The image opposite page 170 - depicting Frankenstein in a boat in the middle of a lake - caught my attention immediately. Several aspects of the image struck me as being symbolically very powerful and possessing deep meaning upon interpretation. I believe that this is one of the most - if not the most - important image in the entire book. This image portrays Frankenstein’s range of emotions throughout the book and emphasizes Frankenstein’s desire to commit suicide at that point in time. “I passed whole days in the lake alone in a little boat, watching the clouds, and listening to the rippling of the waves, silent and listless. But the fresh air and bright sun seldom failed to restore me to some degree of composure” (Shelley, 170). This statement is clearly shown in the picture that includes the bright sun coming up behind the boat, throwing shadows on Frankenstein’s face and the water, which is very calm and clear without any waves.
Other than the obvious straightforward interpretation of the words into the illustration, I think Lynd Ward also wanted to depict some emotional aspects of the character through the unique shades of his drawing. As Frankenstein said, “I took refuge in the most perfect solitude” (Shelley, 170). The body language drawn of Frankenstein relaxing in the boat supports this claim by showing that Victor is at peace when surrounded by nature and can finally relax, being away from his constant anxiety about the monster’s whereabouts and actions. The bright light that is drawn as a funnel arising from the boat (even though when taken literally, might mean the “bright sun”) can also mean the bright future that Frankenstein is yearning for. Ward was also careful to draw specific shadows on Victor’s face and below the boat, and the specific direction that Victor is facing. As can be seen in the drawing, most of Victor’s face is covered in shadows, as if to show his internal melancholy state and unrest due to thoughts of the monster. The darkness under the boat might resemble Frankenstein’s dark past and the fact that Ward drew him so that he was looking away from this dark past into a brighter future might be showing that Frankenstein found a way to look away and forget about his disastrous past and achieve a brighter future. This hope is obviously the monster’s offer of leaving mankind alone if Frankenstein makes another partner for him.
Another interpretation of the shadows can also be that they might be representing the possibility of being criticized and the blackness that might befall Frankenstein’s name if the people discover his taboo of an experiment. By turning away from it, Frankenstein is avoiding such confrontations.
The illustration can also refer to Frankenstein’s situation in the story at that particular time, since he is trying to stay away from the people he loved. We can see quite clearly that he is alone in the vast waters of the lake with nothing but nature around him. “Alas! To me the idea of an immediate union with my Elizabeth was one of horror and dismay. I was bound by a solemn promise, which I had not yet fulfilled, and dared not break; or, if I did, what manifold miseries might not impend over me and my devoted family!” (Shelley, 171-172). From this monologue, Ward may have wanted to stress that Frankenstein was distancing himself from his loved ones by hesitating to marry Elizabeth and planning to go to a far off land to complete his assigned project.
Describing the picture to the details of the text is all well, but when we look at how it represents the book as a whole, two things come to mind: the situation of Victor’s desire to commit suicide and the making of the monster in the first place; what that particular act says about Frankenstein in general. At this point in the book, Victor is so agonized by being haunted by the mistakes he made in the past that he thinks it is best for all if he ended his own life. The best comparison for this illustration to further this cause would be the underworld of the Greek myths. Greek mythology illustrates that when people died, they had to cross two rivers in a boat to reach the world of dead. The setting of a boat with Frankenstein reclining in tranquility shows that he is accepting that boat ride and feels as if he will finally be free when he takes that final boat ride. The beam of light also signifies the light of heaven, and the way his face is doused in shadows can only mean that no matter how much he craves for that light, his deeds have already damned him into the shadows of hell.
When we look at this picture in context of the whole book, it thoroughly describes the transformation that Victor undergoes as the story progresses. Victor starts out his experiment in hope for a brighter future, but as he loses control of himself and the monster, the bright future he had been dreaming about seems so far away and the darkness seems to be engulfing him in the form of the monster. The darkness under the boat can represent the monster and the evilness that it is, as perceived by Victor, and the fact that his face is shrouded in the same darkness can allude to the fact that Frankenstein himself harbors some evilness within himself. If that wasn’t true, then why would he have created such a disgusting looking abomination in the first place and why would he even think of it to be beautiful even for a short period of time? When people are emotionally disturbed, as Frankenstein was due to his mother’s death, they usually divert themselves by putting their mind to some kind of task or craft to deal with their overwhelming emotions. When Victor’s mother died, he might have experienced an extreme psychological and emotional distress along with anger at his mother for going away from him, as seen in most spoiled children. So Victor focused these pent-up negative feelings into his new project and thus created something that manifested inside himself first. The transformation of Victor’s internal emotions into this large darkness that haunts him is another interpretation that I think Ward wanted to portray to his audience.
What appears to be a normal picture at the first look, which only describes the words that are on the page, has many deep layers of meaning that Ward intentionally tried to convey through subtle shades and position of objects.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Lynd Ward. Frankenstein: the Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.