Words and Images
November 17, 2011
Lynn Ward’s Illustration
Lynd Ward’s illustration on page 151 really caught my eye, which allows for some powerful interpretations to be introduced in the detail brought out in the image. This image displays tree limbs overpowering the monster as he struggles to support himself up before they come crashing down on him. “O! what a miserable night I passed! The cold stars shone in mockery, and the bare trees waved their branches about me: now and then the sweet voice of a bird burst forth amidst the universal stillness” (Shelley, 152). By forming a central theme of the novel, Mary Shelley emphasizes how knowledge of the existence of a creator has a crippling effect on the creature as he struggles to reconcile his own perception of himself with his maddening desire for divine approval and acceptance. The monster enters the world under terrible sets of circumstances. He has the strength of a giant, yet a child’s mind; he has a gentle nature, yet his appearance defects hide his goodness and make everyone fear and mistreat him. On top of that, he is rejected by his own creator because of his hideous looks (Shmoop Editorial Team). On discovering that his own creator is horrified by his existence, the monster increasingly becomes hopeless about his position in the world. He faces the tragedy of his existence that he was made human on the inside, but without the capacity for sociability with others. Beauty is considered a virtue of the good, while deformity and ugliness are inevitably associated with evil. Due to this stigma, the monster’s visible defects prevent him from gaining acceptance into a social sphere – even though he is full of compassion and goodness on the inside. Reflecting on the novels theme, we can take this image and can show how the Monster battles to establish his own identity in struggling with the beliefs and values of the larger culture.
In society, those in power cause pressures to be brought upon those who don’t conform to social norms. “Shelley explores the idea of society in Frankenstein through demonstrating the way in which society members treat a living product of scientific knowledge and how this relates to their class and place in society and their beliefs” (bookrags.com). Detailing society's reaction to the creature that Victor creates as antagonistic, Shelley suggests that ’scientific knowledge of the time was not approved by society as it threatened various elements of the community. God is the only father in society's religious beliefs and these beliefs were threatened by science as Victor attempts to play the role of God” (bookrags.com). Shelly also goes on to explore the idea of society through demonstrating the way in which society members treat a living product of scientific knowledge and how this relates to their class and place in society and their beliefs. Through this, society's belief that scientific exploration cannot replace the role that nature plays in creating a natural world. In order to comprehend the degree of pressures being put on the monster, it is necessary to look at the small details carried out in the image. I see this image as if the monster where blending in with the limbs of the trees which could be interpreted as him forming into what society sees him as, unnoticed. As stated by the monster, “but I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul; and I felt then that I should survive to exhibit, what I shall soon cease to be - a miserable spectacle of wrecked humanity" (p.111). The monsters feelings erupt once he realizes all his efforts to conform to society’s norms were all overlooked. He was not fixed to be evil, but he becomes evil only after society treats him like he is because his outward appearance is terrifying. The monster is obviously different than society’s normal looking human but inside he is just as beautiful as any other human being. Looking more closely at the image, Ward’s shading of the trees start out at lighter shades and begin to fade into darkness on the collapsing end of the branch that continues to be exposed onto the monster. The darkness symbolizes an extreme weight of society’s pressure crumbling down on the monster. With the monster not only being right in the middle of the image and being the darkest object, we can take this to be him fighting to pick himself back up from all that has be thrown upon him to conform to the social norms. This provides a powerful basis through conformity “which changes how you behave to be more like others. This plays to belonging and esteem needs as we seek the approval and friendship of others. Conformity can run very deep, as we will even change our beliefs and values to be like those of our peers and admired superiors” (changingminds). ). This image as a whole is a gothic, dark setting which can be described as the monsters appearance. Being a part of the norm in the eyes of the villagers means being naturally born, having beauty, speak fluently. Abnormalities fall under the categories such as hideous or atypical features, being created through many artificially parts, not speaking the language fluently. The monster wants to fit in with the villager but feels he set up failure. He speaks,
“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! At first I started back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification. Alas! I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of the miserable deformity” (Shelley, 124).
The illustrations that Ward provides display the shocking realization that the monster is disfigured and diversified in the parts that he was made up of. On the page opposite of 124, the image illustrates the monster looking into water viewing his deformity for the time and he comes to realization of his abnormality. This is important for comprehending the monster’s agitation, he knew his body, the limbs that he had and the body parts that were given him. The monster is terrified and shocked at the sight of his reflection. He was made from flesh similar to that of humans and is treated much differently because of his looks. The monster knows he was created by a human being, Frankenstein, but has been sculpted as this unbeautiful creature as well as being abandoned and left to survive on his own. The monster proclaims, “Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. `Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemblance” (pg. 144).
As I show the monster being depicted as one with the tree limbs, we can see how the branches themselves are deformed and unstable from so much pressure falling down on them. Society disposing of the monster due to being an outsider and misunderstanding his heartfelt intentions has led him to become a helpless being. He even states, “These amiable people to whom I go have never seen me, and known little of me. I am full of fears; for if I fail there, I am an outcast in the world for ever’” (Shelley, 149). With pressures that are bestowed upon individuals can cause the feeling of helplessness and abandonment. “Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible... Trying to control or change what we can't only results in torment" (Lebell). The monster being an outsider himself shows how he could be misunderstood for his intentions by the villagers. Victor was his last connection to humanity and to point out the monster is one of many people in this text that suffers from loneliness, solitude, and an all-around desire for companionship. The image on 151 obviously displays this idea because he flees to the abandoned forest where he will not be judge for who he is and what he has been created into. The social norms of the villagers denied his efforts in trying to conform to their liking and due to their misunderstanding he rebelled against them. The monster took matters into his own hands and fought the norms to become his own person.
The idea of beliefs and values cause society to develop norms that allow put pressure on people to conform. The villagers welcome those who they feel are worthy enough of their beliefs and values, so the chances of the monster being accepted into their social norms was slim to none
Lebell, Sharon. 'The Art of Living: The Classic Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness' -- A New Interpretation
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. The Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition. Mineola, New York: Dover
Shmoop Editorial Team. "Frankenstein Theme of Exploration" Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.