Fascinating Political Implications Within Adaptations of Familiar Stories (Frankenstein in Baghdad)

Frankenstein in Baghdad was a fascinating read for me for multiple reasons. One of the biggest factors that stuck out to me was the way in which an adaptation of a classic story was used in a different sense to convey a political meaning.


The original Frankenstein, as legend holds, was written by Mary Shelley as part of a competition to write the scariest story on a stormy night indoors. It was originally intended as a horror story intended to frighten and entertain. Ahmed Saadawi flips this original purpose on its head, subtly infusing his adaptation of the Frankenstein story, Frankenstein in Baghdad, with political meaning and implications.


This new version of Frankenstein involves a narrative intended to make a statement on the state of affairs, violence, and corruption in the city of Baghdad, Iraq. As opposed to creating the monster out of scientific curiosities and a desire to have a power over life, Baghdad’s Frankenstein has roots in a desire to create a full body to be buried. It creates a powerful statement on the level of terrorism in the country at the time. It paints in our heads the idea that mass amounts of people were being killed in gruesome ways that a full body for burial was rare at that point in time. In addition, instead of seeking revenge on his master for neglecting him, as in Mary Shelley’s version of Frankenstein, this monster seeks to exact revenge on the ‘criminals’ who killed the victims that were now a part of his body. This implies that government and foreign entities were unable to stop the violence and that their efforts were ineffective. This is further reinforced by the man who allows the Baghdad Frankenstein to kill him in order to ‘give him some new parts’ and in that way contribute to the cause. This creates for us the sense that the people in Iraq were desperate at the time, as they watched countless people murdered in terrorist-related acts, and the futility of the powers-at-large to arrest the violence. There are countless other examples in Frankenstein in Baghdad that contain political or societal undertones.


This experience has really taught me how to read and look at adaptations. This is the first back-to-back textual adaptation we’ve read this semester, and it has really opened my eyes in terms of how to analyze intertextual relationships. It has opened my mind to now seek the answer to the question, “Why would the author choose to rewrite a pre-existing story in a new context?” It has been planted in my head now that when adaptations are created, there is usually a motive or underpinning idea behind the creation of an adaptation. I found it fascinating that Ahmed Saadawi was able to craft an adaptation of Frankenstein in such a way as to create a political statement about his city and country. I enjoyed seeking these pieces of the new author’s view inside a familiar narrative. Perhaps that’s why adaptations are so effective. When a common-knowledge narrative is changed into a new context, the author’s own point of view shines through brightly. It seems to be a fantastic medium to have an intertextual conversation, as well as promote a message.

The Concept of “Yes, And…” in Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea

The concept of “Yes, and…” is an idea often used in theatre and improv. It essentially describes a situation in which during the scene, what has already been established is accepted and built on. For example, one actor says improvised lines, and the other takes what is said, and according to the concept of “yes, and…,” continues the train of thought. In improv scenes, it allows cohesiveness and the creation of a storyline, as opposed to “disagreeing” with what has already been established. The lines and aspects that have already been created are worked with and built on. Sometimes details of the story shift or change, but there is no drastic redirection. The actors have a more productive dialogue in this sense, and keep the scene going.


This concept is wholly evident in the intertextual dialogue between Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea. Jane Eyre was originally published in 1847, and Wide Sargasso Sea was published later, in 1966. Jane Eyre can be seen as the original lines, or established scenes. Wide Sargasso Sea comes in with a “Yes, and…” mindset and builds on the story. In particular, Wide Sargasso Sea focuses on Bertha Mason and her backstory. In Jane Eyre, we lack a lot of her background and what actually happened to her. When Richard Mason, her brother, attempts to interrupt Jane Eyre’s marriage to Mr. Rochester by claiming he is already married, Mr. Rochester angrily presents his “wife.” She is portrayed in this book as a completely mad woman who has to be kept locked away. In addition, no explanation is given for her madness, but she is portrayed as the one doing wrong, and all the blame is thrust on her.


Jean Rhys of Wide Sargasso Sea saw this opportunity to create another narrative that converses with Jane Eyre, and presents the backstory of this mysterious Bertha Mason. The narrative that ensues can be framed in the context of a “yes, and…” scenario. Wide Sargasso Sea changes none of the aspects and scenes that have already been presented in Jane Eyre. They are all included in the book the same as they were originally, just from a different viewpoint. For example, the “burning house” scene is completely unchanged, we just see it from Bertha’s perspective. However, we observe in Wide Sargasso Sea the building and addition of details from Bertha’s backstory that fit naturally with the narrative of Jane Eyre. It is explained how she came to marry Mr. Rochester, and the ensuing events that drove her into madness. It is masterfully crafted to twist the plot just enough so that Mr. Rochester becomes the “bad guy” that drove Bertha into madness, not the other way around. It is revealed that “Bertha” is not even her real name (it was a troublesome name given by Rochester), that she had a troublesome childhood, and that Mr. Rochester cheated on her and played with her emotions. The confines of the already established Jane Eyre are followed. This is the “Yes” aspect. Bertha’s backstory and the addition of new aspects and storylines are the “And” part. They take the already given concepts and build on them, creating a cohesive narrative. Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre fit together perfectly well, and that is the whole idea of “Yes, and…”


Word Count: 549

Crusoe’s Nightmare

A Close Reading of Robinson Crusoe’s Dream During His Sickness

“In this second sleep, I had this terrible dream…I thought he lifted up the spear that was in his hand to kill me.”

At first glance, this dream in the context of what is happening at the time in the novel seems to make no sense. Among the chaos of sickness, struggle, and desperate pleas to God for mercy, Crusoe has a nightmare that shakes him to the core.

The setting of the dream is very important. Immediately, Crusoe is described as outside his walls and on the ground. The description is a seemingly intentional attempt to portray him as weak. He has been removed from the safety and comfort of his walls/cave and placed outside, into the world of the savage. In addition, he is as low as we can get, on the ground. Being on the ground is weak compared to standing strong. He is demonstrated as helpless to the ensuing events.

A mysterious figure descends from a “black cloud,” with a “countenance so inexplicably dreadful.” The ‘man’ shakes the air and ground when he walks, and points his spear at Crusoe, repeating that he must pay for his sins. The ultimate question boils down to, who is the figure? I assert that it’s God, in a wrathful state. Crusoe had been praying for hours before going to sleep for mercy and salvation, and perhaps this is God’s response. I believe Defoe intended it to be a representation of God’s wrath coming to essentially convey, “How can you pray for mercy when you have committed so many sins?” The figure is presented as well as “full of light,” so much so that Crusoe could barely look. The ‘man’ was emblazoned in a fire. A common theme with the divine is that they are light. God is often presented as a graceful yet powerful light. This power and light are maintained here, just in a more threatening and destructive context. This is the wrathful side of God, the side that wants payment for sins.

Ultimately, what is the point of the dream? The eBook chapter title is labeled, “Conscience-Stricken.” This inspires me to think that Crusoe is having encounters with his conscience, his sense of right and wrong and that Defoe is using God as a means of presenting/conveying that message. The ‘man’ in the dream repeats that Crusoe must pay for his sins, indicating that there are consequences for actions. Crusoe, throughout his life, had disobeyed and sinned in several areas. He went against his father’s will and ignored several seemingly divine warning signs that he should not be sailing (meaning the storms, wrecks, and enslavement/escape before his ultimate arrival on the island). Perhaps Defoe intended the dream to indicate that God was punishing Crusoe for these things through a terrible sickness. An indication that this whole time, God has been involved in the direction of Crusoe’s life (a prominent belief at the time of the novel’s creation, divine intervention and God’s plan). For these reasons, I believe the dream is intended to be a divine intervention in Crusoe’s life, one intended to force him to run into his conscience and evaluate himself.