Thursday, November 1, 2012

Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Is it bad that I went into this book kind of expecting not to like it? I saw a film version a while back (haven't we all?) and, of course, I wasn't super impressed. I'm not really a scary-movie, ghost-story kind of girl, and that's what I expected this book to be. Spooky if read by candlelight with a thunderstorm raging outside, but otherwise, rather dull and uninspired.

This is how we all imagine Frankenstein's monster...
Well, all of you who have read Frankenstein, you'll understand my embarrassment. If you haven't read Frankenstein and think the same way about it that I, read it. Read it right now.

Frankenstein has the power to turn a sunny, cheerful neighborhood at high noon into a creepy alley with shadows lurking around every corner, which made it a perfect read for Halloween. But the book was more than that--much, much more.

The book is not about a stupid green monster with nails sticking out his neck who was created by a cackling mad scientist. (Probably needless to say for most of you, but I needed the education.) It's about human nature and the way people treat each other, and the way people see themselves.

Oh, Frankenstein. I HATE Victor Frankenstein! (But it's a delicious, literary kind of hatred, of course, where I just want to read more about him so I can pick apart exactly why I hate him so much.) He's completely full of himself, seeing himself as being meant for oh-so-great things (but totally disregarding his own father's advice as a child and persisting in useless studies). Then he pleads temporary insanity for the months he spent building a horrifyingly ugly monster, attempting to absolve himself from all responsibility, because it was some strange force that made him do it. Even though he did spend months building this being, he apparently did not think it through at all, because as soon as the monster comes to life, he is horrified and flees. He spends the rest of the book hating his own creation, wishing destruction and misery on it.

Meanwhile, the monster. The poor monster, who roams the earth hated and ostracized, who never even gets a name but is always referred to as a "monster." He starts out with so much promise, learns to love nature and people and reading (reading! Of course!)--but then, after he has been rejected, he begins to hate his creator. Why did Frankenstein make him so horribly ugly? (Frankenstein himself never answers this question, although it's an awfully good one.) He has such a monstrous appearance that no one could possibly love him, and prompted by rejection, the monster becomes a destroyer.

I'm forcing myself not to give any spoilers because I don't want to ruin the book for anyone, but this book was quite an experience. I lost faith in the author in the middle, but gained it all back, and then some, in the last few pages.

There is so much meaning packed into this that I feel like it could be applied to almost anything. I won't list the many, many meanings that ran through my head as I read, but here's my conclusion that I applied to myself: the book is about (for me) habits.

Frankenstein created a monster (his habit) almost without even realizing what he was doing, even though it took months for him to form. Once our bad, ugly habits are completely ingrained (coming to life, per se) and we realize what we have done, we try to run away, and then ignore it. But ignoring it does no good; if we don't fix it, cultivating good habits in ourselves, then the bad habit will just come back to haunt us and, eventually, to destroy us. We will end up spending our lives chasing these ugly habits...and what end will we come to?

Well, you'll have to read the book to see for yourself. :) But that's just the meaning I got out of the story. Like I said, it's chock full of meaning, like any good classic. One of the best things about this book is that it's relatively short for such a poignancy. I read it in less than a week. (I actually finished it yesterday and I was going to review it that day too, to make a cool Halloween post, but I went to a Halloween party instead of writing about it. ...I can't decide if that's lame, or if I should just be glad I have a life...)

Anyway, it was a great Halloween read, but it would be great for any other time of the year, too!

What are your favorite Halloween reads? 

Changes to my Classics Club List: Ulysses by James Joyce is now A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Same author, but I felt that this book is a little more popular. 

Photo  by twm1340 on Flickr


  1. You convinced me, so I read it. As you say, it is full of meaning, but I felt that the emotions overwhelmed the logic. No rational person would have behaved as did Dr. Frankenstein and others on numerous occasions. And the unfolding of events is illogical on various levels. I guess that is why none of the movies follow the book closely.

    1. That's true. Maybe that could be another meaning of the book; Frankenstein was completely irrational and never tried to deal with things in a way that made sense. Unfortunately, there really are people who are totally driven by vain emotions. And then they refuse to take responsibility for their actions because their emotions made them do it.

      I guess there probably is no real possible way to depict the events of the story in a movie considering the irregularity of the chain of events. But I definitely think they could have done better.