Literature and identity

In Frankenstein, although the story is told by Robert we are being presented Victor’s view of the story. Therefore the novel becomes a story within a story. Frankenstein focalize events shortly after they happen. We can see this in the way Robert tells his sister that he will be in touch and he will continue writing to her as he learns more information. This gives us a sense of immediacy. We are told details as soon as he learns them from the source. We as readers are given a very limited perspective through Robert, “a story told from the limited point of view of a single protagonist may highlight the utter unpredictability of what happens.”(Culler, 91) This limited perspective can reflect to how little we know about ourselves and life and how this plays a role in the formation of our identity.

The story goes on slowly and is filled with details about what is happening up to that point time, a telescope view. The dates on the letters give us an idea of the speed. These letters are being mailed and take days or weeks to arrive. I feel that Shelly chooses this method of focalization to help us see how Robert changes as the story is formed and to emphasize that his identity is also being constructed through time. The story itself reflects how identity can be shaped. The more we learn of the world and the more encounters we have with different experiences, helps us learn more about ourselves and of things that we may otherwise have not known unless we underwent that particular experience.

We as reader’s step into Robert’s shoes. We are given the knowledge he has and as the story goes on the more details he shares with us, the more we understand. We know just as much as Robert. We are also given a unique insight to his feelings and emotions as he writes. Since we are told the story through his perspective, we may tend to sympathize with him more since he’s the character that we know most about. At the same time because we know so much about him and because we see how he changes and learn of his inconsistencies we may feel that he isn’t as reliable of a narrator as we think. This brings us to form our own identity as a reader because it puts us in a position where “we become who we are by identifying ourselves with figures we read about.” (Culler, 114)


Literature as intertextual

“…the very centre of the narrative reminds us that this novel is about the dangerous consequences of the pursuit and the expression of knowledge” (Shelley 31). In my opinion all fiction novels are derived from a nonfiction idea. In Culler’s “Nature of Literature”, literature viewed as intertextual is a theory I completely agree with. Frankenstein, for example, though complete fiction, is created with idea of three books in Shelley’s head. Paradise Lost, the tale of Prometheus, and lastly Symposium. Shelley’s work transforms these stories into an “original” novel. “The Modern Prometheus” is actually the subtitle for this novel, giving the beginning story where this idea derived its credit.

This theory of  intertextuality may be misunderstood with the notion that copying is accepted. But imitation is the greatest form of flattery. The idea of a “monster” created by mankind is so intriguing, Shelley was able to spinoff into another world with a storyline that has inspired many others and their works. But no matter how many use Shelley as their influence, each story will be traced back to the original three novels.

Below I added links incase anyone was curious about any of the three stories from above:

Shannen Coleman

Culler and Literary Theory

While discussing the nature of literature Culler brings forth five points, one of which examines the intertextual construct of a literary work. Frankenstein allows for a reader or theorist to apply a particular theoretical school causing the entire meaning of the novel to change in accordance with whatever lens the work is being examined through. In particular, Frankenstein’s entire meaning is changed through these schools. Yet Frankenstein’s meaning as a whole stays the same and its central themes and ideas remain unchanged. For example, if one applies the sphere of domesticity the novel becomes a domestic novel and should be read as such. As a result, Frankenstein then becomes critical of the feminine sphere of domesticity. We can come to this conclusion by examining Mary Shelley’s life alongside her novel. . She acted as both a writer and as the wife to a famous writer, Percy Bysshe Shelley. One can take this to mean that a great deal of tension existed in the home, but Shelley allowed her husband to critique and edit Frankenstein causing it to become a joint effort between the two. If one examines this through a domestic lens it can be taken as a defeat of Shelley, as a writer, in her personal life. Even the minuscule details that Percy Bysshe Shelley may have added or changed forces the novel to be examined through a different light, with the acknowledgment that not everything in the novel is Mary Shelley’s own thoughts or ideas.

Theory teaches us not to take anything as a given and that there is no common sense. If we approach a novel acting as though we know nothing then each sentence must be considered and with each word we must ask ourselves why this word and not another? In this respect theory is mean to be reflective and reflexive, meaning, we must ask “How do we know this?” and “Why do we know this?”. If we are then questioning everything we know more questions arise. If we know that the knowledge we are bringing into the work isn’t natural, but instead our surroundings or ourselves form it, then we must also know that this knowledge can be deconstructed, reexamined, and realigned in accordance with how we want to perceive the work. Then in order to apply theory to a situation we again must ask, “what should change about my thoughts or thought process and how can I bring about that change.” Each of these questions must be considered as we read a novel and forget all of the givens.