To Mary Shelley

Dear Mary Shelley,

Upon completing the novel Frankenstein, I had a question concerning how the story would have been changed if Victor hadn’t cast away the creature initially.  One of the main focuses of the story is the debate between the role of nature vs. nurture in the creature’s development and eventual inclination towards evil.  Once he has been brought to life, Victor looks on him in disgust and immediately runs away, abandoning his creation, leading to a string of murders enacting revenge on Victor. Many pose the question as to how the turn of events would have been different if Frankenstein had instead loved and taught the creature. However, even if he had had Frankenstein as a companion and a sort of “family,” I believe the outcome still would have been similar and that the reason is not inherently due to nature vs. nurture in the hands of Victor. The rest of society still would ostracize him for his unusual appearance and there’s no way to say that he wouldn’t become so angry as to lash out and kill those who’d looked down on him out of fear and disgust, taking his revenge on society instead. This could have even more serious ramifications on a grander scale. I would like to know how you, as the author, would interpret a version of the creature that was loved only by a few and remained hated and cast out of society.


Angela Fei

Is anyone truly innocent?

In the novel Frankenstein in Baghdad, Hadi the junk-dealer sews together a corpse that becomes animated by the soul of a hotel guard killed in an explosion. The Whatsitsname roams the streets of Baghdad, taking revenge on those responsible for the deaths of the various sources of his hodge-podge of body parts. However, as he fulfills his revenge and the parts keep falling off of him, he finds himself resorting to killing not just criminals, but “innocents” as well to replace his limbs. The Whatsitsname attempts to justify those actions, the novel reading, “There are no innocents who are completely innocent, and no criminals who are completely criminal … every criminal he had killed was also a victim.” (PAGEEEE) At one point, he also states that the supposed innocents  may have committed criminal deeds in the past or will do so in the future, therefore making it alright. In this case, his rampage of death would never end. One then has to question, did any of his victims deserve death simply so the Whatsitsname could obtain a new eye or a new hand? I agree with the idea that no one is completely innocent or criminal; criminals could repent  and anyone has the potential to commit crimes. However, it makes even less sense to rationalize the creature’s killings under these guidelines rather than looking at the simple concrete categories of either innocent or criminal. The Whatsitsname starts out solely killing murderers responsible for the parts on him – clearly criminal in nature- but once he deviated from his revenge killings it’s hard to know where to draw the line. No one in the world is truly innocent of all crime or sins and at that point, considering the moral dilemma over his victims, the Whatsitsname should have ended his mission. In the end, he became just as cold-blooded of a murder as his previous victims, over a misplaced sense of preventing future crimes. 

Wilson Library Reflection

A recent visit to the Wilson Library’s special collections -specifically to study pieces concerning Frankenstein, Robinson Crusoe, Sherlock Holmes, and Jane Eyre– has brought forth the importance of visual and material elements in the perception of media. These are meant to lend a certain notion of the content inside to the reader as soon as they pick up a work, before they can even begin to read the words. When viewing the pieces at Wilson Library, the most heavily discussed and prevalent elements included cover designs, illustrations, and binding/printing materials. 

In particular, the Robinson Crusoe collection had a variety of different designs and editions, most of which relied on the addition of illustrations either printed along with the story or drawn in by other readers. For instance, one edition examined, The farther adventures of Robinson Crusoe; being the second and last part of his life, : and of the strange surprizing accounts of his travels round three parts of the globe. Written by himself. ; To which is added a map of the world, in which is delineated the voyages of Robinson Crusoe, featured a map of Crusoe’s voyages. Fictional writers often choose to include maps in order to add a sense of legitimacy or to immerse the reader more fully in the story of a fantasy world. In this case, the author’s reason probably aligns with the former. Another reason could be that the map may show particular geography that justifies decisions that Crusoe makes while on the island. The life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, mariner : with an account of his travels round three parts of the globe written by himself was a version that had belonged to George Cruikshank, with his hand-drawn illustrations inside the front cover and inside title page. The binding itself was relatively cheap: cardboard cover and small size. However, the drawings of Friday dancing and Crusoe add some interest and leave the reader with impressions of Cruikshank’s own interpretation/vision of the events occurring in the novel. 

Yet another Crusoe example, The adventures of Robinson Crusoe
by Daniel De Foe ; embellished with numerous engravings, after designs by J.J. Grandville, John Proctor, and others,
 sets an entirely different expectation of the novel due to its design and illustrations. On the surface, the pages of this edition read more like a storybook with elaborate borders on every page and many images scattered throughout. In this way, a reader may be less likely to take Crusoe’s story as a real one as Defoe tries to emphasize in other versions of Robinson Crusoe. 

As observed at the library, authors and publishers make very specific decisions regarding the use of visual or material elements to achieve a certain purpose, whether it is appealing to different types of audiences or intentionally misleading readers. After examining the various editions available in the special collections, determining the intended impacts of visual aspects of a piece of literature or other media will be much easier and more meaningful as the experience has highlighted the importance of the distinctions made and how they can affect the audience mindset.

Friday’s Silence

“We must make Friday’s silence speak, as well as the silence surrounding Friday.” (Foe, pg 142)

All throughout Foe, Susan Barton obsesses over the tongueless Friday – unable to tell his own story – and his silence takes center stage at the conclusion of the novel. Language, or lack thereof, plays an important role in the identity of characters such as Friday, representing the oppression of other black peoples in society at the time when Foe was written in 1986. Susan spends an extensive amount of time obsessing over and trying to determine how Friday’s tongue was removed, whether by Cruso or by a former slaver. When she fails to retrieve the answer from Friday, she makes it her responsibility to teach him to understand the English language and to be able to write it, although she is not particularly successful.

In this way, is she not also acknowledging his inferiority in their relationship? Barton attempts to impose her own language on Friday for her own curiosity and because his account will add interest and legitimacy to her own story produced by Mr. Foe. Barton speaks to Foe, saying,”But if Friday cannot tell us what he sees, is Friday in my story any more than a figuring…?” To her, language is an affirmation, the story is an affirmation of her time on the island and her longing to teach Friday English is an affirmation of her will over his. Similarly, Crusoe in Robinson Crusoe takes it upon himself to simply teach Friday simple English commands so he can serve Crusoe on the island, beginning with the word “master”. If language is to be an aspect of one’s identity, a way to speak one’s opinions, the replacement of Friday’s native language with the English language can be seen as essentially erasing part of Friday’s identity at the will of his “superiors” in yet another form of oppression.

In addition, Susan Barton’s ability to use her voice through Foe and tell her story to the world is a source of empowerment in a society where female voices were not generally acknowledged. Therefore, Friday’s continued silence represents the opposite, and his lack of speech does not afford him the ability to empower himself, as a direct representation of those victimized by the apartheid system in South Africa in Coetzee’s time.

The final few paragraphs focus explicitly on Friday’s fate in Susan’s dream as she visits the ship wreck. The text reads, “But this is not a place of words. Each syllable, as it comes out, is caught and filled with water and diffused. This is a place where bodies are their own signs. It is the home of Friday.” This scene only serves to reinforce the idea of Friday’s eternal silence. As his mouth opens, the words dissolve into the water, never to be heard. His body is all that remains to tell of what has happened. The final image of him – chained, to be forgotten at the bottom of the ocean – for that image of his body to be the sign of Friday and his home is a permanent reminder of all the horrible things done to him and that is how he will be remembered. His body is a symbol for the voices of those that Friday’s character represents, silent and suppressed, with no voice to speak out from under their chains.