Playing God Frankenstein Style

 

pic of silhouette of frankenstein

(revised college essay from spring 2018 for blog material)

In Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein’s desired to be God in creating a new species of life, causing him to become enslaved to his passions of pride, vainglory, and lust for power.

The copious fervent scientific discoveries in Shelley’s era also produced prideful actions and lust for power, with disastrous results for Victor, his family, and the creature throughout and culminating at the end of the story.

According to the book, Path to Sanity, in Christianity, three core sins exist in every human being: pride, self-love, and vainglory. Humanity struggles to eradicate them from their minds, souls, and bodies.  These three give birth to all other sins, including a lust for power—a power to change the world, be unstoppable through nefarious and sinful acts, such as murder, hate, and judging other beings harshly.

In his teens, Victor Frankenstein was deeply fascinated with science, especially chemistry, and became obsessed with creating a new species, a new being, similar to humans, using human body parts from corpses he obtained from graves.  His obsessive actions are evident while he was producing this creature, saying, “My cheeks had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement” (Shelley 32).  His sinful passions had begun to consume him as he toiled in a dark and cheerless lab for hours on end, creating the creature.  Illness afflicted him.

Through his pride, Victor thought he could become God himself in creating a new living being (Hetherington).  Through this, a lust for power, like the power (minus the lust) God has in fashioning his creation, and vainglory in wanting recognition and fame for his earth-shattering work, Victor said, “Life and death appears to me ideal bounds, which should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.  A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Shelley 31).

His whole person—mind, body, and soul—was consumed with this endeavor, as he explained, “My limbs now tremble, and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless, and almost frantic impulse, urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit” (Shelley 32).  Therefore, this passion overtook him and enslaved him (Reed), causing him to commit terrible acts, in which he elucidated, “Who shall conceive the honors of my secret toil, as I dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave, or tortured a living animal to animate the lifeless clay?” (Shelley 32).

graveyard

At certain times, he realized his passions were ruling him and causing him ailments, and said, “Every night I was oppressed by a slow fever, and I became nervous to a most painful degree; a disease that I regretted the more because I had hitherto enjoyed most excellent health, and had always boasted of the firmness of my nerves” (Shelley 33).

These sinful passions nearly destroyed him then, but he finally completed his creation, “on a dreary night of November, that I beheld my accomplishment of my toils” (Shelley 33).  Victor discovered he’d made a large, distorted, ugly creature.  He lamented, “I had desired it with an ardor that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and a breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (Shelley 34).

Through his use of his prideful will, Victor lusted for power, and the result was an imperfect creation and his own disappointment in this, which now enslaved him to these passions.  This being for which Victor fled from the lab after seeing it come alive, would be a constant reminder of his egregious error, a lesson on what happens when one desires to be God and asserts one’s arrogant will over His Will (Reed).

chains of bondage from sins

When Victor abandoned the creature to wander about ignorant of the world and its inhabitants, like a newborn baby, the creature, desperate and lonely, killed Victor’s youngest brother, William.  Victor blamed this horrible act solely on his creation, saying, “He was the murderer!” (Shelley 46).

Eventually, Victor showed some remorse when a family friend, Justine, was accused and executed for William’s death.  He said, “The fangs of remorse tore my bosom” (Shelley 52).  He realized he was partly to blame for the murder because of creating the creature, but he still wasn’t aware that the brunt of the blame lay squarely on his own shoulders until later in the story.  And even as he discovered this, his bondage to his sinful passions had not been loosened.

He continued to blame the creature more so than himself until the creature murdered his best friend, Henry. He told Henry’s lifeless body, “Have my murderous machinations deprived you also, my dearest Henry, of life?  Two I have already destroyed; other victims await their destiny” (Shelley 118).

The weight of his actions in producing the creation finally sunk in.  It was only through the tragic losses of his loved ones that he truly acknowledged his damning and culpable behavior, because his sinful passions reverberated throughout the universe affecting  humanity in the world.

After the creature murdered Victor’s wife, Elizabeth, Victor determined to terminate the creature because he believed that was the only way to end the killings, but he never caught up to the creature, as the latter’s strength and quickness exceeded his own.  Victor never truly recovered mentally and physically from his ailments and misery. His bondage to his sinful thoughts and actions stayed with him (Reed).

When Victor abandoned his creation, the creature trekked around the Swiss Alps and beyond.  He learned to read and about the nature of human relationships by observing for months the De Lacey family in their mountain cabin.  He took to gathering wood for them in the middle of the night so Felix, the young man of the house, would find the bundle of firewood by the cabin the next morning.  In showing his generosity, the creature revealed a soft side, a compassionate heart for others that were not of his own species.

The creature learned to read through listening to Felix teach his girlfriend, Safie. He read Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Bible and found he somewhat related to Adam, God’s first human creation, but also to the fallen angel/devil because both were banished by their Creator (Ryan).

However, the creature realized even “Satan had his companions, fellow devils, to admire and encourage him, but I am solitary and detested” (Shelley 85). No one else of his species existed. He was utterly alone, and when the De Laceys found him in their cabin pleading with the blind elder, Mr. De Lacey, they screamed in horror.  Felix struggled to remove the creature from their house.  Minutes later, the creature left of his own volition, wounded and hurt by their harsh actions (Shelley).

Throughout his trek, villagers gasped, shrieked, grimaced, and covered their faces when they’d seen him.  Compassion and love weren’t present in their hearts.  A total outcast, the creature belonged to no one and nowhere (Sarkar).  Victor, his own creator, mirrored the villagers’ behavior.

Feeling isolated, alone, hated, and disgusted by all humans, the creature cried, “All, save I, were at rest or in enjoyment:  I, like the arch fiend, bore a hell within me; and, finding myself unsympathized with, wished to tear up the trees, spread havoc and destruction around me, and then to have sat down and enjoyed the ruin” (Shelley 89).  He vowed to inflict pain and misery on these heartless beings.

The villagers’ actions toward the creature’s hideous appearance (Sarkar) violated two vital tenets of Christianity—love your neighbor and do not judge others.  Because the creature looked weird, ugly, and different from themselves, fear took hold of them, and they judged his outer appearance without learning of his inner heart. Out of this ignorance, fear, and lack of love to befriend the creature, hate grew inside them.

The sinful passions of Victor coupled with the villagers’ hatefulness and judging behavior destroyed both he and his creation.

love one another pic don't judge pic

In the era in which Shelley’s Frankenstein was written, a relentless burgeoning of scientific discoveries occurred, one of which was medical advances in which the European society saw as a type of panacea for life’s problems. They adopted a utopian view of the world, and pride took over in the medical and scientific communities (Allen).

Surgeons and anatomists made significant strides in fighting off many diseases that had been unsuccessfully fought in the past.  They started to question the origin of human life.  This became a hot debate in the scientific community, called Vitalism, which questioned humanity’s origin and the possibility to create it.  Victor Frankenstein asked those questions himself, saying, “Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?” (Shelley 29-30).  Shelley’s character echoed the thoughts and voices of the scientific community in that time and place in which she lived.

Just as ethical questions have been raised over embryonic stem cell research and cloning in our modern day, in Shelley’s day, some people were uncomfortable with Vitalism and what it produced.

The ethical question of playing God was a concern in the late 1700s and early 1800s in Shelley’s era.  To what lengths would the surgeons of her time go to discover medical advances? In order for them to continue their research, they needed subjects to test and dissect.  These surgeons used the dead bodies of criminals.  Grave robbing became prevalent then.  The corpses were stolen from their graves for research (Allen).  These doctors had no respect for the dead because in life those people had committed crimes.

Because of the fervor of relentless scientific advances, these surgeons and anatomists’ desires grew into obsessions, and ultimately passions of pride and murder.  When a shortage of corpses of criminals happened, these doctors and scientists stole corpses of law-abiding citizens from their tombs (Allen).

Eventually, there were reported stories, such as one about a surgeon who was “caught buying corpses that had not been robbed from graves, but in fact murdered for the purpose of experimentation” (Allen).  These appalling stories sometimes ended up in the literature of the era.

Shelley’s Frankenstein certainly reflected these events through Victor’s obsession and willful pride to create a new species of being through digging up bodies from graves to use for his creation.  His lack of respect for the dead also reflected these real life events, where in the text, he says, “A church-yard was to me merely a receptacle of bodies deprived of life,” and says he visited “vaults and charnel houses” (Shelley 30).

These scientists and doctors allowed their pride, vainglory, and lust for power in determining the life and death of other people’s lives, to overtake their sensibilities.  In addition, in Shelley’s era of Romanticism, people looked upon nature as holy, beautiful, and mysterious in a somewhat religious sense.

thomas cole voyage of life youth painting

(Thomas Cole’s The Voyage of Life: Youth (1842)

Wordsworth, the poet, expressed the desecrations of graves, bodies, and murder in his poem, “The Table’s Turned,” saying, “Sweet is the love which nature brings/Our meddling intellect/Misshapes the beauteous forms of things/We murder to dissect” (Allen).

Shelley’s Frankenstein illustrates the consequences of the sinful passions of attempting to be God, as Victor Frankenstein toiled to mimic in creating the creature. Lacking love, humility, and repentance, his passions brought he, his family, and his creature misery, torment, and ultimately death.

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Works Cited
Allen, Stephanie.  “Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ is a Cautionary Tale on Monstrosity of Which
Humans are Capable.” Oxford Royal Academy.  22 January 2014. https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/shelley-frankenstein.html. Accessed 21 March 2018.
Hetherington, Naomi.  “Creator and Created in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.”  Keats-Shelley
Review, vol. 11, 1997, pp. 1-39.  http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Articles/hether.html.
Accessed 21 March 2018.
Reed, John.  “Will and Fate in Frankenstein.”  Bulletin of Research in the Humanities, vol. 8, 1980, pp. 319-38.  http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Articles/reed.html. Accessed 3 April 2018.
Ryan, Robert M. “Mary Shelley’s Christian Monster.” The Wordsworth Circle, vol. 19:3, 1988,
  1. 150-55. http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/Articles/ryan.html. Accessed 19 March 2018.
Sarkar, Proshanta.  “Frankenstein:  An Echo of Social Alienation and Social Madness.”  IOSR
Journal of Humanities And Social Science(IOSR-JHSS), vol. 9, issue 3, 2013, pp. 29-32.
http://www.iosrjournals.org/iosr-jhss/papers/Vol9-issue3/F0932932.pdf. Accessed 22
March 2018.

Miyazaki’s Masterpieces Center on the Human Condition

miyazaki movies collage

Have you ever seen any of Studio Ghibli’s animated movies? In particular, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated movies through Studio Ghibli? I know that many of you probably have, but if you haven’t, this blogpost is for you (and for fans of these movies!).  They are drawn in the anime style and are fantastic.  My family has a stack of them sitting in our DVD bookcase.  What makes the movies so superb is their depth, their artwork, and their focus on the human condition.  Below, I go into detail about two specific movies of Miyazaki’s that portrays the characters, their relationships, and good and evil through the lens of the human condition.

In Disney movies, there is a strong distinction between the heroes and the villains, especially the earlier animated ones.  I would go so far as to say many of the villains in Disney movies are two-dimensional, fail to show remorse most of the time, and lack the full makeup of human beings–good and bad qualities.  But with such movies as Spirited Away, the human condition and the more rounded personalities of the characters are present and great to watch.  

Spirited Away

This movie is long, engrossing, and deep.  So deep that you forget you’re watching an animated feature (this is the case for all Miyazaki’s films).  Chihiro, a young, 10-year-old girl is riding with her parents in their car heading for their new house in a new city.  She possesses a bratty mentality who is not happy about moving, which is typical for children who like to stay where they grew up, for the most part (says the daughter of an Air Force officer who moved every two to four years. Haha).  Anyway, her parents and she end up going through a type of stone tunnel that opens up to green hills and a little village with a bunch of shops.  Her parents get caught up in the smell and devouring of delicious food, and their gluttony takes over, transforming them into huge pigs.  Chihiro is left alone, desperate to help her parents.  Later, she becomes an employee at a bathhouse run by a nasty witch who steals people’s names.  Still, aspects of good show through this witch, which makes her more “human” and interesting.  

A teenaged boy, Haku, aids Chihiro using his special powers, as he’s also a white dragon.  And then there’s No Face.  This character doesn’t speak, and appears and disappears in and around the bathhouse where Chihiro works.  He followers Chihiro and tries to give her handfuls of gold, but she isn’t interested.  All those that do take the gold blocks are eaten by No Face.  He becomes gluttonous, and can’t stop eating.  He’s miserable, and he sees Chihiro as the person to save him from this.  Instead of kicking him to the curb for his destructive behavior, she eventually helps him, and his passion is squelched. Also, the witch softens towards the end of the story.  

Through helping others, learning to be independent and resourceful, Chihiro matures and loses the brattiness and ungratefulness that had been part of her at the beginning of the story.  There’s the element of redemption in this that I love–that people aren’t all bad or good, and that they repent and change.  All of these elements in this Japanese movie show Christian aspects but are globally understood because it’s part of humanity and its ability to transform through the love of others that shines the light of Christ, from my perspective.  If you haven’t seen this epic film, I highly recommend it.  Although it’s a “children’s movie,” (I wouldn’t say very young children), it’s for adults, too.

Howl’s Moving Castle

This movie is enchanting.  It, too, is long and engrossing.  Again, you forget this is animated. Main character, Sophie, is a young woman who works with her sisters in her since deceased father’s hat shop until she encounters Howl, the Wizard, and then The Witch of the Waste.  The latter casts a spell on Sophie, turning her into an old woman.  Sophie did not consider herself beautiful, and so, although she isn’t happy she’s been turned wrinkly, it’s the struggle with her aching body that causes her the most difficulty.  She finds herself inHowl’s magic, moving castle and works for him as a cleaning lady.  Throughout this is a war going on in the country where she and the others live.  

Howl suffers from vanity.  He is particular about his hair color, his clothes, and how he looks.  If something comes between him and his appearance, he crumbles, and this happens in one of the scenes.  Black forms of demons slither out and around him while he’s melting in the chair.  Why?  Because he’s allowed his vanity to overtake him, causing him the danger of being destroyed.  But Sophie is there to talk to him and help him.  

Ultimately, Sophie’s compassion toward Howl, the Witch, and other characters brings about remorse and repentance for those characters that were doing evil.  Sophie does not have a high regard for herself and believes herself to be unattractive.  But she grows through dealing with the curse of being old.  I don’t believe she cared that she was old because she didn’t think she was beautiful anyway, so she didn’t lose anything in appearance.  But she learns through helping others, and these people’s respect for her, that she is truly worth something and she learns to like herself.  In return, Howl tells her she’s beautiful and helps her get back home.  If you haven’t seen this one, please do.

Whenever watching these movies, everything around you melts away, and you’re sucked into the storyline, the characters, and the beautiful artistic scenes.

There are plenty of other spectacular Hiyazaki movies that are just as deep, and some a little lighter in content.  Below is a list of the DVDs we own that are all fantastic and enjoyable.

Princess Mononoke (my oldest son’s favorite, and very profound)

Kiki’s Delivery Service

My Neighbor Totoro

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (profound)

From Up On Poppy Hill (my favorite lighter film)

Castle in the Sky

Whisper of the Heart

The Secret World of Arrietty

Porco Rosso

Incidentally, if you’re in to real tear-jerkers, watch this Studio Ghibli movie called Grave of the Fireflies.  It’s a twenty-tissue film, and one I doubt I’ll be able to watch again, but it was incredible.

Take a look at this video that explains Miyazaki’s theme of the human condition in his works.

 

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