Frankenstein – The Modern Prometheus
I read too many books to reread a book very often, but Frankenstein I have read at least 4 times. I say at least, because I know I read it first in jr. high (for fun), then again in high school (for which I wrote a paper), then for two different classes in college (for which I wrote two other papers). I think I may have read it another time for fun, but I can’t remember for sure. If I had to pick a favorite book, this would probably be the closest thing to one. There are only a few other books which I’ve read more than once (and they each appear on this list).
What I love about this book, and literature in general, is that it’s open to so many different interpretations, and at each point in my life it meant something different. When I first read it in junior high, it opened up to me the idea that “truth” could be gained by reading. That the world could believe something, and think they’re completely right, but be completely wrong. That the media could so shape a person’s point of view, that it could distort reality.
I’m talking, of course, about the movie and popular perception of Frankenstein as the green, lumbering, monster with bolts in it’s neck and the inability to string two words together.
The Book Was Better
Granted, the media image of Frankenstein’s monster has changed (as have the media representations of vampires, werewolves, etc), but back in *cough* *cough* the 1980s *cough* this wasn’t the case. When I first read this book I was amazed at how different the movie was from the book (which set me up to not expect movies and books to share much in common in the future). But from a purely mind-blowing experience, I was amazed that I, some adolescent, had knowledge that many adults did not have. I KNEW MORE THAN ADULTS! Further, I got this knowledge by reading.
That’s a freaky experience. I don’t think it was the first time I realized that adults didn’t know everything, but I do think it was the first time I realized that they could have beliefs that were not based on “reality” (it’s a book so it’s not technically real). This lead me to read a lot of other classic works of science fiction to see what else I’d been “lied to” about.
As I mentioned there are a lot of different ways to interpret the text: what it says about appearance and how people judge others, what it says about the role of science & ethics, and the dangers of man playing god, man’s relationship with God and how we feel we’ve been forsaken, etc.
The idea I most associate now with the novel is one of immaturity. Frankenstein’s monster is, chronologically, a child albeit in the body of a full grown adult. As such, it may be able to speak quite eloquently, but emotionally it still responds as a child.
I don’t have kids, but I remember being one. When I was punished for something I did wrong I didn’t say, “I DISAGREE WITH YOUR ASSESSMENT OF MY ACTIONS, BUT RESPECT YOUR IDEAS! I WILL NOW GO TO MY ROOM AND FORMULATE AN APPROPRIATE REBUTTAL!”
No, what I, and many teens and kids say is, “I HATE YOU!”
We do this because we lack emotional maturity and we’re affected by hormones. So too is Frankenstein’s monster. There exists only a dichotomy of thought: hate/love, life/death, with/against. There exist no gray areas. That is how a child sees the world. Being an adult means living in the gray areas. Working at jobs you don’t like, so that you can earn money, experience, etc so that you can eventually do what you love.
The problem is that Frankenstein himself lacks this maturity. He creates with thinking of the consequences. He destroys without thinking of the consequences. He reacts to his actions as if they happened to him, rather than he caused them.
These ideas have stuck with me and force me to consider my own ideas through the prism of: am I oversimplifying a complex issue. Am I forcing gray to be either black or white. Am I saying, “I’m right and you’re wrong”, and ending debate prematurely.
It’s been 10+ years since I last read the book, and I’m probably going to read it again soon, but it’s still something I think on every now and then. Especially politics and the false dichotomies they force us into. Also, how media can shape a person’s point of view and distort reality. I firmly believe if I hadn’t encountered Frankenstein as a kid, I wouldn’t be as skeptical of the media and what I’m told as I am.
So, for making me media savvy, teaching me to look at original sources before believing something, and forcing me to resist knee-jerk emotional responses (many times unsuccessfully – but I’m trying) I thank you Mary Shelley for writing Frankenstein.