Frankenstein: Thoughts On First Four Letters

img_0369My English literature class recently started reading Frankenstein, and I’ve got some mixed feelings about. I really like horror stories and this is the first one I’ll be reading as a class assignment, which is really good since I’ve been meaning to reading it at someone point and now have no excuse not to, but have trouble adgusting to older English in which it’s written. The same problem happened with Wuthering Heights, but it’s kind of like a water balloon fight. The writing is difficult to understand at first, but after a while you get used to it and it’s a great read, like how the initial coldness of the water might make you recoil but you eventually start having  fun.
I never really knew how the story started so the beginning was a little confusing. Epistolary novels are often a little harder for me to follow, and the first letter of this one not saying who the writer is first gave my visualization of the events kind of a clumsy start since I didn’t know who to picture speaking.

The story starts in an interesting way as it’s first four letters from an explorer, Robert Walton, to his sister as he heads North to explore the arctic and picks up a stranger along the way. The stranger was stranded on some ice, half dead and with only one sled dog still alive, but asks the crew members on the Walton’s ship if they’re heading North before he agrees to hitch a ride. This was very strange as you’d think someone almost dying in such a harsh climate would want to get out of it, but it’s explained by him also asking if they saw someone else going around the area on their voyage. The character obviously really wants to catch whoever this person is to keep stalking them even after getting so close to death.
It’s also interesting to see how Walton interacts with the stranger, as he made it clear earlier in his letters that he needed a friend. After being told the point of the trip is to find out amazing new things about the arctic, the mysterious guest admits he also has a hunger for incredible, and dangerous to obtain, knowledge. It’s eventually revealed that the stranger is Frankenstein and the man he’s chasing through the deadly landscape is his monster. I think this was a much better way of introducing Frankenstein than just starting with him and an omnipotent narrator.

That way of telling it probably would’ve been easier to follow, but Walton explaining the events as him just happening upon a strange man on the ice creates a lot of suspense. It also sets up an interesting comparison between Walton and Frankenstein as they’re both men in pursuit of knowledge while facing terrifying risk, which works to make it a sort of cautionary tale.

Another thing that supports it being that kind of story is “or the modern Prometheus” being included in the title. The story of Prometheus is about a god who gives knowledge of fire to humans and faces a terrible punishment for it. This connects very well with the story of Frankenstein because as a scientist who’m the common people look up to as a source of knowledge and explanations about how the world works, kind of like the way followers of a certain faith will look to their God for the same things, he crosses the line and gives knowledge of something never meant for humans to know. As fire became a destructive force when introduced to humans by Prometheus, Frankenstein’s bringing back the dead created a monster that would go on a killing spree.

I know I’m jumping pretty far ahead by mentioning the murders when this is supposed to be about the beginning of the story, but that’s really where the meat of it is, so it’s bound to come up in discussion of almost any part of the book, even with the title that calls to mind another story of forbidden knowledge doing a lot of damage for everyone. I’ll get more into the relationships of the not undead characters tomorrow.


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