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The Struggle of Communication in Shelley's 'Frankenstein' and Sebold's 'The Lovely Bones'

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The struggle of communication is common within society and can provoke unintentional behaviour and inadvertent situations. Such complications occur in both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones as many characters demonstrate their inability to connect with others. In Shelley’s Gothic novel, the monster exhibits endless miscommunication as those whom he surrounds himself with refuse to accept him due to his naivety and foul appearance, alongside Victor’s physical distancing from his creation, creating a barrier of any connection between them. For Susie, her struggles derive from her death and persistence to help her family and friends expose her murderer, yet her position in heaven and the in-between restricts her ability to express herself to those she desires to guide. Alternatively, Susie’s ability to see what others are thinking juxtaposes the monster’s inability to articulate thoughts, but within both novels, the authors create physical and emotional barriers, through outward appearances and troubled relationships.

In The Lovely Bones, Susie’s struggle to convey any communication is graphically depicted within the first chapter: “’Susie! Susie!’ I heard my mother calling. ‘Dinner is ready.’ He was inside me. He was grunting”. As the narrative shifts, it depicts both place and perception, with Sebold exemplifying the horror of Susie’s rape by breaking both physical and moral barriers through non-consensual sex with a child, starting the novel with a repulsive atmosphere. Barriers are similarly broken in Frankenstein, with Victor’s creation of new life demonstrating radical and immoral actions with hope that the monster will be “a new species [that] would bless [him] as its creator”, establishing the power of forming new life, either for good or evil. 

Shelley was influenced by the scientific revolution of the time, with biologists like Luigi Galvani using electricity to experiment on animals, and her husband, Percy Shelley’s own radical Romantic writing about his beliefs in societal equality. These influences make her novel undoubtedly ambitious, using Victor to illustrate how the laws of nature can be altered, to a certain degree, is seemingly evident in the monster’s response to their later encounter on the mountain: “Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy monster, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us”, he reveals his struggles with society were caused by Frankenstein when he abandoned him, alongside the metaphorical ‘ties’ which ‘bound’ them together, possibly rebuilding the emotional barriers that were broken when Frankenstein abandoned the monster. 

The online article, Science fiction: The science that fed Frankenstein, confirms that the contentious scientific methods used within the novel have sparked debate into whether the monster had responsibility of his own actions, “It is not merely the creation of life itself, the technical ambition of science, that is called into question. It is the unfolding moral choices and unforeseen ethical responsibilities that may come with scientific advances.” The article confidently highlights Victor’s unprincipled use of science to create something unnatural and immoral, challenging the contemporary Catholic beliefs that only God has power to give and take life in the early 1800s and breaching the barriers of nature, causing the monster to ask rhetorical questions he would never know the answers to, “What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.” Conversely, Victor’s knowledge of his ethical responsibilities discredits the Holms’ ultimate case, “I … was bound towards him, to assure, as far as was in my power, his happiness and well-being. This was my duty”, as he confesses his accountabilities for the monster’s actions shortly before his death. Susie investigates her murder in the in-between and proceeds to tear down her own boundaries, exploring earth from afar and breaking internal barriers; “horror on earth is real and it is every day. It is like the flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained.” 

The simile exhibits metaphorical juxtaposition of beauty in nature to evil, signalling how one cannot conceal the vile parts of life, they are simply everywhere, but through revealing her story to Harvey’s other victims, Susie “lost a bit, the smallest drop of pain”, reflecting how she, unlike Frankenstein and the monster, is able to rebuild herself whilst also letting go of the past. Moreover, Susie ends up in the ‘In-between’ as she tries to weaken the barrier between her and earth as she cannot let go of her friends and family. 

On the title page, Sebold uses the epigraph “The penguin was alone in there, I thought, and I worried for him. When I told my father this, he said, “Don’t worry, Susie; he has a nice life. He’s trapped in a perfect world.” The motif of imprisonment immediately foreshadows Susie’s predicament in heaven, being stuck in an ideal world, but the uneasy juxtaposition between “trapped” and “perfect” adds to the visible struggle that is seen in Susie’s relationship with those she loves on earth. Frankenstein, a complete contrast to Susie and exhibits little love towards his family, particularly his wife Elizabeth, whom he suggests he “received as made to a possession of [his] own”, becoming oblivious with what he believes is eternal love for her, but essentially objectively claiming her for himself, unknowingly making her another target for his creation to slaughter. When the monster does eventually kill her, Victor describes her body: “The murderous mark of the fiend’s grasp was on her neck” and even in her death, Elizabeth is silenced, with her “breath [ceasing] to issue from her lips” and Frankenstein could not stop it, clarifying his lack of understanding of human emotion and the barrier between his feelings and ability to express them. 

Likewise, the morbid description of Elizabeth’s body links seamlessly with the excess of grave robbers at the time who abducted corpses for galvanism, the same method in which Frankenstein created the monster, likely implying that Elizabeth’s death is punishment for Victor contesting God’s creation. Additionally, after Susie’s death, the grief and blame her parents feel is the potential cause of their later separation. Her father experiences a crushing sense of responsibility for his daughter’s murder, “The guilt on him, the hand of God pressing down on him saying, You were not there when your daughter needed you.” The metaphorical religious pressure from “God’s hand” may be symbolic of Susie’s rape and the physical constraint she experienced “I could not move. I could not get up”, suggesting Susie’s physical struggle was passed onto Jack’s emotional distress that is a catalyst for the severance of his relationship. 

The separation of a marriage was widely criticised in America and divorce illegal until 1969, meaning Sebold likely used Jack and Abigail’s broken relationship to emulate the futility of the American Dream and how even a model family, living in a seemingly perfect suburban town (much like Sebold in her youth) can’t conform to its unattainable standards. These barriers blocking emotional communication and physical expression in both novels, convey the authors intent to establish communication as problematic when confronted with either a metaphorical or tangible obstacle. 

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The Struggle of Communication in Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Sebold’s ‘The Lovely Bones’. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 5, 2022, from
“The Struggle of Communication in Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Sebold’s ‘The Lovely Bones’.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021,
The Struggle of Communication in Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Sebold’s ‘The Lovely Bones’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Oct. 2022].
The Struggle of Communication in Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and Sebold’s ‘The Lovely Bones’ [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Dec 16 [cited 2022 Oct 5]. Available from:
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