How does Mary Shelley use Gothic elements to explore deeper issues in Chapter Five? Essay
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The Gothic Horror novel is a literary genre which began to flourish in Britain during the 18th century. It is a type of novel that deals with events that generally question the boundaries that separate the socially acceptable from the unacceptable, often exploring the themes of good and evil along the way. Prominent features of this genre are typically desolate or remote settings, with violent, mysterious and macabre incidents taking place. The use of such devices usually leads to an observing of the margins between what is human, and what is monstrous, supernatural and inhumane.
This allows the genre to delve into subjects that are frequently regarded as taboo. Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ is a classic example of a Gothic Horror novel; it uses almost all of the above conventions, and resultantly explores one of the fiercest debates of morality: cloning, which, during the era in which Frankenstein was written, would have been a prohibited issue.
Chapter Five uses many Gothic elements in order to depict the intensity of the issue that it explores; it is the chapter in which Victor Frankenstein brings his Creation to life, and consequently is the chapter that brings about the eventual destruction of Frankenstein. From the opening paragraph of this chapter, we get a sense of the gloominess that is manifest throughout: firstly, Shelley sets the scene in a typically eerie environment; it is on a ‘dreary night [at] one in the morning’ that the event occurs, as the ‘rain patters dismally against the panes.
‘ The isolation of the environment- the fact that Victor is alone in a foreign country, in the dead of night- is an alien situation, and is unsettling for the reader. It also highlights Victor’s seclusion; he is alone in the world. Frankenstein and his Creation are the only two living creatures in the first section of this chapter, in which the being is created. Later on in the book, we see that Frankenstein must battle against the being he has created in order to save humanity. The fact that he and his Creation are alone in the room, in isolated surroundings pre-empts the idea that there will be a war between Frankenstein and his Creation, and the fact that the struggle will leave Victor even more isolated than he is now.
Also, the pathetic fallacy of such weather and times foreshadows the dark events that are to follow. The fact that he works by a ‘half-extinguished light’ also creates a sense of foreboding: it shows that any bright or happy times that Victor had previously experienced are going to be over soon, smothered out by the Creation. Notice how the usual gothic convention of a violent thunderstorm has instead been replaced by rain pattering ‘dismally.
‘ The weather is also described as ‘dreary’: the use of such adjectives creates a monotonous and also rather melancholy atmosphere. This depressed environment pre-empts the disappointing result of the ‘experiment:’ the miserable surroundings prepare the reader for the equally dismal disillusionment of the ‘birth’. The lack of thunderstorm could also engender a feeling of unease, as it strays away from the typical Gothic convention; unfamiliarity usually provokes a sense of discomfort, adding to the eerie ambience of the chapter. Shelley’s subversion of conventions prepares the reader for the ‘birth’, as the ‘birth’ also generates distress, disappointment and unease: Victor is expecting the Creation to turn out as a normal being; instead, he is horrified by what he sees and it comes as a complete shock to him.
This eerie atmosphere that Shelley creates is further brought about by the sense of indefiniteness that is created; it is all very vague: we are told about ‘instruments of life,’ but they are never described. The ‘spark of being’ that is infused is also an ambiguous case; it could be electricity, but we do not know for sure. This sense of indefiniteness arouses anxiety and anticipation; the reader is not exactly sure of the circumstances, and so is uneasy with it. Mysterious situations are being delved into: this exploration of the unknown is another prominent feature of the Gothic Horror novel that is portrayed throughout ‘Frankenstein.’
Shelley does not just attempt to perturb the reader; she also provokes fear and revulsion by the use of description. For example, the creature’s ‘yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath.’ The creature’s description is almost semi-human, which again links to the gothic genre; the portrayal of the creature is monstrous, and also rather frightening. However, the Creation also has some beautiful features, such as ‘lustrous black’ hair, and ‘teeth of a pearly whiteness.’ These beauteous features, however, only ‘formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes […] dun white sockets […] shrivelled complexion […] straight black lips.’ This combination of aesthetic and horrible features accentuates the ugliness; they only enhance the repulsiveness, creating a worse overall outcome. This emphasises the way that human nature is more prone to seeing the negative aspects rather than the positive; the hideous outbalances the pleasant.
The reader’s fear of the monster is further consolidated with the way that Victor reacts towards his Creation. Victor rejects his Creation because of the way he looks; he is filled with ‘breathless horror’ and rushes ‘out of the room.’ This could either influence the reader in the way that they emulate Victor’s reaction, or that they feel he is irresponsible; we see that Victor runs away from his problems, instead of facing up to them. This shows that he has not planned for anything to go wrong; he is foolish, and too obsessed with his goal to consider the consequences.
Victor’s state of mind of late is also a typical one used in Gothic novels; Victor seems to be going insane, as that night he is ‘unable to compose [his] mind to sleep,’ and when he finally does fall asleep, he is ‘disturbed by the wildest of dreams.’ His mind is very troubled, and he states that he ‘worked hard for nearly two years…deprived myself of rest and health.’ He has overcome basic human needs, like food and rest: this creates a sense of the unnatural, as it is not normal to deprive oneself from such necessities merely for the sake of work. This element of the novel is strongly gothic, as it relates to the idea of a living nightmare. Shelley here is portraying the dangers of obsession, and the fact that man cannot create man with ease. Victor has succeeded in creating man; however, he has had to sacrifice many basic requirements in order to achieve his goal.
The ‘wildest of dreams’ that Victor experiences are certainly disturbing, and adds to the Gothic aspects of the chapter; he dreams about holding his lover, who then transforms into his dead mother, and then ‘a shroud envelopes her form, and (Victor) saw the grave-worms crawling in the folds of the flannel.’ These images could be symbolic of his deeper and darker concerns; that he is worried about the harm that the Creation will inflict upon his loved ones. The dead mother could pre-empt the deaths that occur later on in the story, as a result of his Creation? The dream occurs as a result of his Creation, as do the deaths that happen later on. The dream could also have undertones of necrophilia; he handles the pieces of dead body easily enough to create man, perhaps the dream suggests an obsession with death? Such issues would have been of a taboo status, and the way that Shelley explores matters of the sort is typical of the gothic genre.
Frankenstein awakens from his sleep and sees the monster, who reaches out for him.The Creation is treated with contempt and disgust from the moment it is born, even though it does not initially cause any harm, or even intend to cause any harm. Victor describes the way a ‘grin wrinkled’ the Creation’s cheeks, and how ‘one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me.’ Such actions can be interpreted in various ways; the Creation could simply have been smiling and reaching out to Victor for a hug, yet Victor immediately assumes that the Creation wants to ‘detain’ him.
The Creation also ‘muttered some inarticulate sounds;’ the first thing that it tries to do is communicate: this shows that it is a friendly and sociable creature, yet, from the moment it is born, it is though the worst of, and is shunned in its attempts at making friends. This foreshadows the way that the monster will not be accepted into society: it has already been rejected by its own creator, it seems unlikely that society will accept it. Victor’s actions are worse than the Creation’s: Victor runs away in a cowardly manner, when all the Creation was trying to do was be friendly.
The following morning, after Victor’s encounter with his Creation, the weather is described as ‘dismal and wet.’ Shelley has used pathetic fallacy here; the physical landscape reflects Victor’s mental landscape. It echoes the gloomy future that is to commence, and reflects the dismal reality of the situation. The ‘black and comfortless sky’ gives connotations of darkness and evil, suggesting that God has rejected Victor for toying with his power.
Prometheus, a mythological God, was given responsibility for the creation of mankind, which he produced from pieces of clay. Prometheus could not bear to see the clay mortals he had created living a half-life, without fire; ignoring the Gods and Zeus’s intentions that Man should not have fire, Prometheus stole some and gave it to his clay beings, rebelling against the wishes of the other Gods.
Victor Frankenstein is often compared to Prometheus; in fact, Shelley has put the subtitle for the novel as ‘a modern Prometheus.’ he echoes two aspects of the Prometheus myth: the creation of man from raw materials, and the rebellion against a higher authority. Victor’s situation is similar; he defies God by mimicking God’s ability to create life; this angers God, and we see this is the way the sky is illustrated. This is another Gothic element, as Victor opts for the Devil’s side as opposed to God’s side. This portrays the classic battle between good and evil: good always defeats evil, as is shown when, later on in the novel, Victor starts to regret his choice.
By the end of the chapter, Victor’s frame of mind is just as unstable as ever; ‘the form of the monster on whom I had bestowed existence was forever before my eyes.’ The Creation haunts Victor wherever he turns, showing how he has developed a nervous complex. This unstableness of his mind is eerie in itself. It depicts the fragility of the human mind, and is quite frightening to imagine. Shelley arguably presents Victor as more loathsome than the Creation in this chapter, as it is Victor that is the coward, in running away from his own creation. Victor also abandons his family in order to pursue his goal of bringing a human to life: the Creation does not do this. The Creation ‘reaches out’ for Victor, searching for a friendly response. In fact, it is Victor who rejects the Creation. Shelley here could be referring to the responsibility that parents have in accordance to their children; Victor abandons his ‘child,’ and never shows regret for the way he treats it.
Throughout this chapter, Shelley presents many warnings involving the responsibility of a parent towards its child, and uses gothic conventions in order to convey this. She also gives warnings about the dangers of playing God; such warnings are relevant even today: modern science and parental responsibilities still apply in the modern world.
All of the events that occur throughout the novel, and particularly in chapter five, are that of a supernatural nature. The chapter contains many references to matters of taboo, such as necrophilia, and also explores the idea of abandonment and the way society outcasts certain members simply due to physical appearance. Shelley could be sending out a message of warning to future generations, showing what could happen as a result of playing God. She also seems to be commenting on how unjust it is that humans base their judgements purely on physical appearance. As part of a gothic story, chapter five is extremely effective, in that it contains all the conventional gothic elements, along with unconventional ones, in order to maximise the feeling of unease, discomfort and fright.