Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Monster: Helpless and Pitiful

“Felix darted forward, and with supernatural force tore me from his father, to whose knees I clung: in a transport of fury, he dashed me to the ground, and struck me violently with a stick. I could have torn him limb from limb, as the lion rends the antelope. But my heart sunk within me as with bitter sickness, and I refrained.”

Lynd Ward’s illustrations in Frankenstein can be interpreted in many different ways. The interpretations depend on the individual depicting the picture. On page 150, there is an illustration of Felix, the son of De Lacy, attacking the monster. While Felix stands over the monster holding a stick, the monster’s body is sprawled open with his legs and arms in the upward position. I believe Ward depicted the text this way to argue that although the monster could have fought back against Felix, he restrained because of his conscience and as a result is the victim.

The first part of the image I examined was the monster. I immediately noticed how he seems to be struggling. All of his arms and legs are in the air, as if he is attempting to resist Felix. I interpreted the marks on his body to be scars as a result of past traumas. Ward gives him large claws on his feet as well as his hands. This was done to stress his monster-like physical appearance. The background of the illustration is very light compared to the dark coloring of the monster. I interpreted this as a sign of evil and coldness because he is in fact depicted as a creature. The monster is portrayed as both terrifying but pathetic at the same time. He almost looks helpless; as if there is nothing he can do about the fact that Felix is attempting to kill him. Ward portrays the monster this way so that readers can sympathize with him. Regardless that the monster is portrayed as a creature or “being,” this illustration is somewhat disheartening or sad. Witnessing a human-being attempt to kill this struggling, vulnerable creature allows readers to pity him and perhaps see the human inside of the monster.

At this point in Frankenstein, the monster explains his reasoning behind not defending himself or striking back: “ I could have torn him limb from limb, as the lion rends the antelope. But my heart sunk within me as with bitter sickness, and I refrained” (Shelley 151). This proves that the monster recognizes his ability but something within him told him to resist. Ward acknowledges the monster’s conscience and illustrates the monster to correspond with his decision to refrain from attacking. Therefore, Ward chose to illustrate the monster by showing a struggle while also showing how helpless the monster looks. Ward wanted readers to distinguish between a fierce aggressive monster and an effortless resisting monster. It is also interesting that Ward reveals the scars on the monster’s body. Initially, the scars make the monster appear assertive and violent; however, after examining the rest of the monster’s body as well as his body positioning, it is evident that in this situation he is not a threat or a bully but rather the victim. Once again, readers are able to sympathize with the monster.

The second main part of the image is Felix. Felix is portrayed as much smaller. His features including his arms, body, and face are very small, especially compared to the monster. Ward depicted Felix this way in order to show how large the monster is. Although Felix is just a normal average-size man and the monster is a very large creature, Felix has ultimate power in this situation because the monster resisted. Essentially, there is a power exchange here; due only to the fact that the monster refrained from taking action against Felix. The illustration of small Felix attacking the large creature shows just how much the monster is resisting. Although Felix “darted forward with supernatural force,” the monster’s conscience told him to refrain. (Shelley 151).

Ward interprets the text in a manner in which the monster is the victim. Felix’s facial expression and tense body images confirm that he is indeed angry and violent. The monster lay helplessly on the ground with his arms and legs in the air to protect himself. The monster, here, plays the role of the victim. His conscience tells him not to fight back, and he does not. Ward expresses this through his pitiful image of the monster. He is not fierce and violent; instead, Felix is. In this image, size plays no role. Although the monster is much larger than Felix, Felix is the attacker. Ward’s image makes readers feel bad for the monster. He looks pathetic and defenseless. Although the monster made his own decision to not intervene, readers cannot help but have pity for him. Ward has a way of depicting the monster as large with claws, but at the same time, making him appear vulnerable and powerless.

1 comment:

  1. Let's look at what seems to be your argument: "I believe Ward depicted the text this way to argue that although the monster could have fought back against Felix, he restrained because of his conscience and as a result is the victim."

    I agree with your reading of the visuals here, and I find your argument easy to agree with as well. The problem is that it's a little *too* easy to agree with. You provide the obvious lion/antelope passage from the text to support your case, and I need to ask - do you really think there's another reading of the text, which would make the monster into something other than a victim and object of a abuse here?

    In other words, are you simply stating something which is obvious, and calling it an argument?

    An argument needs to not be obvious; there needs to be another point of view.

    For my part, I do think there is a way in which you could make this into a less obvious argument - I think the alternative here is to argue that the monster is dishonest, and that his actions are far more monstrous than the monster's own account, or Ward's illustrations, would show us.

    In other words, you could argue that Ward is making a very pro-monster interpretation here, but the pro-monster interpretation is neither necessary nor obvious.

    I go through all of this, in part, because an important part of this prompt is *responding* to Ward's reading. You shouldn't just be stating it, but evaluating it - and for it to make sense, you probably need to first make the counterargument that the monster can be read very differently here, *in spite* of the lion/antelope passage.