Over the past several years, I’ve added more and more classics to my reading list. I’m rarely disappointed. I recently read Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. I picked it up due to the prompting of daughter #3, who read it for her English class and thought it was good. I did as well.
A few things first: “Frankenstein” is actually Victor Frankenstein, the student who creates the “monster” — although let’s refer to him as the Creature. Most people (me included) assume that Frankenstein *is* the monster, the creepy guy with a green face and an odd gait. But that’s not how the book refers to him at all (I know, it’s no surprise that the book differs from the film version). I didn’t really know much about the Frankenstein story other than seeing a ballet performance of it about a decade ago. All I remembered of that was the “mad scientist” creating a creature who was incredibly muscular.
To the story itself — Victor Frankenstein is very interested in science. Teachers today would love him because he is a perfect fit for a STEM career. Anyway, he uses his skills to actually create a living, breathing … can’t say person, so we’ll say creature. But imagine that you had done this. At first, it’s exhilarating. But then, what if your creature didn’t turn out so well? What if you hadn’t anticipated all that would go along with this creation? “Learn from me … how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.”
That’s exactly Victor’s dilemma throughout the book. It raises interesting thoughts, many of which led me to thoughts about God and Christianity. Of course, God is God and not human, but as Victor was tortured by what he’d created, I wondered about God’s thoughts on the millions and billions He has made.
“Remember that I am thy creature;” the creature says.”I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed. Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.”
Another theme is what it means to be human. The creature can live and breathe, but is startled when he realizes he is also capable of more. After observing a family for several months, he “feels sensations of a peculiar and overwhelming nature; they were a mixture of pain and pleasure such as I had never before experienced, either from hunger or cold, warmth or food; and I withdrew from the window, unable to bear these emotions.” The creature comes to realize that he is different from people — once after he catches a glimpse of his reflection in water, and another time from the reactions of people when he reveals himself to them. “Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?” I couldn’t help feel bad for the creature.
I recommend Frankenstein — only a couple hundred pages, not overly difficult language, and lots of food for thought.