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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Book Report/Review Example

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Mary Shelley and her novel, Frankenstein (Shelley), occupy a position in literary history that is unique due to a variety of reasons. Mary Shelley's position within a literary circle that comprised the great poets of her age, P.B. Shelley and Lord Byron, and her illustrious parentage (William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft) put her at the meeting-point of a variety of influences that helped shape her literary sensibilities. …
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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
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The Creator and the Creature: Frankenstein Mary Shelley and her novel, Frankenstein (Shelley), occupy a position in literary history that is uniquedue to a variety of reasons. Mary Shelley's position within a literary circle that comprised the great poets of her age, P.B. Shelley and Lord Byron, and her illustrious parentage (William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft) put her at the meeting-point of a variety of influences that helped shape her literary sensibilities. The influence of John Milton’s Paradise Lost is visible in her writings. Many writers have commented on this influence, Burton Hatlen’s influential essay, “Milton, Mary Shelley and Patriarchy” (Hatlen) being the one that to a great extent enables a unification of the theories regarding the influences of her parents, her literary circle and her personal reading of Paradise Lost. A professor at the University of Maine and a distinguished American literary scholar, Burton Hatlen was committed to the cause of Marxism and was an ardent supporter of the cause of the oppressed and the subaltern. It is this interest that seems to be reflected in his essay on Mary Shelley and her most famous work. He argues that Frankenstein seeks not to validate and reinforce the hierarchical structures of patriarchy that were propounded by the church and seemed to be endorsed by Milton in his epic. The Romantics sought to dispel this image of a conservative Milton. Hatlen places Frankenstein within this history of efforts to recover and rediscover Milton. Frankenstein, Hatlen says, carries on from where Milton’s work ended and tries to answer those questions about the Christian god that Milton raised but refused to answer because of his stated goal of having to “justify the ways of God to men” (Milton 4). The hierarchical relations between God and Adam, and Adam and Eve are mirrored in the relationship between Victor Frankenstein and his monster. Both relationships, Hatlen states, reveal an expectation on the part of the creator for ownership of the creation. Mary Shelley talks about the exploitative nature of religion and patriarchy and shows how the two are intertwined in this relationship. She attempts to conflate theories of how both these modes of oppression affect the lives of people through her work. Repeated references to Paradise Lost, in Frankenstein, validate Hatlen’s theories and the importance that he accords to Milton’s work in Frankenstein. The monster’s revolutionary thoughts derive their strength to a great extent, on his knowledge of Milton’s work that he gains from the French family near whom he had taken up residence for a brief period. For a stable social order, it is essential for relationships between the creator and the creature to be cease to assume a hierarchical nature. The Romantics were greatly interested in the establishment of such an order and this was evident in their interest in the French Revolution and in what they perceived to be revolutionary characters from literature, like Prometheus and Satan. It is this interest that Hatlen seems to be making an oblique reference to. Hatlen comments on how earlier critics of Frankenstein have pointed out the absence of any female character that can fulfill the role of the mother for the creation in the lives of Frankenstein and the monster. While acknowledging the merit of such an argument, however, one also needs to see the greater design behind such device. Mary Shelley, by not giving any female character the responsibility for ‘mothering’ the creatures in Frankenstein, forces us to rethink our assumptions about the very roles that women play in the society. Motherly roles need not be taken up exclusively by women; men can also share the responsibility, seems to be what Mary Shelley is saying. Hatlen cites the example of the character of Henry Clerval to illustrate this argument. Henry Clerval and his act of nursing back Victor Frankenstein to health is portrayed as an act of motherliness, emotions that are conspicuous by their absence, in Frankenstein, for his creature, whom he refers to as the ‘monster’. It is a similar relationship that Milton’s god shares with Adam. Adam in turn, views Eve as an inferior being. Mary Shelley’s novel seeks to accuse not a person or a community for these deficiencies, but a system, the system of patriarchy. Hatlen rightly says that Mary Shelley’s intention in the novel is to show how patriarchy reduces people to mere pawns in a game of power between the creator and the creature (as happens by the end of Frankenstein). The essay sums up the root concern of the novel succinctly when it points to the lack of “mutual respect” (Hatlen 298) between the creator and the creature, man and woman, and father and child, in patriarchy, represented by the relationship between Victor Frankenstein and the monster. Frankenstein is thus, an appeal against the deep-rooted inequalities that are engendered by patriarchal systems that prevent victims and their perpetrators from leading a fulfilling life, chasing after monsters that are largely self-created. Works Cited Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Eds Hunter, Paul J. New York: A Norton Critical Edition, 1995. Print. Hatlen, Burton. “Milton, Mary Shelley and Patriarchy”. Frankenstein. New Delhi: Worldview Critical Editions, 2003. Print. Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Eds. Teskey, Gordon. New York: A Norton Critical Edition, 2004. Print. 4 Read More
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