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Andrew’s Formal Blog Post on the Similarities between Oscar Wilde’s “Birthday of the Infanta” and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

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While reading Oscar Wilde’s Birthday of the Infanta, I could not help but see similarities between the Dwarf and Frankenstein’s monster and how they perceive themselves. Both characters are raised with the constructs of beauty and normality in society, so when they see themselves for the first time, both are horrified. Neither is able to find the acceptance that they seek, nor charity or pity from fellow man.

When the dwarf first sees his reflection in a mirror, he does not realize that he is seeing himself. Instead, he sees “a monster, the most grotesque monster he had ever beheld. Not properly shaped, as all other.”(Wilde 261). When the Dwarf finally realizes he is viewing his own reflection, he falls to the ground and says that “…it was he who was misshapen and hunchbacked, foul to look at and grotesque. He himself was the monster.”(262). His appearance dashes his hopes of the Infanta loving him, and he dies.

In Frankenstein, the Monster states “when I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?” (Shelley, Ch 13). Notice that the Monster and the Dwarf both instantly realize their bodies are formed differently than “normal” and both instantly call themselves monsters and see that they are Other. Frankenstein’s Monster, when realizing his reflection was true, he felt the “…bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification.” (Shelley, Ch 13). Both the Monster and the Dwarf realize the gravity that their appearance has had and will have on their lives, but while the Monster enacts bloody vengeance against his creator, the Dwarf dies of a broken heart.

What I found interesting was that though both were “monsters,” but because the dwarf was infantilized, but not so cute as Tiny Tim, he was seen as an object of play and laughter, dancing for the Infanta’s party, while Frankenstein’s Monster, because he was so tall and threatening, was instantly demonized. The characters are symbols of disability and their own reactions to themselves, because they have been raised with the societal construct of “normality,” show the reactions society has towards them. Though the birds and lizards do not mind the Dwarf, both of the “monsters” are unable to find real acceptance in society and their authors provide little hope for them to adapt. The characters are unable to even have compassion for themselves.  There is no charity, no pity, nor turkey dinner.

Written by aallingh

September 29th, 2010 at 11:07 am

Samuel Beardslee’s Formal Post on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Part 2)

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“You, who call Frankenstein your friend, seem to have a knowledge of my crimes and his misfortunes. But in the detail which he gave you of them he could not sum up the hours and months of misery which I endured wasting in impotent passions. For while I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. They were forever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this? Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all humankind sinned against me? Why do you not hate Felix, who drove his friend from his door with contumely? Why do you not execrate the rustic who sought to destroy the saviour of his child? Nay, these are virtuous and immaculate beings! I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice.”

“But it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept and grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing. I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery; I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin. There he lies, white and cold in death. You hate me, but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. I look on the hands which executed the deed; I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived and long for the moment when these hands will meet my eyes, when that imagination will haunt my thoughts no more.”(201-202) [bold type added for emphasis]

If this ultimate monologue (of which this is but an excerpt) given by the Monster is not a perfect example of disability being a cause for evil due to society, then nothing is.  Standing beside the creator who spurned him who lay dead before him, the Monster has no words of sympathy for the fallen Frankenstein.  Instead he declares his machinations complete: “in his murder my crimes are consummated”(198).  However, throughout this speech, the Monster does not show any level of pride for having destroyed his creator and all that he loved.  On the contrary, he seems to be giving a eulogy for himself as he comes to the resolution to commit suicide in an attempt to prevent any “curious and unhallowed wretch who would create such another as I have been.”(202)  This, paired with the quote found above “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on.”(201), makes a direct reference to practices of leaving a disfigured child to die which were not uncommon at the time of this novel.  Sadly, our society cannot claim to be wholly better than that of 200 years ago.  While some treatment of disabled persons have improved, new atrocities have arisen, namely the abortion of unborn children with Down’s Syndrome.

Frankenstein, while creating the companion for the Monster, fell prey to the thoughts that creating this new creature could unleash a race of devils on the Earth, and destroyed it.  Having broken that pact, the Monster would go on to haunt the man for the remainder of his life.  All throughout this journey of revenge, the Monster loathed himself and his actions, but he felt he had no other options when everything had been taken from him.  This leads to the obvious question: would that life that never was, the companion to the Monster, have been the positive influence to save not only himself, but also Frankenstein and his loved ones?  Because that life was snuffed, in addition to the past injustices committed against the Monster listed above, The Monster was left nothing but Frankenstein in his life, the man who forced him into this wretched state, and he could not fulfill himself with any other emotion besides revenge in regards to that man.

While the last words of Frankenstein make him an unpitiable man: “During these last days I have been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor do I find it blameable.”(196)  The Monsters final words drive home the injustice of it all, calling into question who was the true villain.  Was it the Monster seeking revenge against the man, the last representative of a unjust society, who denied him everything, including love, or the Man that wanted to protect society from this Monster he created?

It is sad when life becomes secondary to society.

Written by Spyden

September 27th, 2010 at 9:21 am

Katherine Sullivan’s Formal Blog Post on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

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Remember, thou hast made me more powerful than thyself; my height is superior to thine, my joints more supple. But I will not be tempted to set myself in opposition to thee. I am thy creature, and I will be even mild and docile to my natural lord and king if thou wilt also perform thy part, the which thou owest me. Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due. Remember that I am thy creature; 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. (Shelley 84)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein paints the portrait of a monster that is equally a disabled human form, and super-abled cyborg.  The Monster is characterized as being created from deteriorated human parts (parts that were inherently un-abled in that they were dead and non-functional) that were revived in their final successful form as a gruesome conglomeration of defiance of the world’s natural order.

Tobin Siebers refers to Donna Harroway’s assertion of cyborgs as “a hybrid of machine and organism” (178). Although The Monster is not composed of artificial mechanical parts as we traditionally think of prosthesis, he is indeed composed in an unnatural way that employed the use of semi-functional parts to replace failed parts. In this way, I believe that he does satisfy the category of cyborg.  The characters that we see interact and respond to The Monster are not exactly repulsed by his “disability,” but by his ability. Even after being resurrected from rotting flesh, he is still stronger, he is still larger, and he is still a cyborg.

The above block quote features The Monster’s views of himself as an unnatural creature.  He asserts that although his creator has formed him to ultimately be “more powerful,” “more supple,” and essentially “superior,” he does not intend to use this power in violence or to take advantage of is “naturally”-fabricated abilities.  Instead, he wished to suppress these characteristics that make him unique from the individuals he has met and observed.  He denies the potential, positive or negative, that his new form has alighted him and desires only to be submissive and respectful to Frankenstein if he will, in turn, protect him and take responsibility for his creation.

Instead of initially taking responsibility for his creation and taking the opportunity to form a relationship as he would with any unaltered living thing, Frankenstein exhibits what Ato Quayson would describe as an “aesthetic nervousness” when facing The Monster.  He is paralyzed by ignorance in the face of the super-abled cyborg, and wracked with fear caused by that ignorance.  This tragedy of misunderstanding forces The Monster to feel outcast and despised.

Written by Katherine Sullivan

September 24th, 2010 at 12:16 pm