Mary Shelley and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are two established writers of the Romantic era. Works by both writers are unique in many ways. The profound influence of Coleridge’s ” The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” is reflected in Shelly’s “Frankenstein” in terms of narrative structure, themes and literary techniques. This essay will compare and contrast the “Frankenstein” extract and the poem, “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” in three aspects, namely the narrating voice, the themes and the literary techniques used.
In the “Frankenstein” passage, Victor’s creation, the creature, is the narrator. Here, a framed narrative is presented by the creature to allow his side of the story to be heard as he attempts to gain self-definition and redemption of his guilt by casting himself as the real victim to all the sufferings caused by Victor. The creature’s first person narration about how he was once “nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion” was forced to experience the tormenting hardships of being “an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, trampled on” aims to achieve reader’s sympathy and hopes to conjure the reader’s reconsideration of who the real monstrous character is in the novel. The creature’s repetitive description of his initial innocent desire to be accepted by the society, his guilt towards his crimes and the injustice done to him by the society engages the reader more directly with his feelings of misery and sufferings.
Similarly for the poem extract, framed narrative is also being engaged. Two narrative voices are presented here. The first stanza of the extract is narrated by the mariner in a first person’s perspective. In his narration, he is doing the teachings of his lessons on his voyages, telling the wedding guest how to lead a good life with God and to respect all God’s creations. The narration switches over to a third person narrative voice that presents to us the scene of the story telling after the mariner’s narration at the seventh stanza. The poem ends with the third person narrative voice, telling us that the guest left as a wiser man after listening to the mariner’s tale, which leaves many questions hanging in the air for the reader to consider.
As a reader, we do not really know whether the guest is infected with the strange urge to retell the tale he had heard from the mariner. This clever act of purposely setting up possible interpretations which are never fully established is possibly Coleridge’s way of foregrounding “the relation between writing and reading” and highlighting “the participation of readers in the production of meaning. (Allen, p.226)Both extracts require the reader to do more than just reading. They both invite the reader to do some rethinking about the true meaning of the content, which makes them unique pieces of literature.
Multiple themes are presented throughout “Frankenstein” and “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” with the help of framing narratives. One such common theme is human’s destructiveness against laws of nature. In “Frankenstein”, Victor defied the laws of nature of natural births by trying to play God to create a life form on his own. This violation of nature laws ultimately led to tragedies that befell on both the creator and his creation (the creature) when he did not cherish and nurture his creation properly.
Likewise in “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere”, this theme is also presented in the act of the Mariner killing the albatross. This single mindless destructive act is his undoing that leads to a series of sufferings and punishments. He did not understand that all God’s creations in nature are of equal value and that no one should have any right to take away any lives.
Both works invite the reader to examine humanity relationships with the natural world. The underlying implication for this theme is the necessity for humanity to recognize and respect the value and beauty of the nature. Any irresponsible acts may result in unthinkable consequences.
Solitude is another common theme found in both works. In Frankenstein, the creature experiences solitude as a result of isolation by human beings due to his repulsive appearance. The creature begins as an innocent and lonely being who longs for love and compassion but realizes that he will never be accepted by the community because of his abomination. He was first abandoned by Victor, leaving him to fend for himself and later rejected again and again by the community with anger, hatred and violence. Shelly uses this theme to reflect the shallowness of society where social prejudice is founded on appearances and stress the idea of society’s injustice towards abnormalities. It can be understood that the monstrosity in the creature is a social product.
On the other hand, the mariner experiences solitude as part of his punishment for his sin. His experience came about as a result of his impulsive act of killing the albatross. Unlike the creature who has been unjustly subjected to isolation without a choice, the mariner has a choice. He could have chosen not to kill the bird. In a way, his solitude is self induced.
With solitude comes sufferings and that leads us to another common theme of sufferings and impact. In the extract, the creature laments that his sufferings came from the ill treatment he received from human beings. His sufferings left a negative impact on his innocent soul as his hatred for his creator and his species grew from this injustice which ultimately led him to “murder the lovely and the helpless…strangle the innocent…grasp to death his throat…” (prose passage)In contrast to the creature, the mariner’s sufferings for his sins left a positive impact on him. His sufferings made him realize that everything as a part of nature, has its own beauty and should be cherished for its own sake.
Upon realization of his mistakes, his sufferings came to an end and he became a more sensitive, understanding and compassionate human being. This positive impact on him can be seen from the mariner’s last words to the guest in the sixth stanza of the extract. ‘He prayeth best, who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all.’ (poem extract)For both writers to be able to bring forward the themes so successfully, many literary techniques have been employed to enhance these themes. This leads us to the next discussion on the writers’ techniques and its effect.
The technique of framed narrative is exhibited in the prose passage by the creature. Framing narratives offers the reader multiple perspectives to the text through the change of point-of-view of the narrators and “it is the multiplicity of voices that lends the novel (as a genre) its potential range and openness to competing or alternative interpretations” (Walder 11) The reader gains new insights about the personalities of the individual narrators with each shift of perspective as each narrator contributes information only known to them. Within this framed narrative, a highly dramatized monologue is displayed throughout the extract. Repetitions of ‘I’ throughout the monologue have the effect of focusing the reader’s attention to the creature. Strong emotion words like ‘wretch’, ‘loathing despair’, ‘abhorrence’ are being used to highlight the dramatic feelings coursing through the creature at the point of narration.
Perhaps it is Shelley’s intention to pull the reader between perception and reality to create a conflict between sympathy and judgment. The usage of direct speech in the monologue has the effect of materializing the scene of the creature narrating right in front of the reader, thus bringing the reader closer to the creature’s thoughts. Another noted technique used in the extract is the use of parallel. The line “The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone” shows a parallel to Paradise Lost where the creature is compared to Satan. This allusion helps to summarize the creature’s character and present it to the reader in one quick powerful image.
Like the prose passage, framed narrative is also engaged in the poem to present to the reader a different voice for each scenario; the mariner telling the wedding guest his tale and the storytelling scene, in hope of clarifying the nature of the story. Unlike the prose passage, archaic diction is used in the poem to keep the ballad flavor as well as to function as Christian moralizing. Symbolism is used widely in the poem. One such example is the Wedding, which symbolizes new life where everyone can start anew in their beliefs in God. The poem also has an apocalyptic allegorical representation attached to it. This spiritual meaning is realized in the mariner’s final words to the wedding guest in the sixth stanza.
In conclusion, I have compared and contrasted the two extracts in terms of its narrative structure, themes and literary techniques. From the above, we have seen how both writers manipulate their narrative structure to put across a certain effect on the reader, how the common themes shared by both works may differ in some ways and finally how the writers employ different literary devices to achieve significance in the passages. Indeed, both works presented truly illuminate the glory of Romantic literature.
Graham, Allen. Approaching literature- Romantic Writings. Routledge, London. Great Britain:The Open University, 1998.
Richard, Allen. Approaching literature- The Realist Novel. Routledge, London. Great Britain: The Open University, 1995.
Mary, Shelley. Frankenstein. Oxford University Press, 1994