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Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein curdles readers’ blood not merely with dreary nights and gruesome murders, but through a tale of man’s most morbid undertakings. While the monster itself constitutes the most concretely catastrophic effect of Frankenstein’s deed, the real horror lies in the scientist’s sinister unveiling of the mysteries of nature. With the knowledge of Shelley’s personal loss of two children during birth and the death of her lover, the reader can more fully understand the overarching themes of her novel; her own frustration and confusion with the death of loved ones and her apparent inability to raise children parallel Frankenstein’s fascinated devotion to defying the natural passage of life.
Mary Shelley speaks to the reader’s most fearful sentiments primarily through Frankenstein’s effort to dodge existing rules of science and nature. In describing his ultimate fall to Walton, Frankenstein’s explanation reveals Shelley’s similar sense of hopelessness between the merciless jaws of chance: “Destiny was too potent, and her immutable laws had decreed my utter and terrible destruction.” Through the scientist’s words the reader can recognize the writer’s understandable rage in her battles with human capability and creative power. Thus, Shelley’s personal obstacles and suspected emotional qualms clarify the key characteristic of her horror story — Frankenstein’s dangerous choice to act on a distorted sense of power.
Frankenstein fills minds with disturbingly altered concepts of life and death. Shelley’s creation of an ultimately self-punishing character proves to be as fateful as the “living corpse” itself. Throughout his endeavors, Frankenstein deviates with his own life as well as with the monster’s. In his laboratory, his cheeks become “pale with study” and his body “emaciated with confinement.” When he finally bestows human capacity upon lifeless matter, his dreams at once become “livid with the hue of death.” Frankenstein’s personal belief that he has failed to be good renders him incapable of life in any wholesome form, again reminding the reader of the abnegation that traditionally accompanies failed childbirth.
As a young woman distraught by the bearing of two dead children, her work Frankenstein undeniably reflects innocence and hope lost upon recognizing the overwhelming delicacy of life. Frankenstein’s psychological deterioration after his disillusionment by the monster’s havoc eventually overshadows his younger state of unguarded ambition and wonder. Likewise, victims of the monster’s damage leave with the same disheartened perspective; after the death of Justine, Elizabeth relates to Frankenstein, “now misery has come home, and men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each other’s blood.” Mary Shelley writes in her introduction the question she is constantly asked: “How I, then a young girl, came to think of and to dilate upon so very hideous an idea?” With respect to Shelley’s deeper motivation in writing Frankenstein, the novel becomes profoundly truthful and discerning of human law versus natural law.
Ironically, Mary Shelley’s traumatic history grappling with life allowed her, in fact, to create it on paper. Although admitting her story to be “hideous,” she writes: “I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart.” With Frankenstein, she incorporates her own life’s fright in order to purposefully analyze the destructive inclinations deeply imbedded in human nature. Her novel, consequently, leaves the world with a masterful account of every person’s guilt and remorse in his most distorted desires. However, the believability to Frankenstein’s wretched explorations clearly presents another dilemma of Shelley’s conscience: If the desire to undermine nature is innately human, then distortion of life must be, in actuality, the most natural human instinct.
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