Many today cite Frankenstein as a
cautionary tale of the inevitable disasters that await us when we try
to play God. Perhaps thats too simplistic an interpretation.
The author Timothy J. Madigan compellingly argues in Tampering
in Gods Domain that Mary Shelley wasnt writing against
free thinking or the urge to understand the mysteries of life. She herself
came from a liberal-thinking family, and was actively interested in
the scientific discoveries of her day. Madigan suggests that what is
at stake is the problem of cowardice and carelessness.
Frankenstein left community to do his experiments, and refused to share
with others what he had found. And, of course, he utterly abandoned
the life that he created. What if scientists enter the realm of playing
God in the interests of compassion and the search for an understanding
of the whole of life? In a sense, havent we been experimenting
with the nature of things all along? The challenge, then, is not to
stop creating but to be conscious of what we are doing when we are.
Paul Patterson, editor of Watershed
Online, in his contributing article Frankensteins
Self-Centeredness Leads Inevitably to Self-Destruction, brings
the argument closer to home with the interpretation that Frankenstein
reflects our own personal narcissistic tendencies. Walton and Frankensteins
can-do self-sufficiency provides the excuse to do anything
they desire, even at the expense of the suffering of others. They risk
everything, including all who love them, for fame and a nebulous sense
of purpose. Curiosity is natural. But what are the checks and balances
of "creating" in isolation, without a moral motivation, without
a community of support? Can we hope to be more human without recognizing
our real limitations?
We are haunted or amused by the plodding monster celebrated by Boris
Karloff's performance in the 1931 classic, but can we identify with
him and understand his complex, ambiguous relationship to Frankenstein?
We are inevitably creators of our projects, vocations, friendships and
relationships every day. Are we conscious enough of the dynamics to
truly love our creations, our personal monsters, even when
they have turned out scarred and deformed by less than ideal unconscious
Patterson writes: What if the Creator and the Creature had a separate
existence of mutual respect, if we treated our children as equals who
were Other than us, if women and men supported, corrected, and most
of all, respected one another? Would our projects really lose their
quality or become better? Would we become domestic drones or valued
parts of a community? All we need to give up is our willfulness and
our weaknesses, our obsession with self sufficiency, and the belief
that we have been cheated by our Creator.
Time will tell but it may be that cinematically there is a movement
towards more true to the original spirit adaptations coming
to the screen. I refer to the faithful Terror of Frankenstein
(1976) and Kenneth Branaghs excellent Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
(1994). Perhaps with films like these, as well as the growing scholarship
as represented in Readings in Frankenstein, we are beginning
to take more seriously the lessons brought to bear by this almost too
familiar haunting tale.
After reading Readings on Frankenstein I was amazed at the depth
and breadth of analysis that can be brought to bear on a work of literature.
Biographical research into the authors life can enhance social
and psychological perspectives and vice versa. The collected reflections
brought to bear questions about my own bent towards a promethean lifestyle,
and continue to do so. What really is the goal of my own aspirations?
Do I truly desire the consciousness that leads to mutual respect and
understanding in my own relationships? Can I take responsibility for
my creative projects in a mature way? And if I cant (or even if
I can), am I open to correction by my community of support?
The fact that Watershed Onlines
Frankenstein pages are its most
popular section by far suggests that others are interested in what is
to be learned by this story of science fiction turning fact. Reading
this anthology can be helpful in getting ones bearings in intellectually
coming to grips with its many meanings. It can also whet your appetite
for taking these meanings to heart.
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