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Frankenstein is a novel that has clearly become part of pop culture despite the fact that few people read it and few critics refer to it as major novels of the English literature. However, it is a novel that has influenced the cultural paradigms significantly and evoked abundant critical feedback. George Levine’s essay “The Ambiguous Heritage of Frankenstein” is a part of the collection from different authors, which he gathered in the book The Endurance of “Frankenstein”: Essays on Mary Shelly’s Novel (1979). George Levine was a PhD, then a Professor at Rutgers; and it is worth saying that his essay fully corresponds to his scholarly status because of its broad coverage of various aspects of the novel.
In his work, Levine analyzes the significance of the book in terms of the cultural heritage and new patterns that it introduced and that started its independent living outside the book. The scholar answers the question why Frankenstein is still extremely popular as a general concept that finds numerous interpretations in theatre, media and films. First of all, Levine is right when he says that the major aspect of the novel is its archetypal reference. He mentions mythology, including the stories of Faust and Prometheus, which reveal the same universal meaning. There is a remarkable paradox about the text, which Levine notices and which is probably a secret of its influence: “It may well appear that the metaphorical implications are far more serious than the novel that gave birth to them, but that novel has qualities that allow it to exfoliate as creatively and endlessly as any important myth” ( Levine, p.4). Thus, the critic expresses an interesting idea that the novel’s potential of creating meanings is much bigger than the actual meanings expressed by the author.
Furthermore, Levine discusses another dimension of Frankenstein: he puts the novel in the framework of history and human evolution. The researcher points out that the success of the book today is explained by the fact that it is quite a modern book in terms of the myth’s implementation. He believes that Shelly successfully transferred Christian and pre-Christian myths into physical world and made them secular. In fact, surprising as it might seem, there is no supernatural in the novel in traditional meaning of this word. There is no God, no angels, devils or spirits. The monster is quite a physical creature fathered by a human with no religious meaning behind it. Thus, the researcher believes that it is a matter of the myth’s secularity and physicality that makes it appealing to modern readers. In fact, the situation described in the novel is not that metaphorical because it resembles today’s reality. Even though the article was written in the 1970s, the humanity’s path was clear to the author, and of course the trend of society’s “frankensteinization” has been even more striking in recent decades.
When analyzing the novel, Levine elicits the major themes that it covers and gives them a scrupulous consideration in the historical and cultural contexts. Among them are birth and creation, rebellion and moral isolation, and the overreacher ( pp. 8-10). All these aspects are treated by him in the framework of a new modern epoch that they belong to, or at least which they anticipate. Thus, the researcher explores the idea of birth and conception in the absence of God and a woman, which is a mean by which a monster is created. There is some ambiguity about the situation: it is condemned by Shelly as being immoral and dangerous, but on the other hand, it signifies the beginning of a new epoch where such types of creation are normal. So, because today’s world has turned this kind of creation process into its norm, the myth of Frankenstein is so appealing today and so resourceful. In a way, humanity lives in a constant clash between blessing and curse, and this is what the researcher notices in his paper. Speaking about another aspect, discussed by the author, which is rebellion and moral isolation, the scholar reveals the fact that rebellion can be unintentional and how enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge can lead to devastation. This part of myth is also quite up to date, since the example of science is not supported by morality and has demonstrated its failure few times. Finally, when discussing the concept of the overreacher, Levine considers the source and the outcome of Victor’s deeds: “The theme of the overreacher is largely complicated by the evidence that Victor’s sin is not the creation of the Monster but his refusal to take responsibility for it” (Levine, p.10).
Thus, when evaluating the essay written by George Levine, it is worth noting that this work demonstrates a profound analysis covering a wide range of aspects. Its advantage is that it treats Frankenstein in universal categories of archetypes and mythology. Besides, the scholar explores the connection of the major patterns that the novel has to the modern epoch and the challenges that it has to face. Levine analyzes Frankenstein not only as a separate writing but also as a source of images and contexts for future writings. He believes that the novel’s potential to give birth to new meanings is what makes it so resourceful even today.
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