I find the phrase “ignorance is bliss” almost ironic. I mean, we’ve all heard that phrase before. “Ignorance is bliss.” But, isn’t it? Isn’t it, well, easier to simply live life without knowing the potential consequences? To live with a juvenile, child-like innocence, being naive and viewing everything as benign and innocuous? Unknowing of the harm we may be doing to ourselves and others?
I mean, yeah, it is. Seemingly. On the surface.
But when you get right down to it, it’s virtually impossible to live life in that way forever. Because, before long, life gets, well, real. Things are thrown at you that you don’t anticipate.
And then, as if out of nowhere, you’re knocked out. You fall to the floor, as the bullet has finally hit the core. And all you’re left with is a serious dose of reality.
Then, after acceptance is the fortitude to move forward and readjust your life and choices accordingly.
I think this concept is demonstrated to its extreme in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And I think something that is quite amusing is that, yes, the creature, upon conception, is utterly ignorant of society and its ways, which will be the main subject of this post. But also, on a much shallower and kind of funny level, many are ignorant of the fact that “Frankenstein” was not the “monster” that was created but, rather, the creator. I’m sure many do know this fact, but I would be lying if I said the proliferation of the misnomer, especially during Halloween (no, you are not dressing up as “Frankenstein” for Halloween, you’re dressing up as the creature) didn’t bother me. Just a little. In a way, it almost seems to coincide with society’s complete rejection of the creature in the novel, as it didn’t recognize him for the kind and intelligent being he was (at first), and even in reality, his legacy does not garner any proper attention.
What’s worse is that we call him by his creator’s name – the man with whom he implored to make him a mate so he would be less lonely, the man whom he detested because he made him so grotesque and alien-like.
The man who gave him life and, ultimately, refused to let him live it. Peacefully, anyway.
Just kick him while he’s down, why don’t you.
But, in any case, he’s a fictional character. He’s not actually hurt by any of this. He doesn’t exist. Though I empathize, as I think many of us can, at least in some ways. Everyone feels outcast, rejected, ostracized, unaccepted, or anything of the like at some point in life. Which, in a sense, almost makes the creature relatable. Through Shelley’s descriptions of his perseverance through tumult, his temerity, his fortitude ( I mean, you have to hand it to him, he did try multiple times to prove he had no malicious intent), and then his complete and utter demise – the way he spirals and swears vengeance on not only his creator, but also all of humankind, those he strove desperately to assimilate with – it is apparent that the creature, in the end, is more human than he realizes. He just wants to be loved and accepted by someone. Anyone. Even if it were only one single creature on the planet made solely for his comfort. And that is incredibly human.
I believe many people feel this way at times, or maybe all the time. I know I do sometimes.
Some people actually do act out like the creature did, harming themselves or others. Everyone wants to fit in, and the creature personified this idea.
I wish this novel were more widely read these days – I feel as though many can benefit from it.
But as usual, I digress. Point being, for the creature, ignorance was bliss. But his eagerness, his insatiable desire, to be a part of the society into which he was thrust was admirable and commendable. Unfortunately, it was only a detriment to him, which is such a shame. Being a forward-thinker, someone who needs intellectual stimulation, someone who strives for more and will not be satisfied until he or she has attained the highest peak, should warrant him accolades and respect, not bring him dolorous despair. I mean honestly, nothing could be more lugubrious than the sharp desperation in the creature’s voice as he pleads with his creator, his God, if you will (actually, that brings up an interesting vantage point through which to view the story – I love allegory!), to make him another like him so as to be able to finally find solace in having someone with whom he can confide in and share his wretched existence. At least, that’s what I hear in my head when I read the novel.
Looking at it through Frankenstein’s point of view, the creature was terrifying, alien-like, and, seemingly, a killing machine. Frankenstein immediately regretted animating this “thing,” this unpredictable abomination that could never have a civilized place in society. Selfishly, he toiled relentlessly over this almost insurmountable task. He was another forward-thinker, a man of intellect, someone who always strove for more and ultimately got it.
He finally got to taste the forbidden fruit. And it wasn’t so sweet after all.
Yes, that is foreshadowing my allegory conversation I have below. But regardless, it’s true.
He wanted this creature to be the culmination of his life’s work and pursuits. But the crude implements with which he had to use to actually build this thing only served to, well, make the creature even more hideous (to put it bluntly). It was kind of a selfish pursuit, like I said, but if one has this kind of knowledge and power, isn’t it only human nature to go after it? Again, ignorance is bliss. Frankenstein never would have brought this horror upon himself (or the creature, for that matter) if he never set out on this endeavor.
But, the curiosity would have killed him. And we all know, curiosity killed the cat.
So, anyways, moving forward. As a student who was trained to view the outer “story” through much deeper lenses and wider contexts in order to really get at the heart of a novel, I purport that this novel is also about an individual who personifies the intellectual movement that was taking place during the time period in which this novel was written – and not just about a guy who created a “monster” who then subsequently swore vengeance on humanity. Obviously, there’s more to it than that. Aside from actually empathizing with and, almost, taking the creature’s side (although I don’t condone all the killing), there is a much larger context within which to view what is actually taking place. If we look at the time period during which this was written, it provides yet another paradigm by which we can interpret Frankenstein and the creature – and the actions that take place.
For those of you who have studied the novel, in school or independently, you will recall that it was written during the Romantic Period, the Age of Enlightenment, during which great emphasis was placed on aesthetic experiences and emotion. An intellectual movement took place during this era, and it is quite personified by the creature in Shelley’s novel. He yearns to be articulate, knowledgeable, worldly, and abreast of everything going on in this new “human” world of his. He scoured for books and read every page. He literally taught himself how to speak just by emulating the words he saw others speak, and all of this knowledge, in his mind, brought him (or would hopefully bring him) closer to those around him and enabled him to really feel, to really establish emotional connections, which unfortunately, though beautiful, in a way, ends up hurting him. In a sense, though, his extreme reaction to the rejection he was experiencing was just a result of his newfound feelings and him not really knowing how to temper them – I think maybe he just was so new to these feelings and emotions, so he felt them all so incredibly deeply: he loved deeply (his beloved “family,” near whose house he hid and who he grew to adore and admire, for whom he brought firewood and aided in many ways but made sure to always remain invisible – who then shuddered and shrieked upon finally seeing his grotesqueness and ostracized him as everyone else did), and he hated deeply.
Honestly, this novel is heartbreaking in so many ways.
Anyways, he strove for intellect, albeit for the wrong reasons, as he soon came to realize. His intellect gave him the ability and sense of self to plead with the humans for their affection and acceptance, but he was never given much of a chance. And all that came with that intellect was the knowledge of the greed, barbarity, and intolerant nature of the human race.
Also, one should never beg to be loved.
So, back to the beginning – ignorance is bliss.
His intellect brought him hatred, it led him to be entirely shunned by everyone who saw his face and figure, and it bestowed upon him the insatiable desire to kill.
This novel does a really good job of bringing forth the Romantic Period ideals – of course, as stated previously, the creature personifies the desire for intellectual stimulation, if only for acceptance by the humans he, at first, revered, but nonetheless, he was an extremely articulate, well-read, and, well, intelligent individual. He was probably smarter than most of the humans he was surrounded by, honestly.
But also, what came with all of this knowledge and learning were feelings and emotion, and a surplus of them, at that. As I said earlier, I don’t think he really knew what to do with all of it. And the more knowledge he gained, the more he felt, the more he pleaded, and thus, the more pain he felt. So, in my opinion, intellect and emotion are the two major pain points in this novel, reflecting romanticism.
In addition, the novel makes the reader feel. It brings forth your own emotions and takes you outside of yourself. It brings you to another world and inside of the minds of these characters, who, by the end, almost seem to be real. It is an utterly aesthetic experience. It almost forces you to empathize with one character or the other. Though I’ve been speaking primarily about the creature, I can sympathize, on some level, with Frankenstein, as well. I mean, of course the whole ordeal must have been terrifying, and I understand he didn’t want more carnage. What I like about this novel is that you are brought into the mind of each character and are shown both sides of the story. So, in the end, you are the judge.
All in all, the creature “romanticizes” the idea of intellect (and, really, humans). He so innocently thought that knowing the ways of the humans and how they live and speak and their history would grant him their acceptance and love. I wish more people today felt that way about intellect and learning. He felt it would make him one with them. Unfortunately, heartbreakingly, paradoxically, and more realistically, it just created an even greater schism between him and them. And it only made him feel more alone.
So, all of his endeavors essentially had the opposite effect. He worked so hard for an end he would never see.
And, of course, I can’t forget one of my favorite literary devices – allegory.
I’m not sure if this is a stretch, but this literally came to my mind while I was writing this post, so naturally, I had to flesh it out. If we view the novel through an allegorical perspective, that would made Frankenstein God and the creature Adam. God created Adam. Frankenstein created the creature, monster, what-have-you. Now, obviously, the idea of “playing God” is at work here, and I believe it was mentioned explicitly in the novel. But regardless, it is obvious. If there is one thing we’ve learned from this concept, it is that, well, you should never attempt to play God. Whether you believe in Him is irrelevant. Just. Don’t. It will not turn out well.
Moreover, if, as this perspective dictates, Victor Frankenstein is God and the creature is Adam, then clearly, we are missing an Eve. The creature begged his creator for another like him, but his creator refused. God refused him his Eve. This, ultimately, caused death and destruction (i.e., the creature so desperately needed someone he was refused, thus exacerbating his loneliness and compounding his unhappiness and desire for vengeance – creating the ultimate impetus for, well, a complete snap).
I’m sure one can expound even further on some sort of feminist approach, but I’m not gonna go there. All I’m saying is that the creation, essentially, was incomplete. God didn’t finish his work in this scenario.
Not sure how others would feel about that interpretation, and of course, if I were to write an actual essay on this stuff, I’d need to expound much further and find criticism, yadda, yadda … but in any case, it’s just an interesting idea.
Frankenstein is one of those novels that I don’t think I can get tired of. I feel like I probably left out a bunch of other stuff I could have discussed (I know there’s a lot that could be said about the actual form of the novel), but maybe the next time I read the novel, I’ll write a “part 2” to this post. So keep it in your back pocket, if ya want.