53. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
One of my favorite novels of all time is Frankenstein. Reading it broke my heart but also made me contemplate deep questions. When you find a book that makes you both think and feel, you have found something special. This book might not address anything explicitly related to mental illness or health. However, anyone studying nature vs. nurture and the effects of our actions would do well to read this book. Thus, I decided to highlight it for Media Monday.
Synopsis: The novel opens with a captain attempting to sail to the South Pole. On the way, he encounters a dying, miserable man named Victor Frankenstein as well as glimpsing a large, horrifying creature. Opening up to the captain, Victor tells his life story, beginning with his fascination with life and its roots. This young man leaves his family (including his beautiful adopted semi-sister Elizabeth) to further his studies. The pinnacle of his achievements is piecing together human remains to make a creature. Once given life, this monster terrifies Victor to the point where he runs back to his family. However, Victor finds that he cannot keep running from his naive-turned-murderous creation.
Recovery Pluses: Are we evil by nature or does society make us so? Can something ugly ever be accepted? Can science be pushed to limits beyond our control? This classic novel asks many deep and probing questions. Instead of moralizing, Mary Shelley forces the reader to form conclusions from the story. Frankenstein helps you not to view each situation as black and white. Life is confusing, and our choices have a huge impact on others. Like it or not, there are many questions that we must analyze if we want to live responsibly. Novels like this help us to begin contemplating those questions.
The monster that Frankenstein creates is innocent in the beginning. In fact, he only wants love and acceptance. However, all who can see the creature spurn him as an evil demon. This sad example shows how bullying and hatred can corrupt even good-hearted people. If people continuously treat you worthlessly and labels you like a monster, you will begin to believe them. Also, this reminds us not to judge by appearance. Outward looks do not tell the whole story. Everyone is beautiful, but sometimes you need to look past someone’s appearance to see that. Assuming someone is a certain way just because of skin color, attractiveness, or clothing style will often lead you astray.
Everyone needs people who are supportive and friendly. Both Victor and his monster end up feeling very lost and alone. Some of this is self-inflicted, but some is because of uncontrollable aspects of their lives. For example, many members of Victor’s family die. However he also leaves them many times and acts in such a way that his loved ones are targets of his creature’s murderous revenge. The monster, on the other hand, cannot help his fearful appearance that causes everyone to hate him. What he can control, his temper and ability to kill, he refuses to take responsibility for until it is too late. Readers can learn from the agony both characters experience. We are social creatures. Sometimes others are pulled away from us, and other times we run away from love ones. Either way, trying to find fulfilling relationships is important as is staying true to them instead of sabotaging ourselves.
Cautions: This Gothic novel is certainly dark but clean for the most part. Murders, revenge, science gone wrong, and other gruesome themes are explored in Frankenstein. Also, Victor’s marriage to his adopted sister Elizabeth might confuse modern readers although it was common in that era. Overall, the book is best for teenagers and older.
Every time that I read or talk about this novel, tears well up in my eyes. There are so many fascinating aspects of Frankenstein. You can analyze it from a moral, psychological, scientific, literary, romantic, historical, or spiritual point of view. Few books have made as much of an impact in our media and culture (although we have certainly shifted who Frankenstein is and his story). If you have not read this novel, please take the time to do so. You will not be disappointed. Also, I would love to hear your thoughts on this deep and haunting piece of literature.