PHONE CALL RECORD: DOLOWITZ TO MS. HAMPTON, THERAPIST OF THE DECEASED. DATE: 10/10/01 TIME: 8:14 P.M., EASTERN STANDARD TIME
In Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, intertextuality structures the entire novel, and is a key element of its publication. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this term began to be used in 1973 and is defined as “the need for one text to be read in the light of its allusions to and differences from the content or structure of other texts.” There are three main authors of the text, Johnny Truant, Zampano, and the editors; the entirety is made up of Johnny’s narrative and footnotes, Zampano’s compilation of the Navidson Record, and the editors edits and notes on the compilation.
Intertextuality has been used for centuries before being properly defined, such as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein when it references Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” However, House of Leaves uses this method in a new manner. It differs greatly and unlike Frankenstein, the story would be severely fragmented without it being compiled together. This creates a whole new element in literature that reflects reality; in which a person realistically cannot get a full story without knowing several perspectives surrounding it. In the novel, without the inclusion of Johnny’s introduction or the Whalestoe Letters, it could only known from fine print that a Johnny Truant complied Zampano’s findings and that would be that. However, the reader is given another side to the story and it aids the entire experience.
This novel form of writing reflects a new medium to pass on stories and reflects the realistic aspects that define post modernism. The Marvel Cinematic Universe also uses intertextuality through its movies and series in order to create an overarching universe. Realistically, one could not gather all sides of the story from a single film and requires the surrounding serieses and other films to ground it and make it more dimensional for the reader. Why is this relevant? Because it redefines storytelling mediums, and this novel form reflects the Age of Information and how we are all individually processing information through different mediums in order to compile it into a linear story.
Mary Shelley was highly influenced and talented due to her parentage, as mentioned in the introduction, Percy Shelley, her husband, was very supportive and always urged her to explore her literary talents. Frankenstein was an ideal example of her talents and how she is able to speak in different voices within a singular work. This novel is narrated in first person and by three different people during different parts of the overall story, each demonstrating different qualities and personalities which Shelley did a good job of exhibiting. However, because they are all recalling their perspective on the same story, it will be very biased and therefore, unreliable, as first person narratives tend to be. Both Victor Frankenstein and Robert Walton control the vast majority of the narrative that the reader perceives. However, there are a variety of contradictions within their own narratives, specifically Frankenstein’s. Frankenstein even goes as far as to discount his creation’s narrative. This demonstrates Frankenstein’s egocentric nature and exhibits how it clouds Frankenstein’s view on morality.
Walton is very similar to Frankenstein and is often regarded as his foil (juvenile, innocent form of Victor, but just as pretentious). Walton is only heard in the novel through the means of letters sent to his sister. Walton is pompous and glory seeking and unlike Frankenstein, also has a more cheerful tone and is not isolated by nature but rather by choice. He chooses to frequently write to his sister, unlike Frankenstein who rarely wrote to his family. So the vast majority of diction used in Walton’s letters is light hearted and optimistic, never perceiving the possible dangers ahead. Through Walton’s eyes, everything seems to be going well except that he has no companion and he longs for one. He exalts Frankenstein greatly, but as the reader progresses and uncovers the truth, it’s noticed that Frankenstein is actually also a pompous person who does not deserve praise. The reader’s initial view of Frankenstein was biased due to Walton’s account.
Frankenstein himself is also very pretentious, and is more isolated than Walton. He is more in tune with nature than with people; he regards this as the fault of his elevated intelligence. He also provides a input on how he feels throughout the novel, providing the reader with a grand extension on his perspective regarding the world around him. And even with the amount of details he provides, it is still unreliable. The most significant instances of perspective in his narrative is his opinions regarding the creature. Victor dehumanizes the monster immensely, depriving him of emotions and the reader’s sympathy. Shelley allows the reader to also take the creature’s perspective and make the choice his or herself of whether the creature is an antagonist or simply a misunderstood hero.
Shelley emphasizes that the creature is innately good but was corrupted under man’s prejudice. The only way the reader is aware of this is through the creature’s perspective. Frankenstein never elaborates on the initial good nature of the creature and this created a negative opinion regarding his creation. This is one of the main reasons the reader cannot trust Frankenstein’s opinions about others he interacts with either. Even if Frankenstein believes the monster is terrible and crazy for killing the people Frankenstein has loved, it is also known through the creature’s perspective that he felt guilt and remorse while murdering.
You can’t trust anyone in this novel, but Shelley is not just trying to say that. Romanticism focuses on innate feelings and Shelley explores how diverse feelings and background stories influence accounts of stories. Walton describes the creature as hideous on the outside, but not once does he exhibit the cruel remarks Frankenstein has made regarding the creature’s inner person. The only way to understand a full story is to explore the different perspectives and significances.
Obsession is a type of behavior that usually connoted negatively and is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal.” In Emily Carroll’s digital graphic novel, “Margot’s Room,” this ongoing theme is emphasized greatly through both the narrator’s and her husband, Gilles’, lives and behaviors throughout the story. As the reader follows the story, it is clearly evident that the wife has issues distinguishing between reality and fantasy due to her downward, obsessive spiral. Gilles suffers as well but has a more generic aftermath (distancing oneself, marriage issues, etc.) of his daughter’s death while the narrator suffers from something darker.
In Part I, Flowers, the husband is seemingly happy, or aloof, despite that his future wife’s father, his ex-boss, had just passed away from an unspecified illness. There is also the possibility (that many readers interpret) that either he killed his boss in order to have his wife all to himself, or that it could have been the other way around, she killing her father to be close to him: both being signs of obsessive behavior. However, in this part, the main focus is on how the narrator keeps speaking of her feelings in the past while juxtaposing them with the present’s, and how she is obsessed with the death among her loved ones. The last frame records her saying “he promised he’d live forever,” emphasizing the inability to move on, and her focus on death. So even in the first frames we meet the pair, there is already something uncanny about their relationship and the odd manner they deal with death.
In Part II, she cannot move on from her daughter’s, Margot, death and wonders whether she could have done anything to prevent it. At this point, it’s fairly evident that her obsession with her daughter’s death is what drove her husband away, despite his efforts to comfort her.
Part III presents the same obsessive behaviors that the narrator had previously exhibited and she herself notes that she spends most of her time alone waiting for her husband’s return. In addition, Gilles also begins to spend a longer time away from home since he was very affected by the death of his daughter and his wife’s conduct. At this point, it’s also evident that he is obsessed with Margot’s death as well and also becomes an unreliable narrator, especially when his wife discovers the villagers never saw him at all, thus, invalidating his alibi.
The narrator’s obsession with her daughter is elaborated upon in Part IV when she endlessly ponders on the life Margot did not get to fulfill, asking herself whether it “was it kindness in the end?” Obsession often clouds a person’s mind with intense anxiety and can be the reason why she drove her husband away from her and caused him to “change.”
The power of obsession is what allowed the narrator to murder her husband, she did not see anything realistically anymore and neither did he since she was plagued with illnesses and deaths. Just as the monsters that Gilles saw in the woods could have been a representation of the obsession they have possessed from dwelling on the death of their daughter. Whether or not it was a supernatural occurrence or their own insanity, their obsession with Margot’s death brought them to these circumstances, and ultimately drove the narrator to murder her beloved husband.