Some stories seem to extend beyond the confines of their original forms. Whether it be from popular adaptations or its reputation over time, certain novels have been distorted in the eyes of those who have yet to read them. Put simply, this is a clash between expectations and reality, between what the reader perceives the work to be and what it is in actuality. I experienced this disparity while reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula a few years ago and more recently while reading Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
Thanks to the popularized image of Frankenstein’s monster as a gigantic, green, bumbling figure, I was not prepared for the complex, humanlike being that Frankenstein actually created. He is no lumbering monster; rather, he is an intelligent, curious, agile, and morally ambiguous figure capable of learning human speech and adopting many civilized customs. It’s after he is spurned by society and those he views as potential friends that he becomes vengeful, violent, and conniving. Discovering that Shelley’s monster was much more complex and multifaceted than the creature often portrayed in modern media was honestly a relief. The monster’s ambiguity not only makes for a more interesting story, but it also presents the reader with a difficult moral dilemma: Is the monster truly evil? Can his actions be justified in light of his suffering at the hands of his creator? How does he compare to Frankenstein, the man who brought such a formidable being to life? These questions cannot be easily answered, yet we often ask ourselves similar things today. Such gray areas frequently pop up in our daily lives in the forms of relationships, court trials, and certainly when reading literature. No one is absolutely good or evil– not even the “monster” of Frankenstein.
I was also not expecting Frankenstein to have such a layered narrative style. There are numerous narrators in this slim book: Walton, the sailor writing letters back home; Frankenstein telling his story to Walton, who then copies it down; and the monster himself, recounting his struggles to his creator in an attempt at persuasion. At first these layers made me feel disconnected from the story, but I loved the way they cleverly connected and unfolded from one another at the end. Though I initially struggled to see the value in this complicated narrative structure, I now believe that this novel would not have been as effectively delivered through any other form. The many layers and perspectives add to the ambiguity and mystery that the novel exudes.
More than anything, I left this novel with an overwhelming sensation of pity towards Frankenstein. Despite the fact that the monster was his own creation, he took very little responsibility for his actions. He did try to prevent the death of innocent Justine, but his efforts were ultimately futile. He refused to tell his family about the monster for fear that they would think him mad (Well, perhaps that perception would be rightly justified!). While I feel sorry about the deaths of many of his loved ones, I believe that Frankenstein could have done much more to prevent these tragedies from occurring.
Overall, Mary Shelley has left me feeling both confused and fascinated by her classic novel Frankenstein. It was much different from my initial expectations, but in ways that made me enjoy this story even more. There is something in this depths of this dark, twisted tale that lingers in the mind long after the final page has been turned; perhaps this is why it has remained on our bookshelves for centuries.
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5 smileys
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! Not only is it a fantastic novel in general, but I think a lot of people would be interested to see how their expectations of the story differ from what it is in actuality. Besides, who doesn’t love a story that will make your heart raise and send shivers down your spine?
What are your thoughts on Frankenstein? Have you experienced this clash between expectations and reality when it comes to literature? Let me know in the comments section below!