Friday, October 14, 2016

Oakridge's 7th Period Sophomore English Class Discusses the Creature's "Loss of Innocence" in Chapters 1-5 of Vol. 2 in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

We wanted to post this nearly 2 weeks ago, but midterms and homecoming forced us to take a break from blogging, but here’s something Oakridge Sophomore 7th period English class put together a while back:


In this section of the novel, Mary Shelley quotes her husband’s poetry, specifically “On Mutability.” The poem speaks about change and how natural things, like the clouds, and even created things, such as the lyre, are both changeable and fickle. One moment a cloud could be here and the next it could be gone, like how every pluck of the string on the lyre causes a different sound. The poem fits the first part of Vol. 2 well, because both Victor Frankenstein and the creature are undergoing radical changes. In Stanza 3 Shelley writes, “We rest-a dream has power to poison sleep; We rise- one wandering thought pollutes the day;” meaning one thought can change the very outcome of a given day’s experience. “Pollutes” suggests a negative change, which is fitting for this section of the novel because the opening chapters of Vol. 2 document the creature’s unfortunate transformation from innocence towards corruption. In Chapters 1-5 of Volume 2 (Ch. 9-12) of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley offers the reader a vision of how a person’s innocence is corrupted by society, as well as how one’s environment shapes his or her character, thereby making the case that criminality and villainy are not “natural” human categories, but deficient states of being that are largely determined by an individual’s quality of life experience.

We realize that our thesis statement might be getting ahead of itself when it comes to the last clause, but we’re assuming Victor’s realization at the end of Vol. 1 is correct; that is to say, the Creature must have killed William. The following dialogue is an imagined conversation between the Creature and his therapist about the earlier experiences that may have driven him to the point of becoming a murderer:

The Interview, Session 1, October 17--:

Question 1: What does it mean to be born innocent? And did you start off as innocent? Or were you destined to be a monster?

The Creature: I do think I started off innocent, which to me means that I hadn’t done anything wrong and had no immediate inclination to do wrong to others. Consider my early experiences with the DeLaceys. When I realized that helping them gather firewood while refraining from eating their food would contribute to their well-being, my instinct was to be of assistance with no specific expectation of benefit in return. Simply put, “...kindness moved me sensibly” (114). I truly felt affection for these people: “The gentle manners and the beauty of the cottagers endeared them to me: when they were unhappy, I felt depressed; when they rejoiced, I sympathised in their joys” (115). They had such an impact on my development, and I think that’s another aspect of being innocent. Early on, I was so impressionable, almost like a blank slate ready to be chalked up with new experiences, some happy and pleasurable while others were frightening and even sad at times. I’ve learned that innocence also makes one naive, and it may have been naive for me to think that the Delaceys would react with the same warmth and affection I felt for them if (and when) I revealed myself: “I looked upon them as superior beings, who would be the arbiters of my future destiny.” (117) Perhaps it was naive to place my whole destiny in their hands, a notion that someone with a little more life experience might see as unlikely to end well, but it was also naive for Victor, my father, to think his creation (namely me) would earn him glory and gratitude as he seemed to think when stated, “A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (55). I wanted their company so badly, and I thought I needed to make a move to make them realize it too, and that’s where it wrong. One student, Evan Broome at The Oakridge School, made an interesting point when reading my story that had to do with the relationship between the id (Freud’s idea of the unconscious) and the state of innocence. I desperately wanted affection and company from others almost like a primal necessity or instinct, and I acted on it without understanding the rules or conventions of society.

Question 2: Describe for us the transition, as you remember it, when you began to “lose your innocence.”

The Creature: Well, I longed for love and companionship or just some kind of act of acceptance, something that was denied me from the very beginning of my existence. My father rejected me. Various villagers did as well, but the pain of rejection didn’t set in until I met the Delaceys. When I encountered them I was starting to realize that I was different, but “Alas! I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of [my] miserable deformity… I imagined that they would be disgusted, until, by my gentle demeanor and conciliating words, I should first win their favor, and afterwards their love” (117-18). As you can see, I was still naively hopeful, but I was starting to understand that I was not like others, and this is where the loss of innocence began. To be specific, my loss of innocence progressed in 3 stages: (1) I first felt the pain of abandonment (2) I then learned about the joys of companionship (through the Delaceys of course) & (3) lastly, I learned about human language (in other words, I became educated), and “I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections upon me” (123). I learned I was alone, and that others had friends and family. I learned that my appearance and origin were abnormal whereas other people had a more “normal” upbringing. The importance of having a father, a companion, even a lover, were shown to me. “Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it… I wished sometimes to shake off all thought and feeling” (123). The Delaceys were my Tree of Knowledge and the beginning of my loss of innocence.

Question 3: Sounds like you’re familiar with the story of Adam and the fall from paradise. What do you think is the connection between innocence and knowledge?

The Creature: Hmmm. I think of the moment when I saw my reflection in the pool of water. Now keep in mind that this was after I had learned language as well as what I lacked (namely, a family like the Delaceys): "I had admired the perfect forms of my cottagers - their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions: but how was I terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool!... [W]hen I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and morification." In simple terms, society had taught me, at this point, to see myself as a Monster, as one who lacked basic traits of what it means to be human, so the connection between knowledge and innocence, for me, is one that involves what I might call negative knowledge. I think the same thing happened to Victor, my creator, when he began to discover knowledge in a library on a vacation. It’s not that Victor lost his innocence because he read authors like Agrippa; I’m talking about when he became aware of his father’s disapproval. Victor realized he lacked a connection to his father, and perhaps he felt embarrassed about it. He knew that he lacked something, which is what I mean by negative knowledge. Similarly, when I looked in that pool of water, I realized that I lacked a connection to society. I was not normal; in fact; I knew that people saw me as a monster. I became aware that I was the Other, and society’s “knowledge” of me would always frame me in this light. Loss of innocence starts with ostracization. Case in point: think about what happened to Justine.

Question 4: Ah, I’m glad you mentioned Justine. Would you like to come clean? Did you kill William?

The Creature: I can neither confirm nor deny that, sir.