In October 4th’s class, Professor Savarese asked a question that I wish we’d had more time to answer: “Do we experience the world in a narrative format?” This question emerged from a revelation from the end of Frankenstein that the scientist had essentially cleaned up the documents the book is supposed to contain. While I will refrain from commenting on the text as a whole, particularly since I have not finished reading it – and I do not have space to address it in regards to humanity in general – I believe the implications of editing and the ensuring question apply just as much, or perhaps more so, to the monster’s tale-within-a-tale (-within-a-collection-of-letters).
The title I gave what constitutes pages 120-155 illustrates just how far from the monster’s experience his story actually is. The reader cannot know how much of the revision is the monster’s or Frankenstein’s. An excellent point was made in class that the monster remains surprisingly sympathetic, despite Frankenstein having the power to warp the monster’s story or the human tendency to make an enemy “look bad.” Yet, because of Frankenstein’s two chances at revision (when he recounts the monster’s tale and when he edits the letters), the reader can never know the extent of the monster’s learning. For example, the monster did not know the names of different birds, like “sparrow,” “blackbird,” and “thrush,” when he first distinguished their different songs (122). Did Felix teach Safie the names of every single bird in the countryside? Or did Frankenstein supplement the names for the monster? This line of questioning can be applied to much of his vocabulary, yet it can never be answered.
Regarding the monster’s actual experience – or at least what the reader can glean of it – I would say the monster does experience the world in a uniquely narrative format. This is demonstrated in the highly-convenient coincidences that end up shaping his development. I do not argue that helpful coincidences do not happen, but the occurrence of so many in 35 pages only served to heighten my awareness that I was reading a work of fiction. The most jarring was the portmanteau with the three books (142), only made worse because of its profound effect on the monster. If the selection of books had differed, say, if it had included Machiavellian texts or The Art of War, the monster at least would not constantly quote Milton.
Which leads me to a conclusion: Shelley must have intentionally included these coincidences, if only because of their sheer number. When considering her background in Wollstonecraft’s child rearing ideas (see Appendix A), it appears that these books, the loving family that is teaching English, even the cloak the monster finds in his early wanderings, can represent the family a child is so randomly born into. If its parents do not treat it properly, the child will suffer and be a “wretch,” as the monster calls himself – just as a child will quote Milton or think in Miltonian terms if it is exposed to Milton’s works during its development. If this is so, then the monster’s experience is indeed a narrative one, for it exists to serve the purpose of written allegory.
Do other people have other examples of how his life is “narrative,” or have another definition of the term? Any thoughts on the allegory? Is “allegory” too heavy-handed a term?
Also, I guess since it’s the weekend, and because I find this scene even funnier now, knowing that Shelley’s version of the monster would be fully capable, in my opinion, of learning a perfect Fred Astaire routine, here is a scene from Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein”:
*Just remember that it’s parodying the movie versions of the monster, and this is entirely for entertainment. Also, a little context: Frankenstein Jr. really wants his creation to be “civilized.” What better way than to put on a show?