Frankenstein Panel Discussion

Friday, October 23, 2015

by Sarah Mallonee

A careful reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—just like our panel discussion presented—seems to turn up more questions than answers. I would contend that this is truly the mark of a good work, a text that carries forward meaning and relevance nearly two hundred years after its original publication.


Frankenstein is a novel full of ambiguity and ambivalence; paradox and hybridity. It breaks genre barriers and delights many for many different reasons. It’s often claimed as Horror story, Science fiction, Gothic, or “R” Romantic privileging nature, the individual, and truth in emotion. And it seems to be all of these at once.


The novel comes about as a way to entertain a particularly rambunctious group of Romantic poets and artists during the gloomy weather in Switzerland. It was Lord Byron’s contest to see who could write the best ghost story. Mary Shelley wins hands-down.


It is also, I would contend, the world’s first—and most horrific—example of applied learning or “service learning.” All the educational research out there says that students are more engaged and more successful when they connect knowledge with practice. Well, Victor Frankenstein may be the best and worst of example of this principle . So, here’s the warning for students: take your general education coursework seriously and be sure to talk to your professors before you decide to reanimate non-living beings!


My thoughts for today’s discussion center on the creature’s acquisition of language and Shelley’s portrayal of language as the key to establishing the creature’s deep humanity. The creature describes the magic of language, or as he calls it the “science of letters.” He says it “opened before me a wide field for wonder and delight” (114). He learns language in the warmth of summer and by witnessing the familial warmth of the cottagers. The creature sees language as the way to make a connection, a human connection, as he says “I easily perceived that, although I eagerly longed to discover myself to the cottagers, I ought not to make the attempt until I had first become master of their language; which knowledge might enable me to make them overlook the deformity of my figure” (109). Language, he believes, will provide him with a “gentle demeanor and conciliating words” to allow him to “first win their favor, and afterwards their love” (110).


What a different version of the creature than the aggressive, violent, murderous one we often see depicted and remember from our own reading.


Work Cited

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. 1818. Ed. James Rieger. Chicago: U Chicago Press, 1982. Print.

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