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November 21, 2014

Let's Get Classic - Post 1

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At Teenreads, we love to review the latest and greatest YA books to hit the shelves. However, we recognize that older books --- sometimes much older books --- have plenty of value, too. In this blog series, Teen Board member Alison S. will write about some of her favorites, and how it remains relevant today. Read below for the first one, on Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN.

 


Hello, all. For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a series of blog posts discussing classic literature and relating said literature to everyday-life. Sounds riveting, I know. Anyhow, I’ve chosen Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEINas today’s book of interest, so prepare yourselves for 500 words of literary greatness!

Since its publication in 1818, FRANKENSTEINhas saturated popular culture. While it remains fairly obscure, simply living in the 21st century seems to communicate a vague understanding of the book’s characters and plot. The novel stars, of course, Victor Frankenstein, the archetypal mad scientist, and his nameless monster, the once-childlike monolith who stumbles down a path of cruelty and destruction.

What remains rather cryptic, however, is Victor’s motivation for constructing his infamous monster. Prior to reading the novel, I attributed Victor’s insane actions to, well, insanity. While assembling the monster, however, an alarmingly lucid Victor expresses horror at both the hideousness of his creation and the lunacy of his newfound “hobby.” In other words, Dr. Frankenstein knew what he was getting into, which begs the question: Why didn’t he terminate this deranged “experiment” while he still could?

Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN can serve as a warning of sorts...you shouldn’t create enemies for yourself where there aren’t any. 

Perhaps he continued out of boredom; as a member of Switzerland’s upper-class, Victor’s life had inched along in a state of idyllic complacency. In creating the monster, Frankenstein may have satisfied a subconscious desire for opposition. Maybe, by instigating a lifelong battle with the monster, he gained some perverse sense of purpose. As the dragon remarks in John Gardner’s GRENDEL, “[Evil is] mankind, or man’s condition: inseparable as the mountain-climber and the mountain.” After all, why do you think Romeo fell in love with Juliet? Sure, she was pretty, but beauty alone couldn’t account for Romeo’s near-instantaneous attraction to the young Capulet. Though readers worldwide bemoan the family rivalry that shattered the couple’s future happiness, I believe that Romeo and Juliet’s relationship relied on their families’ rivalry just as much as “the mountain-climber [does on] the mountain.” These “star-crossed lovers” were nothing more than two aristocratic teens searching for some obstacle, some challenge, to pierce the cushiness of their ordinary lives. As humans, we instinctively crave opposition; by labeling something as “evil”, we can then identify as “good” whenever said force keeps us from getting what we want. But what if characters lack an adversary? Some, aka Romeo, create new goals, such as marrying Juliet. Others, aka Frankenstein, create new opposition in the form of a reanimated corpse.

 Now, I know what you’re all thinking: gee whiz, that’s great, Alison, but what’s it have to do with us? Hopefully, not much, but perhaps Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN can serve as a warning of sorts. Not that you shouldn’t reanimate stolen body parts (though, come to think of it, that probably wouldn’t end well, either), but that you shouldn’t create enemies for yourself where there aren’t any. So, the next time someone looks at you the wrong way in the hallway, or their “excuse me” strikes you as tinged with the slightest, most infuriating hint of sarcasm, think twice before labeling them as your nemesis. Are you really the wronged martyr you imagine yourself to be? Or merely a bored Victor Frankenstein looking for opposition in all the wrong places?