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Nowadays, people enjoy going to haunted houses, watching scary movies, and paying attention to breaking news on TV. Most of those interests stem from gothic literature and the elements they present. People want to be a part of some horror without being directly harmed or involved. The novel Frankenstein, not the James Whale 1931 film, provides the involvement of horror with the reader just by words. Most modern horror directors and authors including Stephen King, are incapable of creating any form of terror through context.
Mary Shelly uses strategically placed gothic elements to enhance the horror of her novel. By doing so, she creates a story that bridges the supernatural to modern sciences and makes the reader question if creating life through science is morally correct. This psychological connection enhances the experience for the reader.
In Frankenstein, a young man named Victor, interested in philosophy as a child and science as an adult, decides to try to create life using mismatched body parts.
His expedition succeeds only to be tormented by his creation in a game of tag to the northernmost ice caps of the Earth to his untimely death. The usage of body parts and bringing things to life bridges to the supernatural element to bring the novel into the gothic genre.
Gothic literature consists of a combination of elements. The elements listed in the essay; Gothic literature, include “A castle, ruined or intact, haunted or not, ruined buildings which are sinister or which arouse a pleasing melancholy, dungeons, underground passages, crypts, and catacombs… labyrinths, dark corridors, and winding stairs, shadows, a beam of moonlight in blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of lighting failing.
.extreme landscapes, like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather,…supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural, a passion driven, willful villain-hero or villain, … (and) horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happenings”. Mary Shelley successfully utilizes almost every element in her novel.
Mary Shelley uses setting to enhance the presence of gothic features in her novel. Her use of exaggerated landscapes to depict emotions of characters is one of her defining features. A gothic novel’s qualities include shady deserted places, darkness, morbid or supernatural occurrences or beings. The setting of Frankenstein is consistently shady and “exists to convey the atmosphere” (Hume). This ability allows for Frankenstein to fit into the genre of gothic literature. Mary Shelley’s depictions of the vivid landscapes used in her novel could also be said to represent character’s emotions throughout the story. The atmosphere made by the setting changes as characters endure different trials. When the creature Victor creates comes alive, he is frightened and runs away. The depictions of the area to which he flees mirror his emotions at the time. The selected section,
“I did not dare return to the apartment which I inhabited, but felt
compelled to hurry on, although drenched by the rain which poured
from a black and comfortless sky” (Shelley 52)
resembles the fear Victor had running away from what he had done. The “black and comfortless sky” mentioned could be a symbol of Victor feeling lost and alone. This alone is just one of many atmospheres created by Shelley to induce horror upon the reader. Setting was also used to transition between narrators as done for Walton. Walton’s icy environment is a great contrast to Victor’s rainy environment not only physically but metaphorically. Walton’s journey consisted of a more positive aspiration that would harm no one. Victor’s “journey” was controversial to begin with and caused much harm to him and others. In an essay which outlined the type of writing Mary Shelley had used in Frankenstein (What is Mary Shelley’s Writing Style?”), The differences between Walton and Victor are worded like this;
“It displays a variety of style which are associated with the
main narrators: epistolary form for Walton, highly descriptive,
rational, but intensely emotional in parts which are told by
Victor, tragic, moving and in a way violent”.
The vast differences in character mimic the vast differences in setting.
Mary Shelley also uses relatively obscure language in which rather questionable moral activities and beings are described. Her use of mysterious circumstances aids her creation of a gothic novel. During the rather “creative” creation of Victor’s creature, the sources of his materials are rather vague. Where does Victor acquire limbs for his experiments? “The cloudy circumstances under which Victor gathers body parts for his experiments and the use of little known modern technologies for unnatural purposes” (“Frankenstein as a gothic novel”) illustrate the mystery aspect of the novel, whilst unnerving the reader morally. Another type of disturbing descriptions can be found in the description of the creature during its first minutes of life. Chapter 5 of Frankenstein begins with the resurrection of the creature, a wide contrast as to what Victor had hoped to create.
“I had endeavored to form (the creature) his limbs were in
proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful!-great god!
His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath;
his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth were of pearly whiteness;
but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast
with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun
white sockets in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight
black lips…the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless
horror and disgust filled my heart” (51).
Shelley’s use of vivid language definitely has an effect on the comfort of the reader, which emphasizes the horror aspect of her novel and more of the gothic genre properties it possesses. It also foreshadows Donald Trump’s presidency in the aspect of terror. In conclusion, the usage of descriptive language on unsettling circumstances and beings used in Frankenstein elevate the psychological horror for the imagination.
In conclusion, Mary Shelley successfully implemented gothic elements into literary devices physically by appearance, and mentally by meaning. Not only does her novel Frankenstein exist as a classic story to be remade into many off target movies, inspire authors, and be used as Halloween decorations, but as a miniature moral guide used to question modern day sciences and the possibility of scientists becoming modern gods. That possibility provides further evidence that people want to be scared.
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