Thursday, October 13, 2011

Revision #1 (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. Interpretation is possible when observers depict the images carefully and tediously. Essentially, “the images really do carry the narrative” (Heller). In other words, Ward’s depictions alone can tell the story. 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. When one examines the text more precisely, however, it is evident that this scene actually exposes the monster’s dishonesty. Ward illustrates the monster in this scene to suggest his apparent conscience restraint; however, a deeper comprehension of the monster’s behaviors argue that the creature is actually a monstrous being, playing the role of a dishonest victim.

In order to understand the magnitude of the monster’s dishonesty, it is necessary to examine how Ward depicts him as he plays the false role of the victim against Felix. Immediately noticed is how the creature seems to be struggling. All of his arms and legs are in the air, as if he is attempting to resist Felix. The marks on his body can be interpreted as scars and scratches as a result of past traumas. Ward gives him large claws on his abnormally massive feet and 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. This suggests a sign of evil and cold-heartedness because he is in fact 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, if even only for a moment. 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. It is essential to remember though, for sake of argument that Ward depicts the creature this way in order to discreetly hint at the monster’s dishonesty. Although he appears helpless, Ward does this to disclose the severity of the victim role the monster is playing.

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). While one could argue that the monster recognizes his ability to fight back and resists, Ward’s details of the image contradict the reasoning for the monster’s restraint. Ward acknowledges the monster’s conscience by illustrating a struggle but chose to include pro-monster characteristics as well. He wanted readers to distinguish between a fierce aggressive monster and an effortless resisting monster in order to bring attention to the fact that the monster is only playing the role of the victim. He illustrates the monster’s scars, large limbs, and abnormal body structure to highlight his capacity for assertive and violent behavior. These minor details disprove the monster’s explanation of restraint. The creature is a monster with monster-like qualities and tendencies; he is perfectly capable of fighting back against Felix but chooses not to because he believes his conscience is telling him otherwise; however, the monster is simply using Felix as an attempt to gain sympathy and pity. While the monster’s thoughts may cause readers to sympathize with him, the illustrations expose his monstrous identity. Once this is recognized, the monster’s dishonest way of being can be recognized as well.

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 apparently told him to refrain. (Shelley 151). The fundamental reason why Ward depicted Felix and the monster in such ways is to convince readers that the monster believes he is resisting out of the goodness of his heart. Because the monster is being dishonest with himself and the humans around him, he feels as if his conscience is restraining him from attacking back. He is portrayed as helpless and pitiful in order to exaggerate his dishonesty. At this moment, readers want to pity him; however, other passages argue that this is merely a false victim role-play and the monster is unconsciously being dishonest.

The monster’s strangulation of Little William validates his ability and power to kill. The young boy struggled, yet the creature did not restrain until the boy lay dead. At this moment, the monster describes the kill and admits that although, “the child still struggled,” he “grasped his throat to silence him and in a moment he lay dead” (Shelley 161). This scene reveals the killer’s true monstrous qualities. When compared to his restraint with Felix, it is evident that his pro-monster actions speak louder than his false belief of good conscience. Ward verifies this by illustrating the monster attacking Little William with full force. His scars are visible, his body is pulsating, and his large hands double the size of William’s small, fragile head. The creature’s true monstrous distinctiveness is extremely apparent, which confirms his monster identity. Evidently, the monster’s victim role with Felix is dismissible and his dishonest character is brought to light.

Essentially, the illustration of the helpless, restrained creature in the attack from Felix is an underlying depiction of a dishonest, monstrous being. While Ward exemplifies the monster as pitiful and powerless, there is more to this creature than what meets the eye. Regardless of the monster’s restraint at that particular moment, the creature’s dishonesty is discovered when one takes a closer look at his qualities and actions. Overall, the monster’s actions are far more monstrous than what his conscience is telling him. Although interpretations are made according to the reader, it is evident that Ward “lets his pictures speak for themselves,” which “could be challenging for the audience” (Heller). Aside from the challenge, once readers examine all of Ward’s detailed images, his argument is clear. It may seem as if Ward is depicting the monster as pathetic and helpless, however, his intentions are clear when all of the pieces of the puzzle are put in place: the monster is in deed a deceitful creature playing the role of an innocent victim.

Works Cited

Heller, Steven. "Silent Pictures." The New York Times Book Review 10 Oct. 2010: 16(L).

Academic OneFile. Web. 12 October 2011.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. The Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Mineola, New York: Dover

Publications, Inc, 1934. Print.


  1. Link to original:

  2. The concept is bold and imaginative: the monster not only deceives the world, but he deceives himself. I had a little trouble (not a ton) figuring out that this was your argument. You restate your argument several times, and while I'm eventually pretty clear about what you mean, it takes a while.

    At first, I didn't really buy your argument at all. One critical reason for that is that you spend more time than you should introducing, drawing conclusions, etc., and too little time really pinning down what your argument is, and *proving* it. This is especially hard, because your argument is really challenging at its core: explain in detail why we should see an image as projecting not simply deception, but a playacting so thorough that the actor as well as the audience are deceived.

    Maybe this is silly, but I think you could have done more with the angles of his limbs (yes, really). I think you could use the position of his leg to argue that he is kicking, but for no reason - after all, he "should" be trying to rise (with his foot under him, therefore) or to kick *at* Felix.

    So you see, you have me buying into it. I just think that the core discussion of the image was a little truncated, and the introduction was a little weak.

    And, here's a counteragument for you: can we call it dishonesty that the monster has convinced himself that he's a victim? After all, he *is* a victime - this is just kind of the external manifestation of that victimhood, maybe. The two are very similar, but we might draw different conclusions from them.

    Your research was mediocre. You might, incidentally, have brought Walton's encounter of the monster and his accusations to the monster into this argument.

    Summary: the more I think, the more compelling I find the main idea. Your development of this bold idea was a mixed bag, though - imaginative but short on focus and on the obvious counterargument.