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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Literature through the ages has afforded us many key archetypes that can be traced through centuries of written works as reflections of mankind. These archetypes often shift and transform according to the time in which they are written to reflect changes in attitudes or behaviours in the culture in which they are presented. But archetypes can be viewed as representative of who we are and how reflect that identity through what we write and read. One of the key archetypes that can be seen in literature as far back as the Bible is the archetype of the outcast.

The outcast is just that – he has a figure or character that has been cast out of the society in which he lives for behaviour, beliefs, ways of life, actions or appearances that fall outside what is socially acceptable and considered morally right. For any or all of these reasons, the outcast is cast out of his society to good or bad ends. The outcast is often responsible for battling to save the culture that cast him out or causing drastic changes in the culture that didn’t accept him.

The outcast’s actions are not always necessarily negative, but they do cause drastic changes in action or beliefs to take place. The outcast is always remembered and always leaves the group that cast him out with something to remember him by. Three outcast archetype characters that accomplished this were Beowulf, Frankenstein, and, much more recently, Michael Oher in the film, The Blind Side. Not all outcasts are cast out by society. Some cast themselves out or remove themselves from society for their safety or because they feel a sense of purpose for which they must leave.

Beowulf is one of these outcast archetypes that has voluntarily cast himself out of his own society and, upon arriving at the hall of Hrothgar, asks that he be left to fight Grendl with only his own men and none of Hrothgar’s. Professor Mildred Melendez states that one of the key characteristics for this archetype is that, “The outcast is destined to become a wanderer from place to place” (Melendez 39) and Beowulf, in traveling far from home to battle Grendl and then asking to be left alone to do it, typifies this characteristic.

Beowulf even asks that if he dies during his battle with Grendl, that there be little mourning and no funeral for him. He ignores Unferth’s attempts to make him angry with a false story about a past defeat, content instead to prove Unferth wrong and then get to discussing why he has come to Hrothgar’s kingdom. Beowulf is straight to the point, and it is clear that he has cast himself out of his own society and wants to be left alone in Hrothgar’s kingdom because he has a job to do and he wants to do it and get it done. He illustrates the warrior attitude of the period in which the epic poem was written.

He has a mission and that mission is to save the people. He doesn’t waste time discussing with Hrothgar why Hrothgar wasn’t able to defend his own people, though that is a theme that runs through the poem from Hrothgar’s perspective. He isn’t overly emotional and he doesn’t want any men that he doesn’t already know and trust to serve with him in battle to help him. He is the outcast, but he is a voluntary one that is categorizing himself as such for the sake of slaying monsters and saving people. The monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is cast out by his creator.

In her introduction to the novel, the author herself even casts him out, though with affection: “And now, once again, I bid my hideous progeny go forth and prosper. I have an affection for it, for it was the offspring of happy days, when death and grief were but words, which found no true echo in my heart” (Shelley 851). Shelley had experienced death since writing the novel so she is in a sense casting it out to help her forget about those events just as Victor Frankenstein casts the monster out to forget what he has done and how he has used science for his own gain.

In the novel, the monster is representative of many things, including the fears of society that the emerging breakthroughs and discoveries taking place in the scientific world would lead to the creation of dangerous and threatening things. Frankenstein’s monster has endured as a societal character for us for much the same reason since the growth of science and technology has had successful generations since the first printing of Shelley’s novel to often fear the same things.

Frankenstein’s monster doesn’t initially set out for vengeance or violence when he’s cast out by Victor. At first, he just wants to be accepted and loved, which he finds when he lives in the barn of a country family. This need for love and companionship is also what drives him to demand that Frankenstein make him a mate. In short, he tells Frankenstein that if he won’t love him, he has to make him someone who will. In this demand he evokes another characteristic of the outcast archetype, that of the character that dares to challenge the figurehead above him.

The outcast usually has nothing to lose, and is often given an almost superhuman sense of determination or drive. According to Susan Tyler Hitchcock, the outcast and the monster are “a giant daring to challenge the prevailing god” (Hitchcock 52). Hitchcock also notes that, “With Victor Frankenstein playing God, his monster could be either Adam or Satan” (Hitchcock 56). Shelley presents the idea that the monster’s course of action could have been changed if Frankenstein’s attitude towards him had been different.

The monster murdered Frankenstein’s bride out of anger and vengeance, neither of which would have been there if Frankenstein had complied with his request or even tried to help him in any way. This illustrates the concepts of the relationships and the power between man and God, and who was ultimately responsible for man’s actions, that were being explored in the literary world at the time. A modern example of the outcast archetype can be seen in Michael Oher in the recent movie, The Blind Side.

The true story introduces Michael Oher, an African American youth that is an outcast from his own culture and is taken in by a white family and given a second chance at an education and life. He eventually goes on to be accepted into their society and even became an NFL player, but his life began as an outcast. In the film, it is unclear whether he is a voluntary outcast or has been cast out by others. It depicts him being taken from his drug addict mother, but then it also shows him voluntarily leaving the family he had been staying with and walking the streets alone.

So it seems that he was a voluntary outcast at first because he couldn’t find anywhere he fits in. When he is taken in by the Tuohy family and enrolled in school, he relates in a written assignment how he still feels like an outcast because of his race and his size, which makes him, according to Leigh Ann Tuohy, “like a fly in the milk”. Michael’s character represents an outcast that seemed destined to be an outcast forever because of his past, his poverty and his race. But once he opens up, starts talking to people and begins playing football, he finally finds a place where he belongs.

Michael Oher as an outcast seems to indicate a shift in the direction that outcast characters take. Beowulf slays Grendl and his mother and leaves Hrothgar, only ending his outcast existence when he is given the throne of a fallen comrade and ultimately dying in his solitary battle with the dragon. Frankenstein’s monster eventually kills his creator and is then more alone than ever before, doomed to wander endlessly with no companionship and no real purpose for existing.

In these cases, the outcast retained some or his entire outcast attitude. But Michael Oher stops being an outcast and lets himself be integrated back into a family and a community that accepts him. This represents a trend towards outcasts not always being negative characters, and also towards them being given second chances. The outcast archetype is important in literature because it represents the alternate to the commonly accepted, the antagonist to the protagonist, or the good that faces off with evil.

The outcast isn’t necessarily always the bad guy, the antagonist, or the source of the wrongdoing, but he always acts alone and his actions always affect the protagonist irrevocably. For this reason, the outcast archetype will continue to exist in literature and film. But the modern example in the film shows that, as in the past, the outcast will continue to transform into a modern example of how we view an outcast. The outcast could transform into a character that represents hope and second chances instead of desolation and solitude.

Only the literature to come will dictate what path the outcast archetype will take, and how that will reflect who we are as a society. Works Cited Blind Side, The Alcon Entertainment, 2009. Melendez, Mildred. “Archetypes List”. 2002. 21 May 22, 2010. people. sinclair. edu/mildredmelendez/docs/267/archetype. pdf Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. “Introduction to Frankenstein”. Rpt. In The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2. Ed. M. H. Abrams. 6th edition. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1993. Tyler Hitchcock, Susan. Frankenstein: A Cultural History. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2007.

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