Tuesday, February 13, 2007

What's in a ...

This is an excerpt from a course essay I wrote about Frankenstein, the creature, and the use of names. It applies specifically to the book, but speaks sidelong to the importance of names:

The most famous character in Frankenstein, the creature himself, has no name at all. This is highlighted by the number of other names used throughout the story. Even the brother-in-law of a trial witness is given a name (Daniel Nugent on page 179). In many ways, the temperment of the creature is similar to that of the previous three narrators. He is self-educated, prone to fits of temper, and finds succor in the sublime world of nature, though for different reasons than the other two. But whereas for other characters we are given names that hint towards their nature or purpose in the story, the creature has none. The narrative omits this indicator of character and allows the reader more freedom to decide whether the creature is constructed of the same stuff, metaphysically, as Frankenstein, or whether he is a departure from his creator.

The lack of name can create other effects. With the human emphasis on labels and the use of names to establish identity, the lack of a name can indicate that someone is less than human. One of the rules of thumb for a writer to avoid drawing attention to spear-carriers and other bit players is to not give them a name. The lack of a name can distance and even disinterest a reader in a character. This issue does not stand out as readily when the nameless character is the narrator. In Frankenstein, this sets up a contrast between creature-as-animal and creature-as-narrator, between the parts of the story when the creature is less than human and the parts of the story where the creature is the center of his own universe. This contrast draws more attention to one of the story’s central questions, the humanity of the creature.

To be honest - back into blogger mode, rather than essay mode - I didn't really care for Frankenstein, but predominantly because I found the main character to be self-absorbed, selfish and arrogant. I felt sorry for the creature and wanted creator and creation to reconcile, an attitude which became hard to maintain as the story continued, but I didn't develop commensurate sympathy for the good doctor. So, of course, when one of the second essay options (two per lesson) was to discuss whether or not Frankenstein or his creation was more monstrous, I jumped at it ...

1 comment:

kinjie2004 said...
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