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Derrione Mobley Intro to Literary Studies

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Derrione Mobley

Intro to Literary Studies

English 3040


In 1815, there was a volcanic explosion in Indonesia. This was one of the most powerful volcanic explosions recorded in history. The ash left over from the explosion cooled the whole earth which led to a drop in global temperatures. Just one year later, a young woman named Mary Shelley came up with the general synopsis for Frankenstein in the form of a short story after getting rained in.  I say this to provide background information and context for Frankenstein. When experiencing any work of fiction, it is important to understand what prompted creator(s) to come up with the story. Like many other literary critics and scholars, I believe that erratic climate change around that time was what set the wheels in motion for Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. I propose that Frankenstein is a horror story rooted in the ecocritical theory.

Supposedly, ecocriticism is the study of literature that focuses on environmental concerns and how the characters treats all aspects of nature. One must also take into account that Frankenstein has always been associated with the Romantic period. The Romantic movement was characterized by literature that centered on emotions, feelings and ideas rather science and logic. Many works of literature around that time period focused on nature and just spending time in the natural world. Now let's examine the protagonist of Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein had always been a man fascinated by the inner workings of nature. His ambitions in discovering the mysteries behind nature is what leads to his downfall. The monster may be the antagonist but Dr. Frankenstein is the true villain. A creature who is completely ruled by his emotions and desires is presented as sympathetic whereas the man ruled by science and rational thought is presented as greedy and callous.

The symbolism in Frankenstein is astounding. The thing that triggers the iconic experiment is a teenage Frankenstein witnessing the destructive power of nature. The incident in question is a tree near his house falling down due to being struck by lightning. That is when a natural philosopher discusses the theory of electrical impulses triggering reanimation, so to speak. This incident indirectly sets in motion the events of the novel.

Now what does that have to do with ecrocriticism? Naturally, we associate electricity with thunderstorms. As a matter of fact, Frankenstein actually uses electricity from a particularly bad rainstorm to animate the life form he created with his bare hands. So let's apply ecrocriticism to this section of the narrative. Whether we like it or not, the weather is part of nature because it is not man-made. By attempting to control nature, Frankenstein is reprimanded by God for his hubris. The monster causes him immense grief by killing several people, one of which includes his fiancé. Sure, it was not him who committed the acts of violence, but by trying to play God by controlling and taking advantage of nature, he breaks down and becomes a broken shell of a man. I would also like to add that in the preface or prologue to the novel, an emaciated, starving Frankenstein is found in the North Pole by Robert Walton. Going by the rule of symbolism, the North Pole represents Frankenstein's state of mind: lonely, depressed and hopeless. In most works of fiction, rain or snow is usually associated with these kinds of emotions. However, by applying the ecocritical theory to this, this symbolizes Frankenstein being beaten in nature. In his attempt to control and take advantage of the weather, which represents nature in this instance, he becomes trapped in the wilderness, which can also represent nature as a whole.

Nature does not always have to refer to foliage or weather. It can also refer to the natural life cycle. While life and death themes are nothing new in literature in Romantic literature, they take on a different role. When we think of life, we think of happiness, optimism and hope. When we think of death, we think of despair, hopelessness and cynicism. In Frankenstein, Mary Shelly tries to tell us there is a fine line between life and death. Frankenstein’s mother Caroline dies of scarlet fever. At first, this seems like a bit of throwaway information but it is worth noting that she is one of the few mentioned characters to, quote-unquote, die of natural causes. Her death caused her son to sink into a deep depression. This is when he discovers the theory of triggering electrical impulses in order to revive or reanimate an individual. Is it possible that Frankenstein feels somewhat responsible for his mother’s death? Is it possible that his obsession with creating his own life form is fueled by what he perceives as his failure to save his mother? While there is no hard evidence for this assertion, that could very well be the case. Frankenstein seems to view women more as an object or possession, rather than individuals. There is a specific quote regarding his fiancé Elizabeth that proves this notion. “I looked upon Elizabeth as mine -- mine to protect, love, and cherish…” (Chapter 1). Elizabeth is even referred to as a gift, not a person, by Caroline and Victor in his thoughts.

Would not Shelley, an educated woman in the 19th century, make certain to showcase strong, proactive female characters in her work? But what if her decision to make the female characters passive was intentional all along? Which brings me to another point regarding nature in Frankenstein: maternity and the birthing process. Even though it is wrong to say in the context of the novel, Frankenstein can be looked upon as Frankenstein’s parent. However, it can also said that he is Frankenstein’s mother as well since he “gave birth” to him. By stepping into the world of the woman, he is defying nature. Traditionally, women are seen as life givers. By acting as the life giver, he is upsetting the natural order of things. Notably, the subject of children never comes up with Elizabeth. It seems that his obsession with the monster has clouded his desire to possibly start a family with Elizabeth. This obviously frustrates Elizabeth, as she walks out on him on their wedding night when he becomes more concerned with finding the monster than protecting her.



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