Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Reflection Journals
The following are journals written for a grade 12 English course as reflections to the novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. There are(/will be) four journals for each quarter of the book. As well with every journal are three or more discussion questions to build upon.
Journal #1 (Letters + chapters 1-5)
Added: Sunday, Februrary 29th, 2004
Right from the very start of reading this book, there is certainly a perceived notion of balanced and ever-changing contrast. From one part of the story to the other, there seemed to be such divergent description of characters, settings, and simply overall feeling and expression.
The telling of Walton’s experiences on the ship came clear to me as being dark and isolated. Next the story jumps to the background of the life of Victor Frankenstein, who describes his family (his father especially) as being very reputable and respectable, and thus very optimistic. Yet even more contrast is found whereupon Victor finds his way to Ignolstadt University where a grave impression of the school is given, especially from the introduction of M. Krempe’s uninspiring conversations with Victor.
This ever-present contrast remains throughout in the story and in the characters. Walton’s ominous narrative of the stranger in the letters; the friendliness of Victor’s family; the striking beauty of Elizabeth amongst her utterly poor Italian adoption family; the innocent description of Clerval in his youth; and finally the most obvious hideousness of the monster he created.
Despite all these, I still get a definite picture of darkness. This could be just as a result of my predetermined of the story from even before reading it, but nonetheless I still get the impression of darkness.
Other than the storyline, I really did find the style of writing to be difficult and interesting at the same time. Opening with narrative letters is a very intriguing way of building up the story but for me left too much open to be found and understood. I noticed myself too taken into finding and piecing together details so I could get an understanding of where the story was going next – or, just in general, what was going on. However, once the story was being slowly laid out and introduced into Victor’s account I found it much easier to read and follow. The use of English was certainly difficult in the beginning, but it also got easier to appreciate and grasp after the first two chapters, and it really added to the visuals of the description of scenes and characters.
- Why could Victor have been so determined on keeping with his research of outdated occult scientists (Agrippa, Paracelus, Magnus)? Why would he not just listen to what his family had told him in the beginning?
- Was his attempt and success to create an animate being the result of insanity or for finding further discovery? Explain.
- How did the use of letters in the beginning help or hinder your understanding of the story?
Journal #2 (chapters 6-12)
Added: Sunday, March 7th, 2004
Unlike from reading the previous quarter of this book, I found myself better understanding and appreciating the writing style of the novel. I found myself coming across particular phrases and visuals that really just made me stop and think, wow.
Some specific lines, with parts of particular interest and inspiration italicized, are: “Dear William! Dearest blessed child! I soon shall see you again in heaven, where we shall all be happy; and that consoles me, going as I am to suffer ignominy and death,” from Justine’s day before her death; “Despair! Who dared talk of that? The poor victim, who on the morrow was to pass the awful boundary between life and death, felt not, as I did, such deep and bitter agony,” on Victor’s reflection of Justine’s innocence; “I shunned the face of a man; all sound of joy or complacency was torture to me; solitude was my only consolation – deep, dark, deathlike solitude,” after Justine’s death; and finally, “the wounded dear dragging its fainted limbs to some untrodden brake, there to gaze upon the arrow which had pierced it, and to die, was but a type of me.”
For the first quarter of this book I really found myself almost reading with a constant thought of amusement. I could not take the use of English seriously enough to stop and consider what was actually going on in the book. It became almost a distraction, taking away from the true power I now realize it conveys. It seemed more like Mary Shelley was abusing the thesaurus to the point of death, as it were, rather than trying to simply put forth an exciting story. However, once I got past this seemingly overdramatic use of language, I found myself stopping to think about each convoluted and unfathomable word (note the irony in my own choice of words). At this point, the drawn-out sentences of apparently redundant and pointless choice of vocabulary became amazingly visual and profoundly thought provoking; each word, each sentence a work of art in it’s own right. Well, maybe not quite so, but it certainly took away from the simple boredom I experienced before when reading.
Asides from the technicalities of the book, I really enjoyed the detailed description of the scenery from the portions of Victor’s travels in Chamounix. Most especially visually enlightening was one description about a page before he again encounters the monster: “I looked on the valley beneath; vast mists were rising from the rivers which ran through it and curling in thick wreaths around uniform clouds, while rain poured from the dark sky and added to the melancholy impression I received from the objects around me.” Though this isn’t heavily loaded with great detail, it immediately brought me with thoughts of my experiences in the wilderness, as it were. I used to often go camping with my family and occasionally you could see mist rising from the lake or river near by. With this, I can completely understand how it added to Victor’s melancholy impression he received from the objects around him. It’s more than just seeing and relating the scene of rising mist with being miserable, it’s the fact that you can really truly feel that exact emotion you see as a symbol in nature.
- Why would Shelley choose to tell parts of the story (i.e. the announcing of Williams murder) through letters from Victor’s father and Elizabeth? Why not just summarize the story as it happened from Victor’s perspective, just like the rest of the novel?
- What were your first thoughts upon discovering the monster’s ability to speak?
- How do you see Victor in terms of a creator and his creation? Can Victor be considered a god for creating the monster?
Node your homework.
Journal #3 (chapters 13-19)
Added: Sunday, March 28, 2004
I really found these chapters, 13 through 19, to be the most developmental of character, especially of the monster. As the monster tells his story to Victor about his livings in the shack by the cottage, we’re quick (or, not so) to find out how amazing Victor’s creation really is. However, if there was any one thing that I found exasperating of the writing in these chapters it’s that Shelley choose to tell of the monster’s account literally through his actual spoken word. Essentially these seven chapters are one big long speech. Not that this should be different, really, from the rest of the story – as it reads, Victor’s story was told to Walton, who’s story was told to his sister through letters. However, the monster’s paraphrasing hardly seemed like paraphrasing at all. Whether this was because Shelly choose to throw in so much detail that it really needed seven dedicated chapters to tell a sub-story or because she wrote it such that the monster would really leave no – even insignificant – detail unspoken, it really makes no difference. Either way, I’m sure I would’ve found myself equally frustrated with the utter slowness of the story during these parts. Details are important, of course, especially if they are contributing to underlying themes and such, but not if it’s taking away from what the story is really about. I probably could’ve done without the exact wording of the monster and the old man’s conversation upon his hopeful introduction. It might have been better left summarized, in my opinion.
There were several literary allusions in these chapters. Of course, those of “Paradise Lost” were most common, but also “Sorrows of Werter” and “Lives”. Much to my dismay, I thought it might be best to research a bit about Paradise Lost to see if there was any more that could help me with the novel. In my search I found it hard to find any sort of summary that was more than several pages long. The monster’s interpretation of the story was probably best left without a personal follow-up. But nevertheless, I thought it might be relevant to post a bit of a synopsis here that I found on the Internet:
In "Paradise Lost", Milton produced a poem of epic scale, conjuring up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos and ranging across huge tracts of space and time. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked Adam and Eve at the centre of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man. Written when Milton was in his fifties - blind, bitterly disappointed by the Restoration and briefly in danger of execution - "Paradise Lost" has an apparent ambivalence towards authority which has led to intense debate about whether it manages to "justify the ways of God to men", or exposes the cruelty of Christianity. (from Amazon.com)
If there was one interesting and slightly surprising thing I found from the monster’s connection to Paradise Lost was his frequent correlation between himself and Satan. This fits in perfectly with my third discussion question from the last journal, “How do you see Victor in terms of a creator and his creation? Can Victor be considered a god for creating the monster?” I guess I showed my understanding of the story better than I thought I did. I thought this was a pretty good relation, and now I see it was – I almost hesitate to use the word – brilliant. With my parallel of Victor to God and now Shelley’s parallel of the monster to Satan, the topic of “good vs. evil” and “could evil exist without good, and vice versa” would be easy targets for essay theses and journal discussions. But I digress, for I simply don’t have time to write so much about such a small, possibly non-existent underlying theme of the novel, Frankenstein.
- Do you feel now that Victor can be more easily compared to God with the monster comparing himself to Satan? Explain.
- What is the importance of the stories of Felix, Safie, and the rest of the residents of the cottage? Why would Mary Shelley go into such detail explaining them and not just summarizing them merely as underlying plots?
- Why should Victor have given into the monster’s request for a female counterpart? Should Victor have felt any responsibility for making another creation just because he made the original?