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Friday, February 17, 2012

How does Shelley evoke a sense of horror in Chapters 4 and 5 where she describes the construction and ‘birth’ of the creature? Do you think she was successful in awakening thrilling horror, making the reader dread to look around, curdling the blood and qu

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Mary Shelley wrote this novel in 1816, after a nightmare, when she was just 18 years old. Mary, her husband and the poet Lord Byron were snowed in inside a villa in Switzerland. They discussed ideas of scientists, God and the powers each possesses. In the nineteenth century, science was a relatively new idea but it was very controversial, as many people felt threatened by it. They decided that science was trying to overpower religion and endeavouring to shatter all Christian beliefs about life. There were ideas about how a body came to life; Christians believed God gave it a soul, and scientists considered the body solely parts linked together. This is why Frankenstein was considered a horror story, as it explored how powerful science really was and also the dangers resulting in playing God.


Shelley uses a number of techniques throughout Chapters 4 and 5 to evoke a sense of horror, including the language that is used. Victor’s personal thoughts during these Chapters, give us, as readers, an insight into the mind of a man who wants to discover the cause of life and be remembered thereafter, “ A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.” (p51). Also the fact that Victor recognizes himself being in a position which is at the boundary of attained scientific knowledge, and unknown theories, which could revolutionise the way scientists thought, “I found so astonishing a power placed within my hands” (p51). We are also told what Victor intends to do, ”I began the creation of a human being.” (p51). These thoughts shock the readers as they probably feel that no one should try and take God’s place in giving life. These would have been particularly disconcerting in the Victorian era, when the ‘Religion vs. Science’ battle was underway. However in Chapter 5, after the creation of his ‘human being’, he is filled with regret as he realizes he will not be known as the first person to create a man, but a monster.


The research that Victor carries out in order to create this being is equally frightening. The descriptions are very detailed and are certainly enough to send a shiver down the spine. We are informed of how committed Victor is to his work, he says he was, ”engaged, heart and soul, in the pursuit of some discoveries which I hoped to make.” (p48). We can see he was devoted to his work and determined to succeed. We also learn, “Two years passed in this manner, during which I paid no visit to Geneva.” (p48) This shows that he cut himself off from family, friends and even his future wife so as to complete his experiments. We also learn that not only did he spend two years straight on this project, that he also spent day and night, without sleeping, trying to figure out the cause of life,” Soon (I) became so ardent and eager that the stars often disappeared in the light of morning whilst I was yet engaged in my laboratory.” (p48). This gives readers the image of Victor being compared to a zombie, which is rather alarming how much time was spent doing immoral research and experiments. We also get another image, “The moon gazed on my midnight labours” (p5). As evil spirits are associated with night, particularly around midnight, it suggests he is evil and this almost compares him to a werewolf due to this night factor.


The mention of the moon also suggests that only the moon knows what he has done, as he used the cover of darkness, when people were asleep. We are told that the two years of research was full of mainly failures than successes, but Victor would not give up, “Sometimes on the brink of certainty, I failed; yet still I clung to the hope which the next day or next hour might realize.” (p5). This shows how deep Victor’s determination for success is, which in itself is frightening, as he would have to have done many immoral and revolting procedures in each failed experiment within that long time span. It also seems that Victor has failed to consider the consequences of his actions.


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“Now I was led to examine the cause and progress of this decay and forced to spend days and nights in vaults and charnel-houses” (p4). This is disturbing for the reader as the very thought of being in the presence of dead bodies is sickening, never mind watching and recording their decaying process. Victor says he was “forced” to research in tombs and rooms where bones were stored, when it is obvious he forced himself to visit them. This is an example of his own ambitions and obsession as he spent so much time in unnatural places. We also wonder how any sane person could cope being among the dead, but then Victor tells us, “a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life.” (p4), so we can conclude that he shut off all his emotions and his fear. It is rather horrific that Victor did not consider a graveyard as sacred or holy, but a place for materials, and those bodies to him were just parts and not deceased human beings. We can see that he has a lack of respect for the dead and possesses purely immoral thoughts.


In regards to the grave digging he carries out, he says, “I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave” (p5).


This is a disgusting image as it suggests that Victor frantically dug into the ground with his hands in order to obtain his human materials. The word “dabbled” is usually associated with sorcery, which suggests he is evil. Victor tells us he, ”…tortured the living animal to animate the lifeless clay” (p5) which gives an image of him finding other creatures like worms and he disturbed their habitat just to get body parts.


Shelley gives us a horrific, detailed description of his workshop and how he hides his work from everyone on page 5, “I collected the bones from charnel-houses… I brought my work near to a conclusion”. Victor acknowledges his workshop as a “slaughter-house”, “dissecting room” and “my workshop of filthy creation”. The fact he calls his experimental room these names suggest he’s aware what he is doing is wrong and gives various disgusting images to the reader. The slaughterhouse reference makes us think of slit throats, and therefore a visual image of blood covering the laboratory. The dissecting room reference shows that he cuts up bodies for research and this makes us feel uneasy as it suggests that body parts were lying around the room, decaying naturally, and therefore giving off a nauseating smell.


We now view a different side of Victor than was seen at the beginning of the book, when he was content and respectful. Victor tells us that throughout the two years of research, “I grew alarmed at the wreck I perceived that I had become; the energy of my purpose alone sustained me” (p54).


Throughout Chapter 4, we are given many images of pregnancy and birth, as the creation of the being is compared to being born. These images are not necessarily directly connected to the being’s creation, sometimes with actions of Victor himself. Images of the baby growing inside the womb and the conception process are given by phrases such as, “Who shall conceive the horrors of my secret toil” (p5) and “I did not watch the blossom or the expanding leaves” (p5). Images of labour are given by quotes such as, “unrelaxed and breathless eagerness” making us think of giving birth and “a resistless and almost frantic impulse urged me forward” (p5), which makes us think of contractions.


The work Victor carries out is frequently referred to as labour, which suggests he considers it as painful, taxing and tiring as the labour a woman goes through. For example, “After days and nights of incredible labour and fatigue, I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation and life” (p50), “my painful labour” (p50), “inconceivable difficulty and labour” (p51) and “my labours would soon end” (p54).


We are also given images of actually giving birth, “No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards” (p51) and “I could not tear my thoughts from my employment” (p5).


The power of pregnancy is conveyed as the being Victor brings to life is referred to a “creation”, and suggests the woman is powerful as she has the ability to create a new life. This is why using all the images of pregnancy are horrific to readers as they are used in comparison with the creation process. Pregnancy is seen as a natural and wonderful experience, but in contrast Victor’s creation of the being is unnatural, immoral and disturbing.


On the actual night of Victor giving the body life, the atmosphere which exists is frightening and is enough to make the reader sense something awful is going to happen as a result of Victor’s ambition. We are told the date setting is “a dreary night in November” (p55) at one in the morning and that the weather was bad, “rain pattered dismally” (p55). We are also told that Victor worked almost in darkness with the exception of a “half-extinguished light” � a candle. Victor later reminds us of the weather as being “dismal and wet” (p57) and when he runs out of his laboratory to avoid his creation he becomes, ”drenched by the rain which fell from a black and comfortless sky.” (p57).


Shelley does however leave an air of mystery as to how the creature is actually created, this is frightening as it leaves us to our own devices, and the imagination is a powerful tool which could conjure up many horrific theories as to how this deed was done. Although Shelley does suggest electricity is used in the creation process, “I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.” (p55).


The first thing the creature does when it comes to life repulses the readers and makes us feel uncomfortable, “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open”. This suggests disease as it is yellow, and also the thought of being looked at straight in the face by this creature is fear-provoking.


We must also remember what the being actually looks like. The descriptions given, with a few exceptions, describe how a baby looks after being born. On page 55-56 Victor describes his creature’s physical appearance. We are told its limbs were in proportion, that it has “watery eyes” (p55) and that its complexion was “shrivelled” (p55). Here Shelley compares the being to a new born baby, which reminds the readers how unnatural and immoral Victor’s action were.


We are also told the being was “of gigantic structure” (p51) and “8 foot tall” in Chapter 4, so this is reinforced on page 55. We are informed on page 55 that “his (the being’s) yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath”, that it had “lustrous” black hair, black lips, and “teeth of pearly whiteness”. This description is repulsive in itself, and makes us feel disgusted and sick at the thought of gazing upon this being.


Victor calls his creation many things such as “wretch” (p56), “miserable monster” (p56), “catastrophe” (p55) and “hideous guest” (p5), which give us as readers an idea of how terrifying the creation’s appearance is. He also tells us how he feels about the experience and how much he had previously considered this day to be a day that would live in infamy, “I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation” (p55) and how he wishes he’d never brought the body to life, “but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream had vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (p55).


The first thing Victor does after bringing the being to life is rushing out of the laboratory, collapsing on his bed and falling into a deep sleep. During this sleep he dreams about his fianc�e Elizabeth, but has a premonition of her death. This is ironic as his life could be compared to a nightmare and lets the readers decide why the dream is significant.


As soon as Victor awakens from his dream, the creature is standing over him and reaches to grab him. This is a frightening image which has also been portrayed in many other horror novels and films. It is used as it makes the audience or readers feel unsettled and occasionally they would feel the need to look behind them to ensure nothing was there that could harm them. Shelley is suggesting by this image that the creation is a living nightmare from which he cannot escape and emphasises that it will always be around. We can tell that Victor himself is afraid of the creation, firstly because he calls it hideous and ugly, and secondly due to the detailed descriptions of the physical symptoms that he experiences, “I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered and every limb became convulsed” (p56). These symptoms make readers empathise with Victor and we can almost feel his fear. Victor then describes how he’s feeling and the position he is in by quoting a stanza from the poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ on page 57. This shows that he cannot find the words to express himself and so must use the words of another. The line, “…a frightful fiend/ Doth close behind him tread” describes how Victor feels about the creation. He knows it will never leave him in peace and he will always have to look over his shoulder.


Victor then runs into his old friend that he hasn’t seen since he started his research, Henry Clerval. This meeting takes Victor’s mind off what has happened briefly as he feels “calm and serene joy” (p58) but this emphasises to us as readers how unusual what Victor did was and the fact he comes across a scientist who doesn’t do anything like that, is a contrast. Also the fact he hasn’t seen Clerval for two years emphasises how cut off from society and normality he has been. Shelley places the incident of Victor and Clerval immediately after the bringing to life of the creature to give the readers a break from the scary, unnatural descriptions. The tension steadily built up throughout the two Chapters and the meeting can be considered an anti-climax, but the tension re-surfaces as Victor proceeds to bring Clerval back to his apartment. Victor “trembled excessively” (p58) at the thought of his creation being in the apartment waiting for him when he returned. Victor walked back “with a quick pace” (p58) and he tells us “a cold shivering came over me” (p58). He also comments, “I dreaded to behold the monster, but I feared still more that Henry should see him” (p58) which conveys his emotions at that particular moment towards the prospect of the monster anticipating his return.


To add more tension to this moment, Victors tells us he “threw the door forcibly open…but nothing appeared.” (p58-5) and he remarks, “I stepped fearfully in the apartment was empty and my bedroom was also freed from its hideous guest.” (p5). This gives the readers a sigh of relief, but they know that the creature will return in some form. It also gives them an incentive to read on and they await events in Victor’s future regarding the ‘miserable monster’ he has created.


In conclusion, I feel Mary Shelley achieved exactly what she set out to do. She wanted to write a story to “awaken thrilling horror � one to make the reader dread to look around, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart” (p7) and with the evidence I have gathered, I feel she has done just that mainly with the use of language and her gory, terrifying descriptions of research, creation and what the creature does once it has been given life. It is a well-written and enjoyable book with a sense of horror throughout.





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