasture for a few miserable cows, and oatmeal for its inhabitants, which consisted of five persons, whose gaunt and scraggy limbs gave token of their miserable fare.' (Shelley, 2008, p. 136) Conversely, when the reader first meets Rufus, he is 'facing Seventh Avenue, at Times Square' (Baldwin, 2001, p. 13), peering into jazz bars where once he performed, watching: At corners, under the lights, near drugstores, small knots of white, bright chattering people showed teeth next to each other, pawed each other, whistled for taxis, were whirled away in them, vanished through the doors of drugstores or into the blackness of side streets.' (Baldwin, 2001, p. 14)

Not only does this description make it clear to the reader that Rufus has alienated himself from society's social norms, but a contrast between black and white has been created with bright people on dark streets, and white smiles in the black night. Race and its connotations are very prominent

features in Another Country, with Rufus' character being particularly conscious of these. Throughout Rufus' short existence in the novel, Baldwin continuously uses free indirect style to express this: 'he raised his eyes and met the eyes of an Italian adolescent... The boy looked at him with hatred' (Baldwin, 2001, p. 38). The fact that Rufus immediately identifies the boy as 'Italian' before deciding the boy 'hates' him shows that he feels race is a consistently important means of identification and differentiation - and thus, race isolates.

The alternative title of Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus, is relevant when discussing Victor's experience as an outsider. In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to the Earth's mortals, and Zeus' wrath was such that Prometheus was '[bound] with fetters of brass to the great mountain of the Caucasus on the eastern edge of the world' (Green, 1994, p. 37), as a punishment for giving man knowledge beyond what was intended for the human race. In Shelley's novel, Victor Frankenstein strives towards a sort of creation no man should ever be able to execute: and ultimately ends up alone: 'The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body... the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart... I beheld the wretch... the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life.' (Shelley, 2008, pp. 9-40)

Thus, as Prometheus' knowledge isolated him, so too does Victor Frankenstein's. The title of Baldwin's Another Country is also interesting: as each

character could be described as an outsider, one could gather that they all feel as though they live in completely different places despite communally residing in New York City.

In the book, we see the black community of Harlem, which sits in the same city as China Town, and Spanish Harlem - in other words, New York can be seen as being comprised of many 'other countries'.There is therefore a sense that Rufus feels that he does not belong in his country: 'He got off at the station named for the bridge built to honour the father of his country... Then he stood on the bridge, looking over, looking down... He raised his eyes to heaven.

He thought, You bastard ... Ain't I your baby, too?' (Baldwin, 2001, p. 93) It can therefore be said that the novel's title underlines its theme of isolation and the outsider. To conclude, James Baldwin and Mary Shelley use several literary techniques to articulate the experience of the outsider.

Baldwin's setting of New York City emphasises how alone Rufus is in comparison, whilst Mary Shelley's desolate landscapes echo Victor's isolation well. Also, as both authors use flashbacks, they create a contrast between how the characters used to be and how they are now, giving the reader information gradually as to how Rufus and Victor ended up - as outsiders.

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