The Master and the Slave

The Master and the Slave

No other literature quite highlights the danger of becoming a slave to your own invention(s) like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In Victor Frankenstein’s selfish search for knowledge, he creates a being that he is not ready to take responsibility for and it is his downfall. The creator/creation relationship is always there, for Frankenstein will always be the creator and the creature will always be the creation; however, there is a power shift that occurs between them in Volume II when the creature asks Frankenstein to create a mate for him. From there, the connotation leans more toward that of a master/slave dynamic.

A definition in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) states that a “slave” is “One who is completely under the domination of, or subject to, a specified influence” (oed.com). Victor certainly falls into this definition when creating the creature’s female companion, or at least it’s not until then that he starts thinking “chains and darkness were the only objects that pressed upon me” (p.202). Several times, he refers to his predicament as his “slavery”. Conversely, the creature later refers to himself as a “slave, not a master” (p. 222) as he laments over Frankenstein’s corpse. This is profoundly interesting, not because neither sees themselves in the master role, but because earlier, when the creature confronts Victor about destroying the mate, the creation calls his creator a slave! The power dynamic at its most uneven here, he ends the threat, “Slave! You are my creator, but I am your master- obey!” (p.172). The creature blames his behavior on compulsion, “… an impulse, which I detested, yet could not disobey” (p. 222), during his confession to Walton in the final moments of the novel. The creature could not allow Frankenstein any happiness because the scientist could not show his own creation the same kindness. Now that his creator is dead, the urge to ruin his life or have any power is gone; the creature is left with only guilt and retrospection.

In a way, the creation is a slave to existence as well as to his creator. It would certainly fit under one of the OED’s definitions “The condition of being entirely subject to some power or influence” (oed.com); the power or influence being life itself. In his first moments, the creation was cast away into a superficial world that would never accept him. Forced by humanity to only travel by moonlight, the creature spurns his creator and curses the day he was given life; his very existence haunts him. However, upon his climactic meeting with Frankenstein on the mountain summit, “Life,” the creature says, “…is dear to me, and I will defend it” (p.102). The creation lacks the constitution to kill himself until the very end. In life, Frankenstein was his only hope for happiness; in his creator’s death, nothing is left for the lonesome creation. The power dynamic notably shifts again. In death, Victor holds the power as he was the master key to the creature’s happiness. Without Frankenstein, the creature is nothing. It seems only fitting that his life is presumably ended. That way, they are finally equal, creator and creation, only in death.

The second female creation would seemingly fit into the OED’s primary definition of a “slave”: “One who is the property of, and entirely subject to, another person, whether by capture, purchase, or birth.” (oed.com). The master/slave relationship for her would exist between both Victor and the creation; in the case of the mate and the creature, she is a slave before she is created. For example, in the creation’s plea to Frankenstein to create a companion, he explains his plan of living off the grid with his new companion; her solitary fate is sealed before she even exists. It is supposed she would not have a say in the matter as this is the sole point of her existence; so, already the master/slave dynamic exists between her and the creature. Say she was given the opportunity to voice her opinion, and she did indeed not want to go. In this event, it could be surmised that this could put Victor in the same position he is in now. She would be a slave, as the first creation is now, to Frankenstein as she would rely on his knowledge to fashion her a companion to her liking.

Being that Shelley was a Romantic and the Industrial Age was on the horizon when she wrote Frankenstein, it would be fair to hypothesize that Victor’s hasty innovative obsession with creating the first creature is Shelley’s way of warning against reckless innovation and industrialization. It can certainly be read as a warning against delving into the unknown; there are some places that humans just aren’t meant to go. It’s always been a problem with our species to want to understand everything. “Knowledge is powerful” is a dangerous phrase for an obsessive but ignorant person like Frankenstein; it made him think he could play God. Frankenstein’s story highlights one horrific, albeit fictional, way how one can become a slave to their own inventions. Perhaps Shelley hoped that readers would learn from Victor’s devastating story, run from innovation, and flee back to nature.

Works Cited

  1. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1818. Print.
  2. “slave” Def. 1a. Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press.Web.
  3. “slave” Def. 2b. Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press. Web.
  4. “slavery” Def. 3b. Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press. Web.
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Galvanism Aids Horror Factor

Though Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, is regarded as a horror novel, it no longer carries the same scare factor due to contemporary horror film. Regardless her novel was considered to be downright terrifying during the time period of Frankenstein’s publication. Shelley spawned the idea for Frankenstein through a nightmare of hers, which closely resembled Frankenstein’s creation. At the time of Frankenstein’s publication galvanism was considered a new science, and to most people of society a horrifying and blasphemous idea. Mary Shelley aids the frightening idea of the book through her elusive and vague use of galvanism. Shelley never fully states in Frankenstein, the creature was brought to life through the uses of galvanism, but leaves many subtle hints throughout the book. This allows readers to assume galvanism was the reason behind the creatures newly given life.  Shelley leaves this key piece of information out of the book, because the idea of galvanism was only about thirty years old at the time of Frankenstein’s publication, and many people of that time period were not informed on the specifics of galvanism. The idea of using electricity to reanimate parts of a dead human body, instilled blood curdling fear and disgust among the public, which Shelley capitalizes on in her book. During the creature’s reanimation scene in the novel, Frankenstein states that he will, “infuses a spark of being into the lifeless thing” (Shelley 58). Shelley does not forwardly tell the reader the creature is being brought to life through the use of galvanism, because most of the public during the early nineteenth century are unaware of galvanism, which gives the scene a distinctive mysterious effect. The mysterious effect allowed readers of that time period to think of the most horrifying way to spark a being alive. Although the current generation is accustom to the idea of the spark being a bolt of lightning, as it is depicted in many Hollywood versions of Frankenstein, the public during the time of the publication did not have major motion pictures to persuade their imagination into thinking of a lightning bolt. To nudge the readers in the right direction Shelley leaves hint at the beginning of Frankenstein’s travels, when he encounters “a stream of fire issue from an old and beautiful oak” (42). After the stream of fire leaves the tree, Frankenstein is baffled when he sees a stump in place of the tree. After inquiring about electricity laws, his acquaintance “formed on the subject of electricity and galvanism, which were new and astonishing to [him]” (43). This allows the reader to make the direct connection that the spark associated to the creatures new life is a by-produce of the new science, galvanism, which intrigued Frankenstein. Mary Shelley does not go into detail on the subject of galvanism in the beginning to the book, this leaves galvanism open to the readers interpretation. When she does this, the idea of galvanism can go from small electrical impulses to trigger key muscle reactions, to the more imaginative idea that the lightning bolt can cause a hideous very much dead jigsaw-puzzled like creature can be brought to life. The open ended idea of galvanism can elevate the fear factor for readers depending on their imagination level, since Mary Shelley left no defined ideas. For example Mary Shelley’s nightmare, which envisioned Frankenstein’s experiment, was quite imaginative for her time period and even for those scientist who experimented on galvanism. Before the publication of Frankenstein, only small experiments on galvanism had been done to excite muscles, no one though it could be used to reanimate a deceased human. It was not until the year of Frankenstein’s publication, a full body was experimented on. Even then the scientist, Andrew Ure, still did not reanimate the body, although he was hopeful at the end of the experiment that reanimation could happen. The experiments were said to be so frightening to the public that many who were present during the public experiments had to leave the ghastly sight. With such strong reactions to simple muscle stimulation, one can only imagine how frightening the idea bring someone back to life would be. Nevertheless, the fact that Shelley left the idea of galvanism as an instrument of life open to interpretation, would be an effective way for her to instill terror into her readers. Since the public reacted so harshly towards the experiments, the scientist were considered to be deranged in the head. Mary Shelley also uses how the public reacted to the experiments, in a similar way throughout the book. Frankenstein states constantly in the book, that if he would come clean about his creation, his testimony “would have been considered the ravings of a madman” (82). This allows the author to one up the fear factor of the novel, by persuading the readers to consider Frankenstein as a madman. Though Mary Shelley’s vague and elusive idea of galvanism, the reader is allowed to overly imagine an already frightening topic of the time period. Thus causing Frankenstein to be a truly terrifying novel of that time period.

Look at me!

Why was I created?

For amusement?

Was I created out of boredom?

Can you not answer my questions?

Are you too afraid?

Do you think I will hurt you?

Can’t you see all I want are answers?

Isn’t that what everyone wants?

Do you not think I am only human doubting my existence?

Do you want me to end it all?

End you?

End me?

Did you know I could?

Did you know I could end you with a finger?

Are you ashamed?

What have I done to deserve this isolation?

This marginalization?

Is there in truth no beauty?

Is my appearance the deciding factor of my loneliness?

Are all humans so shallow?

Why do you insist on silence, Creator?

Can you not see you are my only god?

Do you want to be my only god?

Is this too much for you to handle?

Look at me!

William in the Woods

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It’s very cold. I lost Elizabeth quite a while ago. It’s slowly getting darker and darker, the sun is beginning to hide behind the rolling hills. I try not to panic, I’m sure my family is out here looking for me. The trees tower above me and I cannot help but feel frightened. All the noises of forest scare me. I hear movement all around. The wind cruising along the leaves, or the animals trampling fallen leaves on the forest floor. I do not know what to think. I try to think comforting thoughts, such as being held by Elizabeth or being right beside my father. But the forest is growing louder, and with it, I grow more worried. I do not know how to survive in the forest alone, I’m only a child that wanted to play a harmless game. Now I am hopelessly lost. These towering trees all look the same and the ground is damp and brown.

Then all of a sudden, I hear something. It is footsteps, but not that of an animal. No, these are heavier. A human’s footsteps. Elizabeth, I’m sure it is! I hear them from behind and turn around to face my rescuer.

It’s no one I recognize. It’s no one anyone would recognize. I back away in horror. What in God’s name is in front of me? I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if it is friend or foe. I run. I cannot help it, I am only a child. I run hard as fast as I can when I hear a voice yell out, “William!” It sounds like Justine’s voice. It’s coming from ahead of me but still sounds far away. I keep running when I am snatched up from behind. Whatever it is is strong and pulls me down behind some trees. I look into it’s eyes but only for a second. The last thing I remember is that his eyes are full of pain. Then everything goes black.

Sample Fiction: A Slip and a Fall Away

It is 12:47am on a Wednesday – a day of no particular significance, sitting square in a month with no corporate holiday, filling in a colorless year that will soon be forgotten. The congested, screeching friction of hot metal and harried commuters has cleared to long stretches of silence. Lethargy broken only by the occasional passing rush of an errant driver, the flickering lights of a gas station, and the incessant chirps of scraping, membranous wings. It is in this perpetual cycle of day and night that human souls are crushed molded by unyielding, mundane, and entirely artificial forces – a brief respite available only in that sliver of time between sleeping and waking.

See: to your right – the gothic archways with their curves and crosses, framing stained glass that, in the light of day, paint inspiring tales of needless sacrifice and bloody hate and a rapturous End that will swallow the world. How powerless it looks now, though, with no Pied Piper on the stage singing innocent children and sinful rats alike to their burning, eternal salvation. What could this wondrous architecture of man be but the Vessel of divine love?

See: in front of you – the perfectly bland and symmetrical honeycombs of cubes and desks and halls that, under florescent lights, harness the plodding potential of the drone within the man. When the burning sun sets and the bulbs dim, the Hive disperses to find respective rest and sustenance, a temporary exodus before the inevitable return.

See: them accept the pause that they’re all given, gifted by the presence of a belabored Sandman (and a Tempur-Pedic mattress). These dreams that come and go will, in some near time, disappear into the seductive whispering maw of the permanent Black – but until then, drift easy, drift free for a finite moment.

Thus does the summation of human existence plod along, occasionally captured in the harsh glare of a Shell Service Station, shining alone on the corner of a deserted street at 12:47am on a nondescript Wednesday. It is a glorious, underwhelming moment of perfect, middling, banality.

Right here, at this intersection – nightly distributer of fuel for the modern rider and his iron steed, and Doritos bearing Savior of the drunken man – a bus sweeps through on the final leg of its journey to the garage. It is emptied but for an evidently well-loved copy of Playboy splayed next to a suspicious dark stain, and a single passenger. Snoring contentedly with his neck bent against his right shoulder (it will ache when he wakes), and the crown of his head resting against a smudged window, this modern-day Rip Van Winkle remains oblivious when the bus merrily roars through his stop without hesitation. There will be no off-brand Snickers and egg-salad sandwich for him tonight.

The driver is intently focused on the road ahead, as though by will alone he can suddenly reach the end of his route. And yet, the end comes and goes with not even a whimper. Bus “Not in Service” (and when did the LED sign lose its numbers and destination?) continues forward and leaves the grainy imprint of the garage behind in a burst of exhaust fumes.

Winkle is bounced painfully against his once-pillow when the bus jolts from a badly paved dip. He looks out the window with a groggy, uncomprehending stare. Though those are certainly Austin trees – dried, stubborn tufts of green hiding unforgiving nests of bird shit – and these are certainly Austin roads, cracked, uneven messes that they are, there is only an echo of the familiar. This is no part of the route he has followed for the past three years, and no part of the city he has lived in for four. Winkle turns to the driver but pauses before the question even leaves his mouth.

This scruffed mountain man whom he has seen and greeted day in and day out, but whom he has never known (the same way that the dull-eyed grocery bagger can never be known, nor the IT representative who blends together with every other IT representative over the phone) is gone – and Winkle is left adrift. Though the driver’s shoulders are the same broad wall of sinew and flesh, and his hair the same wild mop of dirty blond – or maybe it is a light brown – and his face the same generic face of all driversandwaitersandcashiersandwalmartmanagers, Winkle cannot find comfort in this figureless figure because he is not the same.

Winkle squints in confusion as the tiniest bit of fear creeps into his asthmatic lungs. There is a flickering in the peripheral edges of his vision when he shifts his eyes away from the bus driver, but perhaps this merely heralds the onset of stressed exhaustion. Perhaps what he sees are oddly gruesome floaters in his eyeballs, and not the peeling, fluttering, transparent skin of the driver fading into cracks of nothing. Perhaps he is falling into the black grasp of a diabetic coma, and imagining the dark slivers that pulse around the driver and grow into consuming shadows.

The terribly ordinary commuter is struck with an overwhelming desire to run, to hide, to escape this thick, sludgy dread that chokes his wheezing throat and coats his chest like the slimy imprints left by warm, blood-soaked fingers. As Winkle falls on to the grimy floor, gagging, the Driver turns around with a smile pasted on his melting, wax face – a creature of dripping flesh and oil with bones of rust protruding from his hollow cheeks. A ring sounds in the distance, as “Stop Requested” flashes across the ceiling, and the world slips sideways and over. Outside the windows pass flashes of death and worse and vast deserts of burning darkness, until Winkle can see no more.

He cannot see (or hear or speak) because there is only enough blood to feel, red life trafficking in the tunnels beneath his skin as he is flayed, seared, stripped and torn from the inside out. Interminable moments of not-pain and not-death until he feels translucent – until he is nothing but a beating, oil-pumping chrome heart wrapped in skin…

At 6:42, the bus returns to its route. Women in suits and children with lunchboxes and men in shiny leather shoes alight and descend. Another Thursday, and another day closer to the weekend. They say “thank you” to the driver – sometimes not even this – with their ears plugged and eyes ahead. To them, the driver is as faceless and forgettable as the motionless, smiling commuter sitting in the very back, who smells vaguely of eggs and caramel.