A Failed Prometheus

In her novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1831), Mary Shelley alludes to the myths of Prometheus as the creator and champion of mankind as a method to cast Victor Frankenstein in a negative light. Shelley’s novel, as suggested by the subtitle, slightly diverges from the traditional myths to emphasize a shift from an ancient story of heroism and responsibility to a modern one of cowardice and negligence. While Harriet Hustis’ article “Responsible Creativity and the ‘Modernity’ of Mary Shelley’s Prometheus” argues that Shelley’s modernization of the legends of Prometheus centers on Victor’s lack of responsibility towards his creation through the abandonment of his hideous child, Hustis’ analysis can be extended to include additional circumstances of departure from the myths that alter the perception of the true nature of Victor’s character. Although Victor parallels the character of Prometheus through his innovative role as a creator and his consequent subjection to a life of anguish, his contrasting selfish intentions, unjust treatment of his creation, and unresolved suffering ultimately shape him as a failed Prometheus.

While both Victor and the mythological character of Prometheus exhibit the characteristics of a creator, demonstrating a shared desire to instill life where none exists, Victor’s motives prove egocentric and contrast the selfless intentions of his counterpart. Victor’s initial infatuation with science stems from a mere childhood “curiosity” to understand the unknown and hidden “secret[s]” of the universe (Shelley 38). However, as pleasurable feelings of “rapture” and “deligh[t]” begin to accompany his studies, prompting Victor to embark on a journey of self and formal education, Shelley emphasizes that Victor’s interests are becoming fueled by alternative motives (Shelley 38). As Victor ages, his academic dedication results from an increasing desire for self-satisfaction rather than solely a thirst for knowledge. Therefore, through Victor’s realization that he would only be “grati[fied]” (Shelley 53) if he could “unfold to the world” a discovery of the “deepest mysteries of creation” and power (Shelley 49), it becomes apparent that Shelley alludes to the “obscur[e]” legend of Prometheus as the “maker of man” (Hustis 850). Shelley reveals that her modernization of the altruistic mythological character begins to take its shape with a disparity of intentions. According to the legend, Prometheus is given a task by the superior authority of Zeus to construct the human race. Prometheus utilizes “clay,” a substance generated from water and the earth, to meticulously mold and configure each being in the “image of the gods” (Raggio 46). While the ambiguity of this myth variation leaves limited explanation, a close reading of Prometheus’ creative process, namely his materials and inspiration, suggests the virtue of his intentions and highlights Shelley’s divergence from the legend. In carefully crafting each individual mortal to mirror the divine magnificence of those residing mightily in the heavens, Prometheus strives to position the human race, while inferior to the gods, as differentiated from and of higher status than the beasts of the earth. With an upright stature and appealing demeanor, Prometheus enables humankind to reach closer to Mount Olympus, more dignified and worthy of the gods’ attention. However, in contrast to his counterpart, Victor independently and of his own accord decides to undertake a similarly “bold” project (Shelley 52). Through a declaration that he can accomplish what the “wisest [of] men” could not, Victor, demonstrating hubris, discloses his belief that he is greater than his own kind (Shelley 53). Victor further conveys that when he succeeds, expressed haughtily without doubt in a matter of fact statement, he will create a new generation of organisms that will both “bless” him and shower him with “gratitude” (Shelley 55). Insinuating that he can and will reach a God-like status of divinity, Victor not only further discloses his conceit, but also his underlying motives to elevate his prestige among society. With the hope that he might receive “glory” and fame if credited as the first individual to achieve the unfathomable, Victor reveals that, unlike Prometheus who acts in the interest of the well-being of others, he is motivated by the idea of self-promotion (Shelley 42). As a result, Victor, acting solely with a selfish expectation for instant recompense, fails to mirror the diligence and thoughtfulness of his counterpart’s creative process. Despite his recognition of the insufficiency of his ingredients, Victor resolves to continue the construction of his creation with elements of the human body “corrup” and “degraded” by death” (Shelley 53). Victor parallels Prometheus through his utilization of inanimate materials. However, the grotesque nature of his decaying parts drastically contrasts the wholesome substances of his counterpart; implying that Victor’s character, actions, and motives are associated with darkness and negativity. Furthermore, in finding that the elaborate and minute “intricacies” (Shelley 54) of the human figure would “impede the [speed] and progress” of his project (Hustis 848), Victor chooses to expand the frame of his being to one of “gigantic stature” (Shelley 54). In addition to his blatant remiss of using inadequate human remains, Victor’s desire to disregard minor and time-consuming details highlights a further divergence from Prometheus’ demonstration of pensive consideration. Victor demonstrates through his process that his focus is on the “abstraction” and achievement of creating life rather than the quality of his creation (Hustis 848). Although he can be perceived to emulate God or a demi-god like that of Prometheus through the embodiment of the power and innovative role of a creator, Victor fails to exemplify Prometheus’ God-like mentality of selflessness and integrity. While Prometheus is depicted with a concern for how his creations come into existence, mindful of the traits they will exhibit and the condition of the lives they will lead, Victor is characterized only with a concern for his own success. As a contrast to his unselfish and benevolent counterpart, Victor is perceived as self-centered and ultimately cast in an unfavorable light.

Through a focus on the relationship between a creator and his creation, Shelley emphasizes that, unlike the mythological character of Prometheus, Victor demonstrates an abuse of creative power and a lack of responsibility towards his progeny; modernizing an ancient story of compassion and support to one of indifference and abandonment. Despite his efforts to establish mankind as the supreme species, Prometheus learns upon completion that “all the gifts of nature” were allocated “among the animals” (Raggio 45). While the beasts of the earth were bestowed with greater strength, speed, and bodily defense systems like sharp teeth, scales, and fur, the human race was left vulnerable and defenseless. Mankind, “naked…[,]unprotected,” and unable to survive on their own, ultimately represents the inferior species (Raggio 45). As Victor looks upon the hideous and uncanny appearance of the being that “lay at [his] feet…convulsi[ing with] motion,” he similarly reveals that the fulfillment of his desire did not turn out as intended (Shelley 58). Through the grotesque and animalistic deformations of semitransparent “yellow skin,” “watery eyes,” “straight black lips,” and a “shriveled complexion,” (Shelley 58) Victor reveals that his creation appears nothing like himself or a being as “wonderful as man” (Shelley 54). Although each creator reveals that the product of their toils fails to align with their visions, Victor, contrasting the sympathetic emotions of Prometheus with expressions of bitter disappointment and dread, perceives this event as a horrifying disaster rather than as heart breaking. Therefore, alluding to the “primary” legend of Prometheus as a fire-bearer, Shelley reveals that her modernization further stems from an emphasis on the divergence of each character’s reactions as a result of their individual interpretations (Hustis 846). Upon learning that his creations are destined to suffer lives of pain, despair, and hardships, Prometheus is immediately filled with sorrow. “Inspired by pity” and his recognition of humankind’s state of helplessness, Prometheus chooses to intervene and consequently, “steals fire” from the gods on Mount Olympus to give to the human race (Hustis 847). With fire came survival and a newfound ability to excel in the arts of agriculture, tool making, and weaponry. With this gift of “reason and wisdom” came civilization and thus, the prosperity and superiority of mankind (Raggio 45). In contrast, Victor expresses “breathless horror and disgust” at the “demoniacal” appearance of his creation (Shelley 58,59). This declaration of his personal fear and revulsion in addition to the grotesque and animalistic description of the being’s physical appearance further discloses Victor’s disapproval and adverse feelings towards his creation. As he refers to his creation solely as a “thing” and a “creature,” it becomes apparent that Victor exhibits detachment (Shelley 58). Through a refusal to recognize his creation as human or even as his child, Victor not only reveals that he is “unable to endure” and love a thing so frightening and ugly, but also that he desires to separate himself from a monstrous achievement that will taint his reputation (Shelley 58). Therefore, while Prometheus demonstrates compassion and a desire to help through an understanding of his “offspring[s’] need for…guidance…and support,” Victor, unwilling to embody the parental role of his counterpart, abandons his creation (Hustis 845). With inhuman characteristics and a horrifying physicality, Victor’s creation is perceived as a monster and destined to suffer the life of an outcast. However, unlike Prometheus who hoped to ensure the “survival [and] long-term happiness” of his children, Victor, consumed with fear and distaste, turns his back on his only child (Hustis 848). By denying his creation of affection[,]” and endearment as well as the knowledge of how to assimilate into society, Victor ultimately condemns his creature to a life of exclusion and misery (Shelley 103). As a result, while Prometheus is depicted as heroic by alleviating the sufferings of his progeny, Victor is perceived as negligent and, in turn, abusive. Exemplifying the source of his creation’s afflictions through his cowardice and selfishness, Victor fails to mirror the responsibility exhibited by his counterpart and consequently, is perceived as lesser in character.

Although Victor and the mythological character of Prometheus each endure the consequences from their decisions as creators, unlike Prometheus, Victor’s suffering proves unresolved and as a result, suggests the immorality of both his actions and the nature of his character. Through Victor’s choice to make man and Prometheus’ decision to steal fire from Zeus, each character “undertak[s an] act of daring responsibility” manifested in the form of a defiance of supreme authority (Hustis 847). Despite the successes of both Victor and Prometheus as they come to possess the power of a divine entity, namely God and the gods of Mount Olympus respectively, each character must face the ramifications of the implementation of their “creative power” (Hustis 846). While both Victor and Prometheus are subjected to a life of misery, Victor suffers emotionally whereas Prometheus endures physical torture. As Victor’s creation begins to embark on a “murderous rampage” as a result of his rejection and abandonment (Hustis 852), killing his creator’s loved-ones, Victor becomes filled with a “heart-sickening despair” (Shelley 87). Victor conveys that in addition to a life defined by “miserable reflections” of an accomplishment that failed to fulfill his aspirations for acclaim and esteem, he now also suffers the pain and anguish that stems from the horrific and “unalterable evils” committed by his creation (Shelley 94,95). Due to an abuse of power through negligence, exemplified in the “thoughtles[sness]” of both the generation and spurning of his creation, Victor is consumed not only with unhappiness and regret, but also the tormenting emotions of anxiety, apprehension, and terror as he awaits the arrival of another abhorrent incident (Shelley 95). According to the legends, Prometheus was similarly left to endure a miserable life of agony as a punishment for his “transgres[sion]” (Hustis 846). With a desire to sustain the existence of the human race, Prometheus defies the will of Zeus and bestows the unknown element of fire to humankind as a gift to promote societal advancement and survival. As a punishment, Prometheus is “bound…[with] chains” to a post and left to have his liver “feasted on” by an eagle (Philips 296). Prometheus, an immortal demi-god, “regenerat[es]” his liver each night and consequently, is exposed to the same physical trauma every day (Philips 296). However, according to many myth variations, Prometheus’ suffering, unlike that of Victor, proves not to be a life sentence. While Prometheus’ life of misery ends with the “slay[ing] of the eagle” by Heracles (Philips 296), Victor explains that only “in death” will “his spirit…[finally] sleep in peace” (Shelley 225). Therefore, Shelley’s modernization emphasizes a “departure” from the ending of the traditional myths (Hustis 845). Through the consideration of each character’s intentions and utilization of power, it becomes apparent that Shelley’s divergence exemplifies a tactic to highlight Victor as a morally corrupt and reprehensible character. While each character commits an offense, Prometheus’ “rebellion” is not only perceived as an act of “audacity,” but also a “gesture of compassion” and responsibility to change the “benighted state” of mankind (Hustis 847,848). In contrast to the egocentric character of Victor who cruelly spurns his creation out fear for the damage it might inflict on his life and reputation, Prometheus reveals his will to suffer for the well-being of others. When comparing the bravery of Prometheus and the goodness of his intentions to the self-promoting, cowardly, and immoral nature of Victor, Shelley casts Prometheus as heroic, honorable, self-sacrificing, and – unlike Victor – undeserving of punishment. By creating a disparity of endings through Prometheus’ sudden release and Victor’s unresolved suffering, Shelley not only implies Victor’s guilt, but also the ugliness of his true nature.

In her novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley alludes to the traditional myths of Prometheus as the maker of man and the savior of the human race as a tactic to shape Victor Frankenstein as a failed Prometheus. While Prometheus is cast as selfless, willing to suffer for the survival and advancement of the human race, Victor, failing to mirror the heroism of his counterpart, abandons and rejects his own creation out of fear and self-interest. By modernizing, or diverging from, the legends through differing motives, reactions, and resolutions, Shelly highlights the true egocentric and morally corrupt nature of Victor.

Works Cited

Hustis, Harriet. “Responsible Creativity and the ‘Modernity’ of Mary Shelley’s Prometheus.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 43.4 (2003): 845-58. JSTOR. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Philips, F. Carter, Jr. “Narrative Compression and the Myths of Prometheus in Hesiod.” The Classical Journal 68.4 (1973): 289-305. JSTOR. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Raggio, Olga. “The Myth of Prometheus: Its Survival and Metamorphoses up to the Eighteenth Century.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtald Institutes 21.1/2 (1958): 44-62. JSTOR. Web. 12 Dec. 2015.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus: Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Maurice Hindle; Revised Edition (Penguin Classics). Ed. Maurice Hindle. London: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.


Inside the Labyrinth

In his novel House of Leaves (2000), Mark Z. Danielewski alludes to the myth of the Cretan Minotaur as a tactic to emphasize Johnny Truant’s entrapment by his past. Through the process of compiling Zampano’s fragmented manuscript of The Navidson Record, a documentary film that discloses the Navidson family’s encounter of a horrifying maze, repressed memories of Johnny’s past begin to surface. While the Minotaur, a deformed child, is sentenced to walk a physical maze, Johnny is forced to navigate the hidden secrets residing within the labyrinth of his own mind. While Katharine Cox’s article, “What Has Made Me? Locating Mother in the Textual Labyrinth of Mark Z. Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves,’” argues that Johnny’s character parallels the Minotaur through his psychological imprisonment by the concealed memory of his mother’s abandonment, Cox’s analysis can be extended to include additional circumstances of abandonment, parental neglect, physical deformity, and isolation conveyed through Johnny’s assessment of his life by memories, his present condition, and a dream that further exemplify Johnny as the Minotaur and emphasize his inability to escape.

In the process of transcribing The Navidson Record, Johnny recollects repressed memories of his past that indicate experiences of abandonment analogous to that of the Cretan Minotaur. Triggered by the film, Johnny embarks on a “journey of remembrance” and reveals that, like the Minotaur, he was left alone in his adolescence (Cox 4). However, his encounter with familial dissonance and the uncertainty of what lurks within the Navidson’s house prompts the emergence of violent hallucinations of asphyxiation as well as apparitions of an unidentifiable being, often referred to as a “her” and depicted as “disturbingly familiar” (Danielewski 28). These episodes of stifled breathing from sensations of piercing “[finger]nails” indicate that Johnny’s life of desertion stems from more than simply the incarceration of his mother and the early death of his father (Danielewski 27). Through a reflection of his mother’s written confession, sent from The Three Attic Whalestoe Institute, Johnny slowly uncovers that, like the Minotaur, he was abandoned through “the destructive bond between [parent]…and child;” ultimately fated to suffer the consequences precipitated by a mother’s “monstrous desire[s]” (Cox 12). The Minotaur, bearing the hideous appearance of a beast, exhibits the head of a bull and the body of a man as a product of its mother’s sinful act of infidelity. Afraid to taint his reputation, King Minos, the Minotaur’s father, proves unwilling to “accept” that the “heir to…[his] throne” will be of illegitimate birth and that the future face of Crete will be one of terrifying deformity (Danielewski 110). As a result, King Minos forcibly hides the Minotaur from society inside a labyrinth, exemplifying an act of rejection that leaves the Minotaur to grow up without a parental figure. Similarly, to safeguard Johnny from the hardships and misery of everyday life, Johnny’s mother attempts to strangle him. Although Johnny’s mother perceives death as a “gift,” a freedom from the “pain of living,” and considers her deed an act of love, her murderous desires and violence warrant incarceration by Johnny’s father (Danieleswki 629, 630). Consequently, with an absent mother living in an asylum, Johnny is completely alone when a car accident suddenly takes his father. While the underlying cause resides with the mother, in each story it is the reactive decision of the father that proves the catalyst for abandonment. As a result, Johnny’s childhood is marked by years of abandonment and an inability to develop familial relations as he transfers time and again among foster families. With each new home Johnny maintains the status of a “guest[,]…living with” yet never becoming part of the family (Danieleswki 92). Through tantrums of “throwing things,” runaways, and school expulsions, Johnny is perceived as a beast for causing trouble (Danielewski 587). Just as the Minotaur was spurned for its abnormal appearance, Johnny is rejected for his abnormal behavior. Both Johnny and the Minotaur exist as black sheep, unable to fit within the mold of societal norms.

After uncovering the hidden truth of his childhood abandonment, Johnny reveals physical scars of parental neglect and consequently, further epitomizes the Cretan Minotaur through his beastly appearance. Johnny is finally able to “retrace [the] history” of his deformity to his “familial ties” with a derelict mother and an abusive foster father (Cox 7). Although both Johnny and the Minotaur were disfigured involuntarily by the choices of another, the Minotaur was born malformed whereas Johnny acquired marks of trauma. In addition to the “half-moon” scars on the back of his neck from his near death experience, Johnny wears sleeves of “horror [that] swee[p]” the length of his arms from a childhood accident involving spilled oil by the hands of his mother (Danielewski 20). Displaying scars from a foster father that span beyond a “broken…and discolored front tooth,” white marks on his legs, and a discolored line “intersecting [his] eyebrow,” Johnny parallels the Minotaur’s freakish and monstrous appearance (Danielewski 130). Although Johnny subconsciously attempts to lock away the memories of his traumas as a mechanism of self-protection, his physical disfigurements, like the walls of the Minotaur’s maze, act as a constant reminder of the horrors of his past.

As his attachment to The Navidson Record grows, Johnny further exemplifies the Cretan Minotaur not only by his daily routine that shapes his present state of isolation and physical deterioration, but also through his entrapment generated by paranoia. Johnny possessed a nearly unvarying daily schedule that consisted of clubs and one-night stands prior to his discovery of The Navidson Record. However, it is not until the “transformative effects of…Zampano’s writing” both impact Johnny’s cognitive stability and alter his way of life that he acknowledges a sense of imprisonment (Cox 5). Although his interest in the documentary initially proves to be mere “curiosity,” reading inconsistently, Johnny reveals that now, due to a growing obsession, both hours and days disappear in the “twist” of sentences, scenes, and patterns of the fragmented “scrap[s]” (Danielewski xviii). As a result, Johnny, in response to the fear that suddenly appears tugging at the back of his mind, becomes increasingly closed off from and unaware of the existence of the outside world; ultimately paralleling the incarcerated state of the Minotaur. While the Minotaur is secluded from society by the inescapable pattern of a physical maze, a sentence resulting from the trepidation of others, Johnny is isolated by his own terror, escalating confusion, and apprehension that accompany the arrival of unexplained memories of which he has no recollection. In his anxiety regarding the condition of his social standing, King Minos fabricates accounts of Athenian deaths and “publicly” frames the Minotaur as the bloodthirsty monster culpable (Danielewski 110). With walls meant to “conceal” and the “residents” of Crete “never get[ting] too close to the labyrinth,” it becomes clear that societal paranoia and fear for individual security are what confines the faultless Minotaur to its prison (Danielewski 110). Through a display of claustrophobia, impaired breathing, and hallucinations of “a stalking [and approaching] monster” that threatens to cut his throat, Johnny is similarly overwhelmed with paranoia (Cox 13). With the former routine of his life incapable of providing comfort, clarity, or an escape from the memory of a near-death experience that haunts his present, Johnny reverts solely to Zampano’s manuscript for answers. Johnny turns away from his personal relationships by missing calls, trashing phone numbers, and forgoing social outings. As Johnny further detaches himself out of fear from the outside world, he exemplifies a state of entrapment both within his home and in a lifestyle of deleterious behaviors as he traverses the maze of his mind. In “nai[ling] his windows shut” and layering his doors with locks, “chains,” and “storm proof” precautions, Johnny rarely leaves his apartment (Danielewski xviii). Unable to sleep or keep up with the demands of daily living, he appears “pale and weak” (Danielewski 404). Along with the deformities induced by his childhood, Johnny’s protruding bones and sickly demeanor highlight a bodily deterioration that mirrors the monstrous appearance of the Minotaur.

Although Johnny embodies the animalistic features and seemingly violent nature of the Cretan Minotaur in a dream, the account demonstrates a compassionate portrayal of his character, for like the Minotaur, his perceived savagery proves misunderstood. As Johnny dreams, he “wander[s] lost” (Cox 4) among the seemingly familiar “dead ends” (Danielewski 403). While Johnny expresses the belief that he has been searching the corridors for years, it is not until he undergoes a bodily change that this frequent dream exemplifies a “nightmare of self-evaluation” (Cox 6). As the threat of death from a drunken frat boy’s swinging ax prompts Johnny to physically transform into the figure of a Minotaur, “sprout[ing]” course hair, “long, yellow fingernails,” and an “enormous bulge” on his forehead, it becomes apparent that, like the Minotaur, Johnny takes the form of a monster as a result of external forces (Danielewski 404). Despite the creature’s “gentle” nature, only consuming Athenians who died of starvation lost in the maze, the Minotaur is cast as a villain through King Minos’ “secre[t] execut[ions]” and fallacious claims of his child’s barbarous acts (Danielewski 110). Although the Minotaur is “nearly murdered” by a criminal, it is unable to muster enough brutality to survive (Danieleswki 111). The Minotaur’s inhuman countenance that resulted from its mother’s indiscretion along with a cruel identity determined by its father supersede its benevolence, forcing the it into the role of a feared beast. Although Johnny typifies the mentality and appearance of a monster, expressing a decision to “carve out” the frat boy’s innards, he reveals that true savagery is also not of his innate nature (Danielewski 405). Johnny’s reaction represents one of defense, generated by a situation of survival. Through an acknowledgment of the “melted” appearance of his hands in the moment prior to his transformation, it is apparent that Johnny’s “appall[ing]” marks of disfigurement, resulting from his relationship with his mother, exemplify external factors that begin to change how he is perceived in the eyes of others (Danielewski 403, 404). As people turn their gaze from Johnny’s scars and his emaciated state, “stunned” and “incredibly uncomfortable” at his unsightly appearance, it is revealed that Johnny is perceived as abnormal (Danielewski 296). However, it is not until Johnny becomes consumed with the external force of a growing paranoia that he is viewed as both lesser than human and frightening. Afraid of losing Zampano’s manuscript, a potential key to his confusion, Johnny primitively and aggressively “spr[i]ng[s] forward…[as if] by instinct to fend off his best friend (Danielewski 324). In fear of an approaching attack, Johnny becomes disassociated with society and secures himself within his apartment, epitomizing a beast hiding among the darkness. Although Johnny buys a gun for protection, the degree of his terror proves both disorienting and dehumanizing. With desires to implement pain by hand and “rip open” flesh by his teeth in a fight, Johnny further exemplifies the characteristics of an animal (Danielewski 296). However, along with an initial claim that blood and brutality “disturb” him, Johnny condemns his thoughts of violence as atrocious and “unspeakable” (Danielewski 249, 497). Johnny, innately benevolent, identifies with the Minotaur for his misunderstood character. As a result of the past, the present environment, and how others choose to see them, both the Minotaur and Johnny are mistakenly distinguished as monsters.

In House of Leaves, Mark Z. Dainelewski highlights that Johnny Truant parallels the mythological Cretan Minotaur. Johnny, suffering from a past that haunts his present, is condemned to a life of entrapment. While the Minotaur is physically bound to its prison, unable to break free, Johnny wanders the corridors of his subconscious, lost among the hidden truths.

Works Cited

Cox, Katharine. “What Has Made Me? Locating Mother in the Textual Labyrinth of Mark Z. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves”” Critical Survey. Vol. 18. N.p.: Berghahn, 2006. 4-15. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Danielewski, Mark Z. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. 2nd ed. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.

The Night of Creation

In the first volume of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Chapter V unveils the pivotal creation scene. Rather than immediately depicting the moment Victor Frankenstein’s goals and aspirations finally come to fruition, Shelly strategically inserts a short introductory paragraph that precedes and delays the illustration of this much-anticipated event. Shelley’s utilization of haunting imagery through her incorporation of fervent diction and grim detail generates both an eerie ambiance and a disconcerting setting that not only exemplify characteristics of a Gothic novel, but also prove as tactics to foreshadow a sense of foreboding disaster as well as Victor’s adverse feelings towards his creation.

Through the employment of dark vocabulary to depict both the daunting influence of the weather and the haunting image of a candle, Shelley, conveying elements representative of Gothic fiction, establishes a ghostly tone and instills sensations of horror. The illustration of “a dreary night of November” with “rain patter[ing]” against the windows immediately emphasizes the somber mood and unsettling sounds that typically accompany a storm, generating a gloomy atmosphere (Shelley 58). The description of Victor working past “one in the morning” on a cold, wet, and dark night to the unsteady “glimmer” and decreasing illumination of a “nearly burnt out” candle further paints a haunting image. Late into the hours of darkness when most people are asleep, stores are closed, and towns are quiet, Victor is interrupted solely by the “disma[l]” cadence of rain drops and the sounds of his own labors. Shelley not only fosters feelings of unease through this chilling portrayal of a bleak night penetrated by a morbid silence, but also invokes sensations of dismay through the insinuation of a growing darkness that threatens to enclose Victor as he works in a perceived state of solitude. The image of a “half-extinguished” candle, exemplifying both the passing of time and the lengthy hours Victor has hitherto devoted to his project, discloses that the darkness from outside is slowly bleeding into Victor’s laboratory. This illustration of an incrementally decreasing candlelight, casting shadows and distorting perceptions, not only conveys panic through the possibility of a negatively twisted reality as objects shift in appearance and take on the mien of terrifying shapes, but also indicates that soon a hair-raising blackness will become all consuming.

In associating what should be a bright and happy moment with the downcast mood of a stormy night, the unnerving depiction of darkness, and Victor’s dehumanizing description of his creation through the integration of passionate diction and grotesque imagery, Shelley foreshadows Victor’s detachment and disgust towards his creation. After much hope, apprehension, research, and “toils,” Shelley reveals that Victor finally succeeds in his endeavor to create life. However, the melancholy and unappealing description of unfavorable weather conditions on a cold night instantly generates a feeling of cheerlessness. Additionally, the delineation of an intensifying and overwhelming growth of darkness that threatens to engulf Victor as he works induces a feeling of suffocation. This juxtaposition yields a sense of foreboding, an element of Gothic fiction, and relays an impression of impending doom, exemplifying a tactic to foreshadow not only Victor’s imminent unhappiness, but also future horror and dread that will follow his “accomplishment.” Furthermore, despite Victor’s aspirations to create a human being, in this passage he solely refers to his creation as a “thing” and a “creature.” Rather than referring to his creation as his child or a person, Victor instantly objectifies his creation as an unidentifiable entity as well as identifies the being to hold the inferior status of an animal. This reaction, lacking the feelings of warmth and excitement, indicates Victor’s disapproval. Through the alarming description of a “yellow eye” like that of a lizard, an unnatural and inhuman characteristic, Shelley exemplifies an act of dehumanization and foreshadows Victor’s displeasure with and condemnation of his creation.

With the institution of a morose and ominous setting as well as the unearthly and disturbing description of Victor’s creature, encapsulating qualities of a Gothic novel, it is no surprise that the following paragraph, the central creation scene, communicates the outcome of Victor’s experiment as an unpromising and negative feat. As Victor looks upon the being that “lay at [his] feet…convulsi[ing with] motion,” he describes the event as a “catastrophe.” As Victor gazes upon the hideous and uncanny appearance of his creation, he acknowledges how his creation’s semitransparent “yellow skin,” “watery eyes,” “shriveled complexion,” and “straight black lips” all conjoin in a disastrous, repulsive, and animalistic manner. With the creation’s grotesque deformations offsetting the only human elements of “flowing” hair and “pearly” white teeth, Victor conveys that the fulfillment of his desire to instill life in an inanimate being did not turn out as intended. Revealing the inhuman characteristics and horrifying physicality of the “wretch,” Victor ultimately conveys his unhappiness and distaste for the life he created. He is left to further endure the tormenting emotions of “anxiety,” apprehension, and terror that reside within his own mind.

Through intense diction, grave descriptions, and frightening imagery, Mary Shelley sets the scene for the dramatic phenomenon of Victor’s installment of life. Displaying qualities of Gothic fiction, Shelley invokes inauspicious sensations of imminent misfortune and calamity. In her depiction of a desolate atmosphere, a disturbing darkness, and Victor’s act of dehumanization, Shelley foreshadows both the devastating outcome of Victor’s experiment as well as his dissatisfaction with and fear of his creation that surface in the following paragraph.

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus: Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Maurice Hindle; Revised Edition (Penguin Classics). Ed. Maurice Hindle. London: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.

The Voice Inside: Explanation Post

In Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, trauma plays a central role through its effect on characters’ psychological condition as well as its influence on characters’ actions. The concept of trauma theory reveals that trauma is often not experienced as it occurs, but rather through the repetitive cycle of re-experiencing repressed memories of the past that form in response to external stimuli. Just as Johnny unwillingly relives the abusive treatment of his foster father after reading of Chad’s swollen face in The Navidson Record, my poem depicts a girl that experiences the trauma of her rape at a park years after it took place. I reveal how the characteristics of the scene cause her repressed memories to surface. Emotions associated with recognition come flooding back with increasing speed as the environment becomes more familiar. I also demonstrate that when the event is both forgotten and repressed or not recognized by the individual as a trauma, the actual experience has an existing yet more limited effect on the individual’s mental and emotional state. Just as Karen experiences severe claustrophobia caused by an unknown event, suggested as the result of being forced into a well by her father, the girl in my poem chooses to follow the path to the left without any reason other than an innate feeling. The girl is unable to understand the full impact of her trauma until her memory allows her to face it.

While most of the characters in The Navidson Record endure some form of traumatic experience through disturbing encounters, stressful events, as well as physical injury associated with the house on Ash Tree Lane, I believe the aftermath of the incidents, the true trauma of recollection, has yet to impact the survivors. I believe Navidson, despite his will to move forward, will continue to experience his trauma. An unexpected burning out of a light bulb or the growl from a neighbor’s dog could call to mind the horrible events that took place inside the darkness of the house.

The Voice Inside

Two paths beckon me home,

but I always choose to turn left.

A preference formed by a voice in my head,

that tells me I will be safe.

Years pass, my route unchanging,

escorted by what? suspicion?


I can see down the road where the other kids go,

a passage that leads to a park.

How unthreatening it seems and my paranoia misplaced,

I quiet the urge to turn away.

Curiosity compels me to walk right,

but instinct tugs me back.

Heal. Toe.

I trudge forward, my body leaden,

slowly shuffling…dragging my feet.

My eyes wander, my focus is uncontrollable,

looking ahead, glancing back, searching.

There is something familiar about the curves of the road,

that leaves me feeling nauseated.

I can’t breathe.

Cringing at every sound,

I shrink beneath my clothes and fold inward on myself.

I hug my stomach with a shaking hand,

I place the other over my heart.


After counting to sixty,

I finally uncurl my spine and lift my head.

A swing set.

“Shhh…be a good girl for me.”

Textual Analysis: A Shift in Power

Chapter II of Volume II in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein features a dramatic encounter between Victor Frankenstein and his creation. While the creature’s desperate plea for an opportunity to articulate his story suggests his lack of power and subordinate status, the creature’s utilization of persuasive and complex language through the integration of a rhetorical question and Biblical allusions not only reveals an underlying accusatory and commanding tone, but also exemplifies a shift in power roles.

As the creature implores and “[e]ntreat[s]” Victor “to hear” him so that he might be understood rather than unfairly misjudged and undeservingly subjected to rejection, it appears that the creature assumes a position of inferiority through this act of begging. However, the creature’s command for Victor to “be calm,” quiet, and open-minded “before…giv[ing] vent to [his] hatred” not only discloses how the creature immediately takes control of the conversation by giving orders, implying that any and all requests should be understood as demands, but also reveals the creature’s accusing tone. In presuming that Victor will respond with antipathy, the creature insinuates that a hostile nature is typical of Victor. As a result, Victor is cast in an unfavorable and negative light. While the creature is willing to return to his innate “mild” and “virtuous” self despite all that he has endured, the expectation that his creator will react solely with resentment distinguishes Victor as ranking below himself by quality of character.

In addition to the creature’s physical dominance of “superior” height, strength, power, and skill that he instructs Victor to “remember” and recognize, belittling Victor as if he is a child that needs to be told the obvious, the creature also gains the upper hand intellectually. Unlike Victor who converses with short and curt statements, the creature, displaying an eloquence and mastery of the human language, confronts Victor with an elaborate speech and a rhetorical question. Analogous to a leading question in court, a query proposed to suggest a particular answer, a verbal response is not required to disclose and confirm Victor’s desire to both “increase” the “suffer[ing]” of and inflict further “misery” upon his creation. Through this rhetoric, the creature not only maintains command of the encounter, but also shapes his speech to both accuse Victor of cruelty as well as highlight him as an evildoer.

Furthermore, by comparing himself to both the “fallen angel” and Adam, the creature continues to rise to a position of superiority. The creature elevates himself to a divine status greater than that of man like Victor as well as discloses that he was spurned without reason. Unlike the angel that was cast out of heaven for a “misdeed,” the creature, despite his “benevolent” nature, was “irrevocably excluded” from society without engaging in any wrongdoing. The creature, placing blame, reveals that he was “trample[d] upon” and despised not only by the human race, but also by the one individual that “owest” him most, his creator. While God made Adam in the likeness of Himself, instilling life and love into a being considered to be perfect, Victor proves unable to love a thing so frightening and ugly. Impulsively abandoning his creation and child, his Adam, out of disgust, Victor denies the creature of “clemency[,] affection[,]” and endearment; exemplifying that he is not only lesser than God, but also lesser than a mortal parent. As a result of continual neglect and failure to fulfill his duty as the creator, Victor has lost control of all outcomes regarding his creation and child. The creature clearly indicates that he is no longer the inferior party.

Textual Analysis: The Night of Creation

In the first volume of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, chapter V begins with a short paragraph that precedes the pivotal creation scene. Through the selection of fervent diction, incorporation of grim detail, and utilization of haunting imagery, Shelley generates a setting that both exemplifies characteristics of a Gothic novel and foreshadows Victor’s unfavorable feelings towards his creation.

The illustration of “a dreary night of November” with “rain patter[ing]” against the windows immediately generates a gloomy atmosphere. The description of Victor working past “one in the morning” on a cold, wet, and dark night when most people are asleep, stores are closed, and towns are quiet depicts a morbid silence interrupted only by the “disma[l]” cadence of rain drops and sounds of Victor’s work with his “instruments of life.” Shelley’s incorporation of a metaphor for Victor’s scientific tools integrates a supernatural element and poses a question regarding Victor as a God-like figure with divine power. Additionally, the decreasing illumination of a “nearly burnt out” candle further develops a disturbing scene. The darkness from outside slowly bleeds into Victor’s laboratory, casting shadows and indicating that soon blackness will become all consuming.

After much hope, apprehension, research, and “toils,” Shelley reveals that Victor finally succeeds in his endeavor to create life. However, Shelley purposely connects what should be a bright and happy moment with the downcast mood of a stormy night, the unnerving image of darkness, and Victor’s dehumanizing description of his creation. This juxtaposition exemplifies a tactic to foreshadow not only Victor’s unhappiness, but also future horror and dread that will follow his “accomplishment.” Although Victor aspired to create a human being, in this passage he only refers to his creation as a “thing” and a “creature.” Through the description of a “yellow eye” like that of a lizard, an unnatural and inhuman characteristic, Shelley exemplifies an act of dehumanization and foreshadows Victor’s detachment and disgust towards his creation.