Johnny and his Fear
“No doubt about that. My fear’s gotten worse. Hearing Hailey describing my screams on the radio like that has really upset me. I no longer wake up tired. I wake up tired and afraid. I wonder if the morning rasp in my voice is just from sleep or rather some inarticulate attempt to name my horror. I’m suspicious of the dreams I cannot remember, the words only others can hear…”
In House of Leaves, Johnny’s footnotes serve on the surface as a translation of certain parts of the Navidson Record into layman’s terms, but more importantly they give another dimension to his mentions of being disturbed by the Navidson Record, offering a first person point of view to his anxieties.
As the book progresses Johnny’s footnotes stays at relatively the same consistency, never going away for too long, but the length and content of these footnotes indicates a paradigm. Certain footnotes take up at least a page and continue from an ominously toned sentence in the Navidson Record. They tend to deal little with the content of the Navidson Record and more with the feelings of paranoia and delusion Johnny feels from the book as he reads and annotates.
On Page 179, at the 211th footnotes Johnny again goes on his long tangents before the rescue of Jed and Wax, at a time when Zampano is exploring the subjectivity of space. During this small arc Zampano gives a few academic sources discussing to the idea of spaces or rooms feeling smaller or bigger than previously thought to be. In context of the novel, Reston is feeling nauseated after being in the constantly changing black space of the house for too long, with Zampano commenting that the “disturbing disorientation experienced within that place…can have physiological consequences.” This is where Johnny’s footnotes take the wheel.
“No doubt about that,” Truant’s footnote starts, referring to the “physiological consequences” of the house. In this case he is talking about how his fear, particularly how it is affecting him. The Navidson Record as a whole, and the task of reading and annotating has taken a toll on Johnny.
All the delusions, smells, and sleepless nights lead Johnny to see a doctor that prescribes him a low end sedative. Later in the footnote as Johnny is waiting in another doctor’s office, contemplating the claustrophobic and unknown space that surrounds him, he says “I know what it means to go mad.”
At this point in the book it is clear that the Navidson Record is negatively affecting him, but not in a tangible way. The book is not directly making him feel anxious or experience delusions, but rather bringing up some dormant, underlying problem possibly being suppressed by Johnny. The phrase he writes, “I know what it means to go mad” addresses this by giving a familiarity to the feelings and mentality Johnny is going through.
Though the Navidson Record on its own is dense and slightly confusing, referred to earlier in the footnote when he speaks of the frustrating complexities of the chapter 9 footnotes, the book itself does not seem enough to give reason to Johnny’s fear and paranoia. Instead, through Johnny’s footnotes, we come to understand that whatever mystic force gives power to the house’s apparent sentience is what is uncovering or causing his fear. He feels a familiar sense of madness, going so far as to throw away all drugs in an attempt to alleviate any distortions. At this point Johnny is desperate for a way to end the approaching seemingly malevolent force that he senses in his delusions.
The footnotes help to explore these distorted feelings as they don’t happen too frequently. They come almost like a checkpoint in each chapter. As the house becomes stronger and more omnipotent, the effects are felt all throughout, especially to Johnny.
Trauma, Obsession, and the Importance of a Haven
The lack of a safe space in House of Leaves is a motif for many characters, namely Johnny and Navidson. Starting with Johnny in the Introduction, he says that all he wants is “a closed, inviolate, and most of all immutable space” (p.xix). The reader slowly learns (though is never sure what is true) about Johnny’s traumatic past with his mother, father, and foster father. He bears physical scars from it; he has been repressing what happened to him his whole life. Putting all of his energy into transcribing Zampano’s notes gives Johnny a purpose; his obsession of completing the project consumes him but also garners his ultimate hope that whatever he believes is following will stop so he can be at peace. Johnny never sees the house on Ash Tree Lane, but it haunts him. For example, shortly after starting his transcription, he starts speaking in metaphors that relate back to the house: “Inside me, a long dark hallway…continued to grow” (p.49). His apartment is not a haven, as he repeatedly points out in his rapidly degrading mental state; he more feels stuck there than safe. He struggles to find his place.
When the reader is introduced to Will Navidson, all he wants is to settle down after his tumultuous career. “Personally, I just want to create a cozy little outpost for me and my family. A place to drink lemonade on the porch and watch the sun set” (p.9), he says. Navidson is haunted by a subject (Delial), a starving child that he photographed (and won the Pulitzer Prize) but did not help. He is consumed with guilt and trying to find a way to live with it. All he wants is to document his return to normalcy; he gets anything but that. Although it starts out the way he hoped, peace does not last long with The Navidson Record’s title character (and his family). Once the house’s mystery is presented, Navy tries to solve it thinking it will become the haven he’d hoped for (and needs) in the end. However, he also battles himself throughout the book. He constantly defends his obsession with the house (to Karen mostly) by saying “…going after something like this is who I am” (p.389). He can’t deny that he is intrigued by the dangerous closet hallway and the anomaly consumes him. In the midst of trying to solve the mystery, he attempts to seek solace from Karen (who is cold and not a source of peace) and Tom (who Navidson looks up to, but any solace that was found in him is dissipated when he is swallowed up by the house).
The lack of a haven leads these characters to put their energies into solving the mystery of the house, which leads to insanity and despair, but ultimately to resolution. Both Johnny and Navidson seem calm and contented with their lives at the book’s conclusion after the house has imploded, therefore not plaguing their minds any longer. Both have found their safe space.
Respectable Femininity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
“I gazed on the picture of my mother which stood over the mantel-piece. It was an historical subject, painted at my father’s desire, and represented Caroline Beaufort in an agony of despair, kneeling by the coffin of her dead father. Her garb was rustic, and her cheek pale; but there was an air of dignity and beauty, that hardly permitted the sentiment of pity.”
–Frankenstein, Page 79
The female characters in Frankenstein are few and are generally relegated to the background, as are most of the secondary characters, as the majority of the novel centers on Victor and his creature. However, unlike the male secondary characters, the only prominent women of Frankenstein are almost always depicted as long-suffering saints, whose nobility and composure in the face of adversity are their most attractive traits. Notably, Victor’s mother, Caroline, is portrayed in this manner. This depiction of the female characters in Frankenstein reflects the idea that a femininity characterized by suppressed pain, particularly one dampened by grief, is the most attractive a woman can possess.
Victor’s mother, Caroline, is introduced as the daughter of an ailing man, a friend of Victor’s father, who does all in her power to support him until his eventual passing. It is within this context that she meets her future husband, who, “came like a protecting spirit to the poor girl”. She is therefore rewarded for bearing her struggles, remaining a dutiful daughter and serving a traditional role in a patriarchal system. Within the span of two years she transitions neatly from a caretaker to her father, to a wife and caretaker of a child. It is mentioned briefly that Caroline had been “shaken by what she had gone through”, but her grief at losing her father to disease in relative squalor is never fully explored. From that point on the only emotion she shows is concern for others, going on to be described as “a guardian angel of the afflicted”. She ends up contracting a fatal illness by refusing to be stopped from nursing Elizabeth when she takes ill, and the one-sidedness of her character only continues with her death. Of his dying mother, Victor says, “On her death bed the fortitude and benignity of this best of women did not desert her”, and Caroline’s final moments are spent telling Victor and Elizabeth that she wants them to get married, and then she dies “calmly”, “and her countenance expressed affection even in death”. She never has a moment where she is without poise or composure, even as she knows she is about to die, and she is held up by Victor as “this best of women”. This woman, who we never get to know as a full-fledged character, serves as the pinnacle of idealized respectable femininity in the novel. She is charitable and kind, always thinking of others before herself, and when she has served her purpose (nursing Elizabeth from illness) she dies quietly and without incident.
These traits are echoed in Elizabeth, who, after Caroline’s death, “indeed veiled her grief, and strove to act the comforter to us all”, and Victor even claims that “never was she so enchanting than at this time”; that is, never was Elizabeth so appealing than when she was suppressing her own unexplored feelings of grief and possibly guilt at having been nursed to health only to see her caretaker killed by that same illness which afflicted her, to appease the people around her. We see a similar treatment of Justine who, is not only rendered “exquisitely beautiful” by the “solemnity of her feelings” upon being on trial for murder, but is described as a “saintly sufferer” who “assumed an air of cheerfulness, while she with difficulty repressed her bitter tears” trying to comfort Elizabeth on the eve of her own death. These women are attractive when they are denying their own emotional needs for the sake of those around them, at least in Victor’s eyes.
This idealized feminine suffering is made especially clear when Victor returns to his family home and looks upon the painting of his mother described in the quote above. This portrait, displayed prominently on the mantelpiece, is how his father wanted to remember her: sobbing over her father’s grave (where he first met her and, perhaps, fell in love with her). Her pain is romanticized to the point where her depiction in the portrait “hardly permitted the sentiment of pity” because her suffering is just so darn beautiful.
Sympathy for the Devil
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me? —
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, sympathy (or the lack there of) is a key component in much of the language and actions of the characters. The novel builds up the emotions and character composition of Victor Frankenstein, in an attempt to create sympathy for the shamed creator. In essence Shelley tries to generate concern for the titular character, however the true focus of sympathy lies in Victor’s creation. The shamed monster is a tragic figure, and the one deserving of the most sympathy in the text.
The part of the novel narrated by Victor gives insight into the man’s mind, and reasoning for his words and actions. These instances of vivid detail into the man’s psyche come at times where he is reflecting on his own life, and the actions he has done. The detail and discernment occur during times when tangible events are not necessarily taking place, they occur more often in Victor’s head as his reactionary thoughts. They serve to help us see the actions from Victor’s point of view, which should make us more sympathetic to the man.
However when the creature is given a voice, and takes over the book’s narration, we as the readers understand who is really to blame for all the misfortune in the novel. When both perspectives are presented to the reader, the accounts of Victor are slightly neglected as we see the consequences of his own actions.
It is quickly apparent why Shelley would choose to include the Milton quote on the title page. The emotion of the quote foreshadows the unwarranted sorrow that will overcome many of the book’s characters. But as the novel lends a voice to the creature parallels are formed between the monster and source of the quote. The tragedy of the monster is due to no fault on his part, at least not at first. After he is created by Victor and immediately he is met with disgust and scorn. This never goes away, as he is met with similar if not worse reactions from every human he encounters no matter what he is doing.
The Milton quote becomes increasingly appropriate as the creatures sheds more and more light on his experiences. The monster is suffering no doubt, but he did nothing to draw the attention of the suffering. His only fault is that he is ugly, and people are scared of him. The one at fault for the creatures suffering is Victor. Victor is the creature’s creator, and Frankenstein acknowledges that their relationship should have been better.
“I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel.” The monster at this point of his life is aware that he is a disappointment to Victor, he knows their relationship should have been better. It is only Victor’s horror and disappointment with his results that lead to the creature knowing only mistreatment. In an example of nature vs. nurture the monster eventually is fed up with the treatment he faces, and he is pushed to the limit (committing murder). But considering his brute strength and imposing stature, it is unclear as to why the creature endures it all for so long. The sad truth is that the monster is a tragic figure because did nothing harmful to anyone at first, it was only after his environment (people especially) affected him that he was corrupted and fell to revenge and havoc in response.
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?
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?
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?
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!
In Sheep’s Clothes
There is a beast in my town.
I live in a quiet place, With peaceful people and friendly neighbors.
There’s a lake nearby with fish and ducks,
A forest filled with deer and rabbits.
The town is filled with smiling faces,
Happy people waving and cheering.
But I am not fooled.
I know the truth.
There is a beast in my town.
I see it in the corners of my eye,
In the shadows between buildings.
Always watching. Always hunting.
It stalks me as I walk around town,
Vanishing as soon as I turn to face it.
I’ve warned my neighbors, warned them of the danger.
And yet they continue to smile, continue to laugh.
But now that laughter is pointed at me…
There is a beast in my town.
But he won’t be able to hide much longer.
For now I have begun my hunt.
No more will I be the prey, No more will I feel fear.
I know it is out there, watching me from the shadows.
I know what I must do.
There is a beast in my town.
And every day there is one less smiling face.
The people no longer laugh, no longer wave and cheer.
They are afraid, afraid of the beast that they now believe in.
But they can’t fool me.
I know that the beast is one among them.
And every night I will continue my hunt.
Until I know for sure that I have killed the beast.
Until I know that it isn’t hiding behind one of those smiling faces.
There is a beast in my town.
And I will find it.
In the Darkness
My imagination is my escape.
I enter my house without a sound. The lights are all off. It’s late.
With quiet steps, I walk past the living room. Nothing stirs around me. Not until I reach the long corridor leading to my bedroom.
I walk forward. Slowly.
Do you ever get that feeling? That someone is lurking right behind you?
The lights suddenly flicker. Maybe it’s a mischievous poltergeist messing with the electricity. Maybe it’s the lightning of a faraway, nonexistent storm. Because, of course, a storm can’t form inside a house.
But I can imagine one doing so.
I hear whispers coming through the walls. Maybe it’s the voices of fairies. Introducing themselves to me. Maybe they need help and are pleading for me to save them.
But I’m the one who’s trapped.
Turn back. You’re in danger.
My heart is pounding now. Maybe I’m just hearing the pounding of bass drums in another room. Someone playing a concert with an audience of none. Or the pounding of a fist on a table. Angry pounding.
The lights flicker again, and for a second I see a shadow that’s not my own on the wall to my right. I turn my head a bit but I don’t look back all the way.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
A drop of sweat rolls down my cheek and falls off the edge of my jawline. Boom.
I keep facing forward but my eyes close. My mind projects an image onto the blackness.
The looming shadow, a shapeshifter, settles on one form.
Claws. Bared teeth. A hideous face. Hungry eyes. A rabid beast. With a heaving chest, but I don’t hear its breathing. I open my eyes. The lights flicker once more, and the shadow is larger than before.
I walk forward— now with hurried steps. The pounding in my ears grow louder.
I rush to my bedroom door, open it, go inside with my back against the wall, and shut the door. The whispers are silenced.
I reach my hand out to turn on the lights, but there’s already a small light in front of me.
I should’ve listened to the voices.
There’s a pair of dull, yellow eyes staring back at me. I also see rows of pearly white teeth. I can hear his harsh breathing now—each breath comes and goes at steady pace.
But his eyes aren’t calm. There’s a fire in them. A dull, yellow fire.
The creature takes off a long chain from his waist. I catch sight of a glimmer of gold at the center. He raises his monstrous arm up slowly.
Sometimes, my imagination can’t be my escape.
– – ♥
William in the Woods
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.