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Maturation in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

The protagonists of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and James Joyce’s Dubliners have experiences that change their perspective on life. Victor Frankenstein, in Mary Shelley’s novel, undergoes an experience that sets him apart from the rest of the human race: he unravels the mystery of the creation of life. The scientific knowledge that he acquires however is not sufficient to ward off the dramatic consequences of his act. As humans are imperfect beings, Frankenstein’s creation is also imperfect. Instead of the improvement of the human race that he was expecting, he creates a monster that eventually proves to be a danger for the future of mankind.

What is important is that Frankenstein’s monster turns against his own creator, gradually destroying his family. After he ventures upon the creation of a being that would resemble man, Victor Frankenstein experiences the entire extent of the consequences of his work. Instead of the scientific glory he expected as a result of his knowledge and unparalleled discovery, the protagonist is whirled into a nightmare. Symbolically, he loses everything while being left with a single purpose: the destruction of the monster he had created in his vanity.

The protagonists of Joyce’s Dubliners are not confronted with ultimate experiences as those reserved for Frankenstein. However, many of the brief sketches included in the Dubliners portray ordinary men and women who ultimately gain understanding of themselves and their own lives. On a different scale, the protagonists of Joyce’s stories come to a similar understanding of their vanity and limitations as ordinary human beings. The process of maturation changes the way in which Frankenstein and the main characters of the Dubliners understand life.

Since Frankenstein is a romantic novel, its hero is confronted with ultimate questions that separate him from the common world. He becomes, at once, the most powerful man on earth and the most wretched one. His knowledge surpasses the boundaries of human science, yet it also ¬ gives him a responsibility that he cannot sustain. What is significant is that he discovers the principle of life through the study of death. The monster he creates is a laborious entanglement of dead body parts that Frankenstein exhumes from a cemetery. Therefore, his science of life already seems to be based on a defective system.

The only way Frankenstein is able to create life is with the use of a dead human organism. The protagonist undergoes a paradigmatic experience that points to the man’s thirst for knowledge and his boundless vanity. When Frankenstein decides he will master the beginning and the end of all knowledge, he is urged by the belief that the mysteries of the universe should be pursued relentlessly and courageously: “It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries” (Shelley 50).

Once his research is in progress, Frankenstein is lured by the power he will gain once he will own the secret of life itself. His vanity is coaxed by the thought of the gratitude he will receive from his fellow-beings when he is able to improve the genetic conformation of man. The elation he experience at the beginning of his creation is completely destroyed when the results of his work actually become visible. The actual animation of the monster is the beginning of Frankenstein’s nightmare and also of the realization of his error and vanity.

Throughout the first part of the novel, the protagonist behaves cowardly, fleeing in horror at the sight of his own terrible creation. At this point, Frankenstein is unable to face the consequences of his act and therefore refuses to acknowledge its reality. He hides away, refusing to think of the consequences of his deed and hoping for a miraculous intervention that will mitigate his responsibility. When the first murder occurs and Frankenstein understands that a part of the guilt is his, he is still paralyzed in his horror and unable to take action.

Frankenstein is unable to accept his error and to understand ¬ that, as the creator of the monster, it is duty to destroy and thus to safeguard the human race from further harm. It is not by accident that the monster’s revenge touches all those that Frankenstein loves. With every death, the hero is able to see his deed in its true light and understand that he has to impede the evil that he set loose. The final and the most dreadful step towards maturation is the death of his new wife, Elizabeth.

This comes as a direct revenge that the monster inflicts on his creator, after the latter refuses to resume his work and create a female companion for him. It is only when Frankenstein realizes that he is on the verge of creating an entire race of monsters that will endanger the future of mankind. It is now that he understands that he has to face the consequences of his actions and not give the monster what he requires in order to preserve the future generations from the pernicious effect of his deeds: “Day after day, week after week, passed away on my return to Geneva; and I could not collect the courage to recommence my work.

I feared the vengeance of the disappointed fiend, yet I was unable to overcome my repugnance to the task which was enjoined me” (Shelley 173). Frankenstein understands that in giving the monster the companion he yearns for, he will only replicate the initial error he committed when he made use of the science he had acquired: “I was now about to form another being of whose dispositions I was alike ignorant; she might become ten thousand times more malignant than her mate and delight, for its own sake, in murder and wretchedness” (Shelley 192).

If he chose to preserve his own happiness and that of his family, Victor Frankenstein would have only added to his crime. He understands finally that he must relinquish his plans for the creation of another monster and that he has to destroy what he had created. The responsibility he holds however does not extend only to the members of his own family, but also to the monster. Frankenstein brought to life a monster without taking into ¬ account the fact that he might reserve him only for sufferance and solitude.

Moreover, he begins the creation of Frankenstein’s bride and they destroys it, without realizing that he will commit another crime: “The remains of the half-finished creature, whom I had destroyed, lay scattered on the floor, and I almost felt as if I had mangled the living flesh of a human being” (Shelley 202). It is only towards the end that Frankenstein comprehends the damage his thoughtless actions have produced. Ultimately, he understands that he has to destroy the monster and also to keep his knowledge of the principle of life as a secret: “Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations?

”(Shelley 192-193). Frankenstein therefore analyzes the responsibility attached to scientific knowledge. The hero acquires unprecedented power through his discovery of the principle of life and embarks on a solitary and vain mission to conquer the physical ailments that torment mankind. It is very significant that Frankenstein seems to be extremely courageous in the beginning. He does not dally before the magnificent mission set before him. Also, he does not feel repulsion or fear when he has to unearth the dead bodies that will be the raw material of his creation.

Once he actually realizes the ethical consequences of his creation however, Frankenstein becomes paralyzed with fear and unable to face his own guilt. The process of maturation therefore involves a gradual understanding of the failings of humanity and the responsibility he has in manipulating the knowledge he has gained through science. Several of the protagonists of the stories in Joyce’s Dubliners also have experiences that render them more mature or bring them closer to an understanding of their limitations and capacities.

Unlike Victor Frankenstein however, the heroes in the Dubliners are ordinary men who do not get confronted with metaphysical issues like the Romantic protagonist but with deeply human issues. One of the most representative stories in the collections is Araby. The story features a young boy and his expectations for his first visit to a bazaar. The unnamed narrator ¬ clings with all his hopes to the visit he has to make to the bazaar, fantasizing about the present he will buy for a girl that he likes. The story focuses therefore only on the brief account of the protagonist’s tensed waiting of the bazaar visit.

The narrator’s young age and his lack of experience make him even more susceptible to fantastic expectations of this experience. The brief dialogue that he has with the girl he likes also feeds his imagination immensely, affecting his ability to focus during any other activities: “What innumerable follies laid waste my waking and sleeping thoughts after that evening! I wished to annihilate the tedious intervening days” (Joyce 22). Joyce captures here the entire arsenal of thoughts and imaginings that accompany the expectations of a young boy.

The name of the bazaar, “Araby”, underlines its exotic quality. The boy perceives everything with an enhanced intensity. The inner tension that he feels escalates tremendously on the day in which the bazaar is supposed to open. The story therefore reveals the maturation undergone by the hero: his anxious and intense waiting ends in terrible disappointment as his uncle forgets the promise he makes to him and gives him money to go only late at night. Symbolically, the hero only finds an almost deserted place with a couple of open stands left and none of the exotic wonders that he had expected.

As he stands in the middle of the empty hall, the lights turn off and the boy finds himself in complete darkness, in an unknown place: “Then I turned away slowly and walked down the middle of the bazaar. I allowed the two pennies to fall against the sixpence in my pocket. I heard a voice call from one end of the gallery that the light was out. The upper part of the hall was now completely dark” (Joyce 24-25). The story therefore relates the defeat of the expectations and wild imaginings entertained by a young and inexperienced mind.

The boy is forced to confront his own limitations and to realize that his imagination exceeds the boundaries of ordinary life. The experience brings him to an understanding of human vanity and the ridicule that his vivid and ¬ unbridled fantasy is likely to submit him to: “Gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes burned with anguish and anger” (Joyce 25). Not unlike Frankenstein, the protagonist of Araby is lured by the very romantic expectations and then brought to reality by the actual result of his dreams and endeavors.

Another significant story in the Dubliners volume is that of Eveline. The young girl that gives her name to the story is also surprised while waiting for a romantic escape from her ordinary, grim everyday life. The seemingly naive Eveline dreams of the way in which she will soon desert her abusive father and her unsatisfactory job and escape to Buenos Aires to be married to a sailor. The short story captures Eveline’s thoughts and her waiting of the moment of departure. As the protagonist of Araby, Eveline is also lured by Romantic expectations of her life.

She is eager to escape to a fantastical and exotic world, where she would be respected and cherished: But in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like that. Then she would be married—she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been” (Joyce 27). Her fantasy is filled with thought of intense happiness and love. What is significant however is that Eveline is not animated by love for the man she plans to elope with but only by the hopes of a different, romantic life.

When the moment of departure arrives, Eveline’s gesture of clinging desperately to the iron railing and refusing to be “drown” symbolizes her inability to desert her insipid but decent and practical life for the promise of a romantic adventure: “All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing” (Joyce 29). Eveline realizes that she will live her life in the same way that her mother had and that she won’t be able to renounce the meager comfort of a plain and uninteresting life: “She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal.

Her eyes gave him no sign of love or ¬ farewell or recognition” (Joyce 30). The last scene shows the utter transformation that Eveline suffers and which makes her forget completely about her previous dreams and hopes. Another story that emphasizes this sudden maturation of the hero is the piece that concludes the collection: The Dead. The main character in this story, Gabriel, is satisfied with his life and proud of his beautiful wife. At the Christmas party that he takes part he realizes however that his certainty and his satisfaction have been only delusions.

He sees his wife strangely afflicted by a song that reminds her of a young man she had once known and who had loved her. When he is home with his wife and she tells him the sad story of Michael Furey he comes to a sudden realization of his own vanity and presumptuous self-satisfaction. He understands at once that he was never able to love anyone truly and that his wife had shared this feeling with someone else: “Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love” (Joyce 176).

With his realization of never having felt real love comes the realization that all the people he knows, including himself, are mortals: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead” (Joyce 77). Among Joyce’s stories in the Dubliners, the Dead is probably the most representative as an instance of maturation. Gabriel comprehends that his comfortable life is menaced by the lack of true love and the impendent presence of death.

The newly acquired knowledge is symbolically accompanied by the image of the heavy snow that sets softly over the entire city. Both Mary Shelly in Frankenstein and James Joyce in the Dubliners emphasize the process of maturation, the hero’s sudden realization of his humanity and his limitations. Frankenstein’s experience is that of a modern Prometheus who ventures on the peaks of knowledge and attempts to steal the absolute mystery of life and creation from the hands of God. ¬ His maturation is part of the punishment he has to endure for his vanity and thoughtlessness.

Endowed with absolute power given to him by his unlimited knowledge, Victor Frankenstein is eventually humiliated in his design by the dreadful consequences of his creation. The main characters in the Dubliners are also punished for their Romantic aspirations and their self-satisfaction. In both of the works therefore man has to suffer for his presumptuousness and his belief in his own invincibility. ¬ Works Cited: Joyce, James. The Dubliners. New York: Prestwick House, 2006. Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003. .

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